Matthew Niederhauser is reporting from Brazil with support from the Pulitzer Center.
The drum of the rain woke me before the alarm. My Airbnb host, who spoke a fair clip of English, told me it was "like cows" outside. The figure of speech was lost in translation, but the underlying meaning was clear. The weather was getting grisly. Water levels quickly rose across Recife throughout the morning. Roads were impassable and some fans remained trapped in their hotels. Under normal circumstances it would be high time to hunker down and spend the day in front of the television, but USA was facing off against Germany, and their advancement in the World Cup was on the line. I grabbed an umbrella and ventured into the deluge.
Instead of heading straight to the Itaipava Arena Pernambuco, I first stopped in nearby Camaragibe where large swathes of housing were demolished to build the transportation infrastructure for the stadium. Forced evictions at the hands of the municipal government colluding with developers were commonplace leading up to the World Cup. The owners were not provided adequate compensation for their loss, however, even as the stadium was purportedly going to economically benefit the surrounding community. Instead neighborhoods are effectively walled off from people visiting the $372 million edifice which is located 19 miles from downtown Recife. The area in Camargibe where families lost their homes boasts the nearest metro stop, but fans are quickly shuttled into a rapid transport bus station that whisks them another 2.5 miles away to the Itaipava Arena Pernambuco.
The only local businesses lining their pockets were six roadhouses lined up along a new highway on the opposite side of the stadium. American fans were out in force, warming themselves up for the big game. Hundreds of devotees adorned in red, white, and blue were jammed together under tin roofs to pound beer and sing along to Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, and Jay-Z. The number of American fans in Brazil still astounds me. I always felt like an outsider growing up a soccer enthusiast. A lot of people just didn't get it. Now a new American soccer fan archetype is emerging at this World Cup. There is finally widespread love and understanding for the beautiful game. American chants still need some work, but we are out in numbers. More importantly, a new USA team is emerging as force to be reckoned with both at home and abroad. May this century finally see the emergence of a quality American professional soccer league. That would be the day.
After watching other enterprising locals selling ponchos by the armload to fans getting right out of their cars on the highway, I performed my obligatory walk by the Itaipava Arena Pernambuco. The 46,000-seat stadium looked beautiful in the misty rains, but it was definitely another "white elephant" for the Brazilian taxpayer. Its location so far outside the city—and not even adjacent to the nearest metro—will be a major barrier in attracting large audiences. The few people who already show up for local soccer matches will not be inclined to make such a journey, especially to sit in an empty stadium. Once again, there is no apparent use for the structure after the World Cup, although rumors now abound that some of these unnecessary stadiums might be turned into jails. It would be a fitting end to what is increasingly a militarized World Cup for Brazilians.
Right before the USA vs. Germany game started, I took a ride back to the metro station on a rapid transport bus. Fans delayed by the flooding were still arriving on trains and pushed past me to get on the bus after I disembarked. It was truly an inefficient way of getting people to the stadium. I then wandered around the neighborhood, enjoying a beer or two with some rowdy locals watching the game at tiny bars. They weren't too focused on the match, though. Some complained about unpaved roads and empty promises. No one knows what will happen after the World Cup as well. Any tangible economic benefits to the communities surrounding the stadium are not appearing. After the rather lackluster match, which still saw the USA team through to the knockout stages, I hopped immediately on the subway. As much as I love the new American fans, I did not feel the need to cram into a small space with them for an hour-long journey back to the city center.