U.S. Under-21 forward Manya Makoski, who debuted on ussoccer.com with her thoughts and observations from China last March, checks in from Brazil where the U-21s are currently in the midst of a four-game tour as part of their preparation for the 2004 Nordic Cup in Iceland at the end of July. Makoski, a rising junior at Arizona State, was a member of the USA’s 2002 Under-19 World Championship Team. The 5-foot-3 forward out of Trumbull, Conn., shares her musings on the matches, the wacky world of Brazil, power naps, the two degrees of separation from Usher and substandard glass doors in South America.
Thursday, May 20
Flight from Houston Airport
After arriving in Houston after my domestic leg on the way to Brazil, I met up with some of the team, and got some last minute American food at Wendy’s with midfielder Julianne Sitch, who we all call “Lu,” although I am not sure exactly why. Some last minute phone calls were priority before boarding. Gosh, I miss my cell phone when we are abroad. While relaxing in my sweet aisle seat on the plane as we were ready to take off, I was completely content with the fact that the seat next to me was unoccupied. Then of course, just before the door closes, a Brazilian couple came rushing onto the plane. Flustered, the woman refused to sit in the seat next to me because it wasn’t next to her husband’s seat, which was the middle seat in the row ahead of me. The flight attendant told her that there were the only two available seats. After they threatened to “escort” the emotional woman off the plane, the flight attendant begged to me to switch seats. Being the purveyor of international goodwill that I am, I happily agreed to take the middle seat in the row behind me, next to my good buddies defender Amy LePeilbet (a former college teammate at Arizona State) and midfielder Nikki Thaden. So our first amusing moment of the trip was watching this upset woman hyperventilate after the whole drama, which really wasn’t such a drama. (Try sitting in a middle seat on a 16-hour flight to China! Now that’s drama). Then, we were all settled down in our seats when all of a sudden this other Brazilian lady wearing a tight tank top reached up into the overhead bin and exposed her gorilla-like hairy armpits. Our explosion of laughter only escalated when Amanda Trokey, our lovable equipment manager, perfectly timed her punch line: “Welcome to Brazil.” The nine-hour trip went well as I watched “Along Came Polly” and was out cold for the duration of the flight.
Friday, May 21
Sao Paulo, Brazil
The customs line took FOR-EV-ER; almost as long as the flight. We watched in envy as the Brazilian citizens line smoothly sailed along. After getting our bags and exchanging some money, L.J. Esslinger, our team coordinator, told us some very disappointing news. Our plans of where we were staying and who we were playing had changed. “Welcome to Brazil.” After some confusion and a tiny bit of anger (my anger management class hasn’t paid off yet), it finally sunk in that we would not be going to beautiful Iguacu, Parana. We would not be visiting the natural wonder of Foz do Iguacu which features a waterfall with a deafening roar. (Yeah, I read the guide book). We grabbed some lunch at a restaurant in the airport, and then had to wait another couple of hours for the bus to arrive to take us to Oscar Inn in Sao Paulo. After another successful assembly line with defender Keeley Dowling packing the bags (Keeley is the queen of the soccer bag assembly line), we set off on our three-hour bus ride. I have never been in so many awkward and uncomfortable sleeping positions in my whole life. Somehow that bus seat was just not “Manya-sized.” After we finally arrived at the hotel, I was a little disappointed not to see any pictures of my favorite Sesame Street character, Oscar the Grouch, decorating the walls of the Oscar Inn, but it did make me feel better to see how breathtaking the surroundings were. It kind of felt like a Brazilian Chula Vista, Calif. in San Diego, where we spent many, many days at the Olympic Training Center preparing for the 2002 U-19 World Cup. My roommate, midfielder Sarah Huffman, threw our bags into our room and we went to the restaurant to eat our first Brazilian meal of the trip. It was definitely a more appealing and appetizing selection than our last trip to China. Training that night yielded many surprises; among them…a dead bird on the field, a tarantula crawling along the bibs and cones bags, and crab grass that made the field so “bouncy” that it makes you feel like you are running in slow motion. “Welcome to Brazil.” I should be used to this Connecticut-type grass, but I have been so spoiled while in Arizona with the perfectly cut, crisp, short Bermuda grass on the SunDevils field. Our security guy, Mark Pharris, equipped with his backpack and all, tailed the group as we took a couple of laps jog around the field. Lightning in the distance and eventually some rain helped our first training come to an early end. Back at the hotel, I had some trouble with controlling the temperature of the shower water. You tell me…can you figure out what it means when a shower has three handles with a “D” on them and one handle with a “Q”? Highlight of the day: finding out Mark personally knows Usher. Must have done some security for him.
Saturday, May 22
Sao Paulo, Brazil
We slept in until breakfast at 9:30. Let me tell you, pineapple is the most amazing, sweet tasting fruit ever. And they know how to do pineapple in Brazil. It was an unbelievable breakfast experience; but not nearly as wonderful as being able to go back to sleep until lunchtime at 1 p.m. (not like I did that, but um…some of the players did). We had training at 3 p.m. on the fields in the back of the hotel. We did some group juggling and passing before playing a short sided game to goals. We worked on some finishing during our fifteen minutes of free time, and then Lu and I did some juggling together. After training, Lu, Amy, goalkeeper Katie Jo Spisak and I went around the hotel area to take some random pictures. We saw a statue of some men’s soccer players in a “wall” apparently getting ready to face a free-kick with frightened expressions on their faces. A soccer statue? “Welcome to Brazil.” The main attractions for our cameras were the five-star resort pool, the vast soccer fields, and the surrounding landscape. Another unsuccessful attempt at a shower left me freezing cold for our dinner. We found out at dinner that forward Tasha Kai got covered in glass from a broken door she tried to open near the pool. I guess they don’t teach you in Hawaii that too much force on something made of glass -- that’s not budging -- isn’t a good idea. The night ended with watching the “Thomas Crown Affair” in Keeley’s room with her, Lu, and Nikki. I’ll tell you what, Pierce Brosnan ain’t hard to look at.
