Wichitan’s writing career brings him to World Cup

06/17/2014 9:02 AM

08/06/2014 12:06 PM

The first time Andrew Wiebe wrote about professional soccer for his college newspaper, a journalism professor critiqued his article with one word. Why?

A year or two later, as Wiebe ignored concerns of low interest and continued to write about the sport he loves, another journalism professor advised him to pursue other careers.

“He told me to give up, that I would never get a job covering soccer” said Wiebe, a Wichita native and Kansas grad. “I used that as fuel to get to where I am today.”

Wiebe, the new media editor for MLSsoccer.com and the host of ExtraTimeRadio, chuckles as he recalls those stories. Not only did he make a career out of soccer journalism, he is currently covering the World Cup in Brazil. He arrived in Sao Paolo before the start of the tournament and he has been writing about the event ever since.

Most of his time in South America is devoted to the US soccer team, but he was also in attendance for Brazil’s 3-1 victory against Croatia in the opener. His tweets offer a glimpse into the day-to-day life surrounding such an enormous sporting event, with the occasional reference to his home state.

“I live in Brooklyn, but I love Kansas,” Wiebe said via phone from Sao Paolo. “I was born and raised in Wichita, went to East, my parents still live there. Barn’rds is the first place I go when I’m back in town.”

He is still trying to figure out where to eat in Brazil, but the country no longer feels foreign. Perhaps traveling roughly 80 days a year and covering World Cup qualifiers in Central America prepared him for the transition of a month-long work trip. Or maybe it’s the adrenaline rush that comes with being part of the World Cup.

Nothing in Major League Soccer can compare.

On Thursday, Wiebe watched as an entire nation focused on a soccer match. He saw thousands upon thousands of yellow-clad supporters descend on a stadium for Brazil’s first game. They roared during opening ceremonies, gulped when the tournament began with an own goal and lit fireworks when Brazil roared back.

“It is like a Super Bowl with two countries facing each other,” Wiebe said. “Your entire country is fully invested in that match. It is hard to describe, but everything about it was completely Brazilian in every single way. It was festive and it wasn’t perfect by any means, because nothing down here is. That was the beauty of it, this imperfect celebration of soccer. There was yellow everywhere. You can’t imagine how many yellow jerseys I saw.

“Even the backdrop is amazing. This is the largest city in the southern hemisphere and it is sprawling. People say Houston is a sprawling city, but I don’t think it compares to this. It seems like it goes on forever and ever and ever. The traffic is absolutely choking.”

The media contingent is big, too. When Wiebe got his professional start covering Sporting Kansas City, then the Wizards, for a start-up blog he was one of four regular journalists that attended home games. On Thursday, he wrote a column in a media work room filled with an estimated 3,000 journalists.

“We filled up two basketball courts,” Wiebe said.

Getting to and from the game was also an ordeal, and the big crowds made finding food difficult. Popcorn became a meal.

Add it all up, and he had an experience he won’t soon forget. Of course, he doesn’t have much time to reflect on it. The United States faces Ghana at 5 p.m. on Monday, and that could be Wiebe’s busiest day in Brazil. With Germany and Portugal awaiting in group play, the Americans can’t waste any opportunities.

“I think they can get through the group,” Wiebe said. “We put together a bracket, and I didn’t have them going though because the group is so strong. The odds probably aren’t with them. Can they do it? Sure, they can definitely do it. But if you were forcing me to make a pick, I would say they come up just short because of so many little tactical changes they have made recently in the way they are playing. Maybe they haven’t had enough time to iron some of those kinks out. But they could surprise me.”

He thinks Brazil is the overall favorite.

“It seems almost pre-destined for them,” Wiebe said. “I think Belgium is a darkhorse and you always have to worry about Germany. But I would bet on Brazil or Argentina.”

No matter what happens, Wiebe knows people back home will be paying attention to his work. He shared a picture from the opening ceremonies and it got retweeted more than 250 times.

The negative soccer feedback he received in college is no more.

“Soccer has wide-spread popularity now,” Wiebe said. “The pace of its growth would surprise everyone from the top down. Five years ago, I couldn’t get friends to watch games with me. They would roll their eyes. Now they get it. They are begging me for tickets to Sporting KC games. It makes me feel pretty good about the future.”

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