Dispatch from Recife

The American fans, like their team, are happy and exhausted

I don’t really know what I expected, but it was more than what I saw. I thought that the airport would be a party, people celebrating advancement to the knockout rounds whether their team had won or lost. Instead, everyone seemed mostly tired.

The truth about the World Cup is that it’s a long slog. By the time the teams took the field at Arena Pernambuco during a Thursday afternoon downpour, the 2014 tournament was into its third week. That’s a lot of soccer and a lot of exhausting travel not only for the players but also for the fans. You could see it on the faces of the people at the airport. Another flight to somewhere: home, Rio, São Paulo, Salvador. This is a good problem to have, sure, but it’s still a problem.

On a screen in the waiting area, the U.S.’s 1–0 loss was being replayed. A few fans watched, some in American jerseys, some in those of Germany, taking it in without any enthusiasm. The game was something that had happened and now it was over.

A soccer field away, too-loud bossa nova lounge music emanated from a speaker. A few men in El Tri jerseys walked by, followed closely by a teenager in an Emmanuel Adebayor kit. One group carried a homemade replica of the World Cup trophy, at least five times larger than what one team’s captain will hoist at the Maracanã on July 13. Gold lame paper was peeling off the sides of the version at the Recife airport.

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The U.S. talked a lot about energy following the loss to Germany, specifically the impact of Jermaine Jones.

“His effort that he’s putting into each of these games is enormous,” Graham Zusi said. “Seeing a guy doing that can lift everyone else around him as well, so he’s doing his job but he’s making people want to do their job as well.”

“Jermaine is who he is,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann added. “He’s a warrior. He has the never die attitude.”

“I hope he steps it up another notch now.”

Jones, for all his faults, has been the best American over the course of the group stage. He broke his nose on Thursday night during a mid-match collision with teammate Alejandro Bedoya, walked off the field under his own power, and then returned moments later. He is proving Klinsmann’s faith correct. Why it took this long for him to play this well— that remains a mystery).

The 32-year-old midfielder, who missed out on the 2010 World Cup due to injury, leads the squad with his energy but also his words. He and Dempsey got into it a bit against Germany, something Jones explained away following the match.

“We both want to win,” he said. “We both want to bring this national team to the next round. In some situation, you have to say something.”

You have to keep moving forward.

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Eight hours after Ravshan Irmatov blew his whistle and the U.S. found out it was headed to the knockout stage, Thursday had tipped into Friday. Half a dozen Americans found themselves sitting with some Germans, sharing cans of Skol and reveling in the fact that both squads had reached the next stage.

“I. I believe,” came the now familiar chant from their table at 1:18 a.m. It’s a tired refrain but one that’s far from done. From the looks of things, the new group of friends were just getting started.