USA supporters crowd U.S. Soccer FanHQ in Natal before the night before the MNT's opening match against Ghana.
To the 2,700 U.S. soccer fans in attendance at Fan HQ in Natal, Brazil, believing was half the battle. The recurring sentiment of the evening, and popular American Outlaws chant, was “I believe that we will win.” The traveling USMNT fans gathered in the small coastal city in hopes that their dreams would soon become a reality.
With the USA’s much-anticipated World Cup opener hours away, the U.S. Soccer Federation hosted the event to rally the troops the night before entering Arena Das Dunas and leading the faithful fans into battle against the Black Stars.
It’s no secret that Ghana will test the USMNT in a match that will set the tone for how the group stage will evolve for both countries. Past results against the Ghanaians may cause some to be skeptical, but no matter the opposition, one thing that remains constant is the undying American persistence proven by the fans’ loyalty and the team’s desire to rewrite history.
A pair of U.S. fans enjoy the atmosphere at FanHQ ahead of the USA's opening World Cup match against Ghana in Natal.
For Brice Stokes, a Major League Soccer season ticket holder, the growth of the game in the U.S. is all the optimism he needs. So much so that he decided to venture to Brazil to witness the World Cup in person for the first time.
“For me, to see the support, the fanfare and the number of people that are traveling, not even here to Brazil, but even across the United States,” he said. “It’s great to see the growth of the sport, not only locally, but globally.”
Stokes and his wife, Leah, have tickets to all three of the USMNT group stage games. They plan to get tickets to other games including Italy vs. Uruguay and Japan vs. Greece among a few others. Provided the U.S. advances, Stokes plans to call off sick from work and follow the team.
“I love spending time with my wife and meeting other people, young and old, throwing back a few cocktails and just talking about possibilities,” Stokes said. “We haven’t lost a game yet.”
U.S. fans dance on stage at U.S. Soccer's FanHQ the night before the USA's match against Ghana.
For some younger fans, the U.S. going to the World Cup is a quadrennial ritual, but for others, it is a pleasant surprise each year that the U.S. qualifies. Joe and Pat Pelliccia, a retired couple from Lewiston-Auburn, Maine, are thrilled to witness their first World Cup.
“It is amazing because as we talk to these young kids, for some of them, it is their second World Cup,” Pat Pelliccia said. “We never dreamed of doing something like this at their age. It took us 62 years to get here.”
“To come to Brazil is just fantastic, and to come to Brazil for soccer is even better,” added Joe Pelliccia.
U.S. Soccer supporters pose under a banner that reads, "One Nationa. One Team." in Brazilian Portuguese at FanHQ in Natal.
An event like this, complete with Budweiser, bright lights, red, white and blue banners and a bumping dance floor with a live DJ would even impress Uncle Sam. To prepare the masses, it takes a few strong voices and a lot of willpower to create a fully American atmosphere.
Tom Santos was one of a handful of visionaries behind this large undertaking of fun fan festivities. His experience in entertainment, knowledge of the country and understanding of soccer in the States made him an ideal candidate for the job.
“I think the event went perfectly. I see everybody enjoying it,” he said. “We wanted Americans to feel secure and have a spot where they could enjoy it and not care about anything other than the party.”
Local Brazilian DJs provided the entertainment for U.S. supporters at FanHQ in Natal, Brazil.
And, based on the amounts of laughter, cheers and camaraderie amongst the fans in attendance, the conviction of winning was contagious.
“We believe that we will win,” Santos said. “That’s how we should end this. I say we should win against Ghana, and hopefully we will win.”