The mother and father of U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez flew more than 5,000 miles from their home in Dallas to see their son play in a World Cup game. Gonzalez had barely touched the field, coming on only in stoppage time in the last game, but then he started in Thursday's rain-soaked game with Germany.
The only problem was his parents followed the game by huddling around a cellphone with Gonzalez's wife, Erica, and watching streaming video from a hotel room about 20 miles from the stadium.
"It was a pretty cool experience for them even though they weren't here," Gonzalez said. "They were all watching and biting their nails in front of this little phone."
Gonzalez's relatives were among nearly 200 friends and family of U.S. team members who were stranded in their beachfront hotel when their charter buses were unable to navigate Recife's flooded streets Thursday morning. A handful made their way out and to the game, but most followed the action in their rooms or by treading water long enough to get to a nearby bar.
Clint Dempsey's family was also trapped in the hotel. But for Dempsey, this is his third World Cup. For Galaxy defender Gonzalez, Thursday's game marked only the second time he has stepped on the field in Brazil.
"It's just a dream come true," said Gonzalez, the son of Mexican immigrants. "I was nervous on the bus ride over. But the national anthem got me even more pumped. It's amazing to see how many Americans traveled to cheer us on. I definitely got goose bumps with everyone singing so loud. And it just made me really proud."
Going back for seconds
The U.S. is headed to the knockout round for a second consecutive World Cup, something the country has never done before. And it had to survive arguably the toughest of the tournament's eight groups to do that, which in midfielder Jermaine Jones' mind makes the accomplishment even more special.
"Before this tournament started, no one was talking that America can come to the next round. It was always Portugal and Germany," he said. "We showed people that we have a good team and we have a good atmosphere in the group.
"Everything that the coach did before the tournament, who he sent home and who he took for the team, I think was a good decision. The team showed heart and gave good feedback. Now for the next game … it's a knockout game and we have to see it like [a] final."
One overlooked perk of finishing second in the so-called "Group of Death," as opposed to winning it is an extra day off. Germany, the Group G champion, will play its first knockout game Monday against Algeria in Porto Alegre, then the U.S. gets Belgium on Tuesday in Salvador.
And U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann, like Jones, was only too happy to remind the critics who sold his team short that the U.S. managed to avoid death's door while teams like Italy, England and Spain have already gone home.
"It's huge for us getting out of this group that everybody said, 'You have no chance,'" Klinsmann said. "We took that chance and now we move on. We really want to prove a point.
"[But] we still can do better. We got through the group, but we have to do better in the round of 16 and we will do better."
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