SAO PAULO – The goal: find a contingent of American soccer fans here, in this bustling metropolis of 20 million. Find them inside a restaurant, or a bar, or on the street, for the United States’ game against Portugal in the World Cup.
Seems easy enough.
First stop: Bella Augusta, a neighborhood bar with a rooftop and a neon Heineken sign, a place known to our fixer Virren Simpson. It’s shortly before game time, Sunday night. The place is filled with locals. The televisions are showing warm-ups and all the U.S. fans are clad in top hats and Captain America costumes -- not here, but across the country, in Manaus.
Clint Dempsey is on the screen. There’s a mouse under his eye but no mask on his broken nose. An omen, perhaps.
The assembled hardly glance up from their meat skewers. They light cigarettes. They drink beers. The game starts. Portugal scores. Everyone cheers. Even a guy in a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt.
Time to move on.
There’s so much at stake in this game. If the Americans win, they seize the so-called Group of Death, an outcome hardly anyone predicted at the outset.
Next stop: O’Malley’s, an Irish bar. The line snakes down the street, around the block. The policy is one person out for every person in. Brazil plays on Monday, and so the locals are out in force. They don’t have to work tomorrow. The women wear low-cut tops and miniskirts. The line, while long, is filled entirely with Brazilians. Regardless, there’s no chance of getting inside. Foiled.
Time to move on. Another taxi. Another neighborhood.
It’s almost halftime. The cab driver balances a cell phone between his steering wheel and the dashboard. It blocks the odometer, which he isn’t likely to pay attention to anyway. The score is still 1-0, he says. He drives. He watches. These are not mutually exclusive pursuits.
Another neighborhood. This time, a restaurant. It’s a diner. Violeta is the name. It’s packed. There’s one open table. Coffee is served. The crowd sort of watches the soccer on the televisions scattered throughout the room. They’re drinking buckets of beer now, with no work tomorrow, and eating plates of fries. A couple makes out in the corner while the U.S. attempts a corner kick that bounces away from the goal, not toward it. No one moves. A man holds up his arms in frustration – he’s wondering where his beer is. He’s not watching the game.
Another restaurant. Another dead end. Another restaurant. The Americans score, tying the game at 1-1. One person cheers. He’s not American. He’s just a soccer fan. Or a soccer fan who’s anti-Portugal.
On the move. The Ibotirama Bar is also showing the game. The place is also packed. The waiters sneak glances at the score. It remains unchanged. More beer is served. More beer is consumed. Not an American in sight. The TV shows Superman again, along with Wonder Woman and Batman. It’s a costume extravaganza. But not here.
The U.S. scores again. Dempsey with a chest bump into the goal. Applause rings out in the bar, but it is muted.
At our table, there is tension; elsewhere, there is none. The waiter flashes a thumbs up. The outside tables, the ones with no view of the TV, they’re packed. Dempsey limps off. Simpson acknowledges his fortitude. The waiter stops by again, offers a shot of cachaça, or liquor made from distilled sugarcane juice, on the house, victory imminent. Simpson spills his, a bad omen. The waiter pours another.
We toast. Last chance, Simpson says, as Portugal moves the ball toward the U.S. goal. No chance. No way. Then, the pass from Ronaldo, over the American defenders, off a head, into the goal. Game over, tie, 2-2.
The extra time is over. The bar is silent. The night goes on. There is heartbreak inside, but confined to one table, one person. Simpson is originally from England.
“Now you know what it feels like to be English,” he says.
This is the thirteenth piece in a series throughout the opening weeks of the World Cup in which SI senior writer Greg Bishop and photographer Simon Bruty chronicle their travel to offer a taste of the cultural side of Brazil.