American Fútbol is like a playful combination of Anthony Bourdain style and Pelada, sampling the food, absorbing a little culture and history, and playing pickup soccer with fans in 8 countries. In 2014, two young men, Directors Peter Karl and Sam Mathius, set out to cover the fan experience from Mexico to WC 2014 in Brazil—7,000 miles by way of Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.
They are joined by producer Petar Madjarac and cinematographer Austin Ahlborg, which makes a ready team for 4v4 pickup games along the way.
Tiajuana and Costa Rica
On their first stop, they follow a San Diego citizen as he walks across the border into Tijuana to attend a Xolos game. Xolos is Club Tijuana, “El equips sans fronteras”–The team without borders. The tacos are great in Tijuana.
Next is Heredia, Costa Rica – the happiest people on earth. CS Herediano is owned by David Patey, “the most popular gringo in Costa Rica”. Patey moved there in 2003 and bought the team in 2012, preventing it from going under.
Colombia, Chile, and Ecuador
Cali, Colombia has great food and loves to have a good time. They visit club América de Cali, which had been owned by the Rodriguez brothers, the leaders of the Cali cartel. Bill Clinton put the club on the Narco-terrorist list, and the team fell to the 2nd Division. For this, all América fans hate Clinton, even though the ban was lifted in 2013. The film crew also visit the office of América’s barras bravas.
They visit Bogota, where Pete had lived for a year. Wearing blindfolds, they play with a team of blind football players, who have mainly lost their sight in childhood and play with good skill. One player has invented a ball filled with crushed cans to make noise.
They arrive in Valparaiso, Chile, where the regular season has just ended. There are no games to attend, so they surf the sand dunes.
In Ecuador they interview Dusan Dreaskovic, the former Yugoslavian manager of Ecuador’s National Team. He rebuilt the whole national program, and is responsible for Ecuador’s qualifying for WC’s starting in 2002. They then visit a soccer facility in El Valle del Chota, the poorest region of Ecuador. Only 7% of Ecuador is Afro-Ecuadorean, but Chota is mostly Black. The region produced 8-9 players on the WC 2002 team, including former international and now politician Ulises de la Cruz. The crew plays a little pickup with Ulises.
Argentina and Uruguay
Argentine football is plagued by huge issues, as covered in Fútbol Violencia, where the barrasbravas are not a force for good but instead operate like the mafia. Olé, the only sports daily in Argentina, has a reporter, Gustavo Grabia, whose only job is to cover football violence in Argentina. The barras braves collect a percentage from all the food and drink vendors in the stadium. At the time of the film, football violence accounts for 10-12 deaths per year.
In Montevideo, Uruguay, they attend a friendly in the national stadium and discover that Uruguayans are quiet when they watch games. They do not make noise in the stands except to celebrate a goal.
About an hour into the film, the crew finally reach Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“Football may have been born in England but Brazil is where it found its beauty.”
There are protests against the tournament in the face of economic adversity, but the fan fest is filled with people from all the countries they’ve traversed. They capture fan reaction to USA vs Ghana and then attend the rest of the USMNT games. They play some pickup in Manaus and attend USA vs Portugal. Then they fly to Recife for USA vs Germany in pouring rain.
From there they head to Salvador for USA vs Belgium, where GK Tim Howard becomes an American sports hero with a record 16 saves. Wondo’s miss is immortalized in an animation. Little do they know how long it will turn out to be when Pete sighs,
“Right now, our next world cup feels forever away.”
They stick around to watch Costa Rica bow out, then head to Rio for the Germany vs Brazil bloodbath, putting into question Brazil’s entire national identity. They fail to get into the stadium for the Final game. Their 100 day trip is over. They conclude,
“World Cups are not a given. Go out and support your local clubs.”
In light of failing to qualify in 2018…
In the context of WC 2018, with the USMNT failure to qualify, it is a little bit of sour grapes to watch this film and think how the USA is not part of the party in Russia. It is quite sad to remember the excitement of WC 2014. But I’m glad to see the moments of USMNT triumph and dashed hopes preserved so well.
In this film, you experience WC 2014 with all the wonder and joy of a first-time WC attendee. In the right cities, there is no bigger party than enjoying a World Cup with thousands of strangers. If you are a soccer fan, this film should convince you to go.
8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8