Sunday, May 23
Game Day in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Another day to sleep in until breakfast at 9:30. This is way better than school! And yes, another day to sleep after breakfast until lunch at 12:30 (not that I did that of course, but you know, it was an option). However, our naps were cut short when we had a team meeting at twelve. Our head coach Chris Petrucelli told us that he heard we were playing a university-aged team that was “young.” I get the nod to start at forward with Tasha and Tara Hurless in a three-front. Two of our players, one coming from residency with the full Women’s National Team in Leslie Osborne, and forward Kelly Wilson, are arriving in Brazil late, but still might show up in time for the game. During lunch we found out that another glass door had been broken. Are we klutzes or soccer players? This time it was the shower door and the victim covered in band-aids was none other than our team coordinator LJ, who certainly didn’t get the “shower” she expected. We left at 2:30 p.m. and arrived at the field only to warm up and wait forever for the screaming black and hot pink uniformed Brazilian team to finally emerge. Hot pink. I am not making this up. They ran out of their locker room creating a bunch of noises and warmed up for five minutes without a ball. “Welcome to Brazil.” We struggled a bit at the beginning of the game, but we finally got our break when Tasha put one in after Tara flicked on a cross from Keeley. What added to our excitement of the game was the other team’s “Hulk” screams of frustration each time they kicked the ball out of bounds. Late in the first half, I played a ball to Nikki to get us out of pressure, and she played a through ball to a sprinting Tara, who rocketed the ball into the lower left side netting. Leslie and Kelly (two of my U-19 world championship teammates) appeared for the second half and got some minutes. We created many chances, and unfortunately on one, I played a through ball to Lu and the defender came charging in and totally took her out. I am at this moment feeling sorry for Lu and the massive contusion she is suffering with now. Chris made subs for a bunch of players, including myself, and Nikki got the chance to hammer a penalty kick into the lower left corner. Our last goal of the game came from our captain, midfielder Joanna Lohman. She slid for a cross from midfielder Kacey White and 4-0 is how it ended. After shaking hands, we took some pictures with the other team, and then cooled down. I finally got the shower to work, and thanks to Sarah for full-on detailed explanation of the workings of a Brazilian shower nozzle (University of Virginia girls are smart). Dinner at seven helped us recover for the upcoming game the next day.
Monday, May 24
Game Day (Again) in Sao Paulo, Brazil
I bet you can guess what we did today. Sleep until breakfast at nine, and then sleep until our team meeting at twelve? Wrong! I only slept until eleven after breakfast this time. You know, I like to mix it up a bit…like I have a lot of things to do around here. At our meeting I found out that I was starting at forward with Tasha and Kelly. We are playing an All-Star team created from the best players in their women’s league here in Brazil. After lunch, Lu, Sarah, and I went up to the Oscar Inn Store. On the walk up to the store, we stopped by this soccer ball-shaped cage filled with tiny monkeys and different birds, including two brilliantly colored parrots. We watched and laughed as they bopped their heads and scraped their beaks along the cage. I guess they like to boogie down once in a while too. We said goodbye to the birds, and in response they said, “Ciao.” I didn’t know that my Italian class would be handy in Brazil, but I guess that is goodbye in Portuguese as well. We each bought a shirt and shorts. It seemed like forever while we were waiting for our change, but the store clerk didn’t have any small bills so we gave him our room number so they could give us the change later. Hopefully, we did not get scammed. We walked back to get ready for our game. At 2:30 we departed for the stadium and after a good warm up, we started the game. The other team scored first, but we answered right back when Jo slid (she is good at that) and nailed in a cross from Keeley. Jo helped us again with our second goal, causing a handball in the penalty box off her cross. Sarah drove home the penalty kick into the corner and were up, 2-1. Soon after, our goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, who we call “Barnie,” went out for a loose ball against a Brazilian, but shockingly was called a penalty kick. Barnie wasn’t even close to fouling the girl, but the Brazilian’s gamesmanship certainly stood out. “Welcome to Brazil.” We got the winning goal when Tasha hit a screamer through the goalkeeper’s hands after running onto a long ball from Amy. Our midfield did a good job keeping up with some of Brazil’s senior national team players, including former star Roseli, who was so good at the 1999 Women’s World Cup, and we were able to gut out the win. Even though we had a rocky game, we toughed it out, and were happy to come away with our second victory of the tour. Chris’ half time speech definitely helped with our intensity in the second half. After a cool down and some pictures on the field, a nice relaxing shower and some dinner were the plan. A bunch of us watched “Scary Movie 2,” one of my favorites, in Lu’s room. We are glad we have the day off tomorrow, but we have two more tough games to come, against Brazil’s Olympic Team that will be going to Athens. They just might be one of the toughest games this group of U-21s has ever played, and we can’t wait.