From Phoenix to Rio: Two Americans will start an epic World Cup road trip

Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro, could be a first port of call for the Phoenix road trippers. 

YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images

Most bar talk never leaves the premises, and is forgotten just as soon as the last swill of beer has slipped out of the glass. That’€™s because most ideas that originate at the bar are either terrible or impossible to execute. Joe Wennerlund and Matt McCloskey had had many such ideas — and then they struck upon a good one.

What if they, a pair of aspiring filmmakers, drove -€– yes, drove –€“ down to the World Cup in Brazil from their hometown of Phoenix, had as many adventures as they could, met a raft of interesting people along the way, and then made a documentary about it?

They have been friends since the fourth grade. Matt, 27, already works in the film industry. He currently lives in Pittsburgh, where he works on the upcoming A&E TV show "Those Whose Kill" as a location assistant.  

Joe, 26, sells something or other at a call center. But he went to film school and has made a few short films –€“ "I didn’€™t enter them into any festivals or anything," he explains. "I just made some and went, ‘Oh, what is this crap?’ and moved on."

And aside from a habit of cooking up cockamamie ideas over drinks, they both sport beards and a love for soccer. When the Phoenix FC Wolves entered the third-tier USL-PRO last season, they started going. And so this one scheme made sense.

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"We’€™ve come up with a lot of crazy ideas about opening certain kinds of businesses to developing apps to making certain kinds of films," says Joe. "But people would kind of always set it down, say it was crazy. But people hearing about this project inspired us to go forward with it and to bring this to life."

Reality would not rule out their brain burp, born of beer though it may have been. "It seemed really grandiose," says Matt. "Maybe even a little fanciful. But I never thought it was something we couldn’t do."

"I’€™ve always wanted to go to the World Cup," Joe continues. "So I said, ‘Hey, you want to do this project? We’ll do something crazy. We’€™ll drive all the way down, using the Pan-American Highway all the way through Central America and South America. Let’s go to the World Cup. It’€™ll at least be one crazy trip.’€™ That was the initial idea."

You can do that sort of thing when you’€™re in your mid-20s and you’€™re short on responsibility and long on energy. So now, two years on –“ or thereabouts, they can’€™t remember exactly –€“ they have a plan. "It was a seed,"€ says Matt. "€œIt’€™s been fleshed out. It’€™s taken on more of a shape. It seems like it’€™s something feasible. We can do this."

The plan, then: This Caravan to the Cup, as they’ve dubbed it, will set off on May 10 intending to arrive in Brazil by way of Buenos Aires; because they’d like to see Buenos Aires, even if it is a good 1,000 miles out of their way –€“ by June 12, the day the World Cup kicks off. First, they’€™ll raise the necessary funds on Kickstarter to buy an old van and cover gas, shipping, tolls and repairs. Then they’ll drive south from Phoenix and meet the Pan-American Highway, which bisects the entire Western Hemisphere, from the top of Alaska to the bottom of Argentina. Along the way, they hope to encounter generosity, hospitality and guidance, staying and hanging out with whoever they come across or meet through social media or couchsurfing.org. This is the backbone of the film, the journey, the slow slog through some 17 countries and along 10,000 miles. A sort of search for human goodness — and soccer.

What they’€™ll do when they get to Rio de Janeiro, they’€™re not entirely sure of. They have notions of working their way up the coast and hopefully catch a USA game in Natal or Recife. Perhaps they’€™ll get a chance to buy some tickets. "Our plan was originally just to go, be there, be in the atmosphere,"€ says Joe. "If we wanted to go to the game maybe scalp some [tickets] or watch it in a supporters’€™ [zone]."€ But people have already started to offer to help them out through social media. One claims to have tickets to the World Cup final for them –“ for free, since the man can’€™t go himself.

They are underprepared, but then that’€™s sort of the point. "We’€™ve never done anything like this," says Joe. "We’€™ve never been to South America or Central America. But we want to show people that this can be done."€ The idealism underpinning this enterprise is enviable. There are more dangerous countries between here and Brazil than there are safe ones.

But the people they meet won’€™t lead them astray –€“ they’€™re quite sure of that. "We feel like if you hang out with locals and do what locals do, not only are you getting a better experience but you’€™re going to be safer that way too," says Joe.

If it comes off, the trip will be the product of a more socially connected world, yet also give evidence that it has retained its baser humanity. It will at least be one crazy trip, as Joe put it. Maybe even a film. And just maybe, they’€™ll see some soccer at the end of it.