Next summer, the U.S. men's national soccer team will head to Brazil to square off with, in order: Ghana, a team that has sent the Americans home in heart-breaking fashion from the past two World Cups; fifth-ranked Portugal, a squad led by Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the greatest scorers on the planet; and second-ranked Germany, a global powerhouse that the bookies have pegged as Europe's best chance at ending its trophy-winning drought on South American soil. Put another way, as one of my futbol-loving colleagues did in an email this morning: "If you look around your group and you don’t see a Honduras, then you're the Honduras."
This is the point where I'd love to offer some type of official-FIFA-commemorative-glass-half-full #slatepitch about how the draw actually went just how the Americans should have wanted it go, and how they're primed to make a run deep into the tournament. Unfortunately, that's not why I'm here. Instead I come bearing more bad news—for both the team and its Brazil-bound fans—from the relatively overlooked part of this morning's draw, namely where and when the teams are playing. Here's a quick look at the U.S. match schedule:
- vs. Ghana on Monday, June 16 at 7 p.m. at the Estadio das Dunas in Natal
- vs. Portugal on Sunday, June 22 at 3 p.m. at the Arena Amazonia in Manaus
- vs. Germany on Thursday, June 26 at 1 p.m. at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife
That, by nearly all accounts, was the worst possible travel itinerary on the board. Don't believe me? Here's what U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann had to say after seeing where the lottery balls fell: "We hit the worst of the worst. ... The past few days, everyone was saying, 'Anywhere but Manaus.' Well, we got Manaus."
Why's Manaus so bad? Well, for starters, it's in the middle of the freaking Amazon and has an average high in June (winter in Brazil) approaching 90 degrees and a relative morning humidity of 93 percent. A total of eight teams play group-play games at the appropriately named Arena Amazonia, but the U.S.-Portugal match—kicking off mid-afternoon local time when the strength-zapping sun will be high overhead—is the odds on favorite to be the most uncomfortable. And, as an added bonus, the stadium in northwestern Brazil is more than 1,800 miles from Sao Paulo, where the U.S. squad is expected to stay between games, and is, among the 12 venues being used by FIFA, about as far away as you can get from where the Americans will suit up for their first and last round-robin games, both located conveniently (if not for game no. 2, that is) only about a three-and-a-half hour drive from each other in northeast Brazil. In all, the Associated Press estimates, the USMNT squad will be traveling more than 9,000 miles during the opening round, the most of any team. (To put that in perspective, that's the equivalent of more than a third of the way around Earth's 24,901-mile equatorial circumference.)
As big of a hassle as that will be for the team itself (which I assume will have the luxury of a charter plane for travel), it'll be even worse for any Americans who hope to travel to all three games via commercial flights. Here's the best travel itinerary that I could craft after spending entirely too much time clicking around Expedia this afternoon:
- Newark to Natal, departing at 1:55 p.m. on Wednesday, June 11 and, after layovers in Miami and Rio, arriving 22 hours and 43 minutes later the next day at 1:38 p.m. Price tag: $1,103.73 per person.
- Natal to Manaus, departing at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, June 18, and, after FOUR stops, arriving 7 hours and 50 minutes later at 10:50 p.m. Price tag: $374.53.
- Manaus to Recife, departing at 4:05 a.m. on Tuesday, June 24, and, after another three stops, arriving 8 hours and 35 minutes at 1:40 p.m. Price tag: $480.53.
- Recife to Newark, departing at 7:20 p.m. on Wednesday, July 2 and landing another 22 hours and 6 minutes later at 4:25 p.m. the next day. Price tag: $1,467.50.
Even if the roughly $3,500 price tag for airfare alone doesn't scare you—good luck finding a place to stay!—the 60-odd hours of time spent on a plane no doubt will. And don't even think about driving. Making it from the opening U.S. game in Natal to Manaus will take you about 51 hours one-way.
On the bright side, the tough draw means there's less of a chance that the men's national team will make it to the knockout round, saving fans the expense of even more wallet-busting flights. Hooray?
This post has been updated.