LIANE HANSEN, host:
The U.S. National Soccer Team will make its debut in the 2006 World Cup in Germany tomorrow, in a match against the Czech Republic. Experts say this is the best team the United States has ever had in the tournament, and expectations are high among fans.
But many of those fans feel that despite worldwide love of futbol, for some reason most Americans still just don't get it. NPR's Rachel Martin spent time with two U.S. fans who do get it. They traveled to Munich for the opening game.
Mr. GREG NELSON: I'm Greg Nelson, from Oakland, California, and I'm 31. I've been, this will be my fourth World Cup, so I'm just excited to be here. It's great.
Mr. CHRISTIAN MANDERS(ph): I'm Christian Manders, 31 also, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and my first World Cup, but I'm actually just, you know, in for the ride and like to have a good time.
RACHEL MARTIN reporting:
Unpacking their duffel bags in a Munich hotel room, Greg Nelson and Christian Manders are like ecstatic schoolboys arriving at summer camp. Each of them brought a separate carry-on chock full of American paraphernalia to hand out to Americans in need of a World Cup makeover.
Mr. NELSON: The Mexican fans, the Costa Rican fans, German fans, everybody immediately gets here and they throw on a flag. The Americans get here and they throw on a Gap shirt and they...
Mr. MANDERS: That's true!
Mr. NELSON: ...you know, wear their khakis, and they're out there. They're still walking around...
Mr. MANDERS: That's true!
Mr. NELSON: ...but they're not wearing the American colors as strongly as they should. But they're going to learn.
MARTIN: Nelson says the first lesson is dressing the part of a World Cup fan. And after a few minutes the two well-groomed men emerge on the streets of Munich in full World Cup regalia. Skin-tight jumpsuits, a red, white, and blue, mullet wig, and American cape.
(Soundbite of crowd)
MARTIN: Heads turn and cameras flash as they make their way to the pre-game party in the town square.
(Soundbite of revelry)
MARTIN: Nelson, a political consultant, quit his most recent job partly so he could come to Germany for the month-long soccer tournament. And for him, traveling to the World Cup has become a kind of pilgrimage to Mecca, where he connects with people who understand and appreciate the game of soccer as much as he does.
Mr. NELSON: Watching soccer in the U.S. is like hanging out in a dark closet by yourself. You're like, you know, you sit at home, you're watching soccer at 4:00 a.m. There might be one other friend that you managed to convince to wake up and watch it with you, and then you come here and it's a coming out party. I mean, people who are not soccer fans are in the minority, and so you get the chance to actually feel all right, shouting and yelling about nationalism and being excited about it, and about soccer and what a great sport it is.
MARTIN: While most American soccer fans here don't walk around draped in the stars and stripes, they have other ways of making themselves known, as demonstrated this night in a Munich bar.
(Soundbite of crowd chanting)
MARTIN: Dressed in his Captain America costume, Nelson chats up German fans passing by about the upcoming matches. It's his own form of soccer diplomacy, he says, and his way of making sure America doesn't miss out on what he calls the global conversation of soccer.
Mr. NELSON: The United States thanks you too. You too.
Unidentified Man: Thank you.
Mr. NELSON: Yes.
Unidentified Man: You are good.
Mr. NELSON: Against? Oh yeah, we're playing Czech Republic and Italy.
Unidentified Man: Oh. Ooooh! Italy, ooooh!
Mr. NELSON: Yes. And Ghana.
Unidentified Man: Ghana?
Mr. NELSON: Yes.
Unidentified Man: I know you lose.
Mr. NELSON: Ahh, I think, I think we'll surprise you.
MARTIN: The U.S. plays the Czech Republic tomorrow night in Gelsenkirchen. The Americans take on the Italians on June 17th.
Rachel Martin, NPR News, Munich.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.