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Ammon Wheatley stands with his sister TaLisha Landon at Rio Tinto Stadium during the U.S. Men's National team World Cup qualifier against Honduras. Wheatley is one of several Utahns headed to the World Cup in Brazil this summer. Courtesy: Ammon Wheatley
Utahns are heading to Brazil for the World Cup

Travel » For residents, exotic locales and big soccer games hold promise of a trip of a lifetime.

By Brennan Smith

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jun 13 2014 01:49 pm • Last Updated Jun 13 2014 10:30 pm

Josh Spongberg sits at his kitchen table in a canary yellow Brazil shirt, a portrait of Rio Tinto Stadium hanging behind him on the hallway wall. He’s watched every World Cup since 1994, when the world’s game came to the U.S., but this year is different.

This year, he’s going with his wife to the World Cup, a nearly 5.400 mile journey from his home in South Jordan to Brazil, the Mecca of stylish soccer.

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"Of course I’ve always wanted to go to a World Cup," he says excitedly. "Every four years you tell yourself, someday I’m going to go."

Spongberg is one of several Utahns heading to Brazil for the tournament beginning on June 12. Spongberg himself will be heading to the northeast region of Brazil near Recife to watch Italy-Costa Rica, Mexico-Croatia and United States-Germany, a match that could determine the U.S.’s fate in the tournament.

"I’m excited just as much for visiting Brazil as I am for the three games," he said.

Love of the game

Spongberg first caught "soccer fever" as a missionary in Argentina and through studying abroad in Spain, choosing to support Buenos Aires-based River Plate.

"Following Argentine soccer, it’s given me that flavor, the drums, the confetti, the streamers, the singing, as opposed to other cultures," he said.

However, all the Utahns interviewed for this story named the club in their backyard as a main catalyst for their fandom: Real Salt Lake. Ammon Wheatley of Heber City said RSL’s recent success is a gateway to the interest in the international game after midfielder Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando were named to the U.S. squad.

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"Just the fact that a couple of RSL players are on the roster is impressive," Wheatley said. "No one would have ever thought that a couple of years ago."

Wheatley has tickets to five matches in Brazil, stretched between Recife, Fortaleza and Natal to see U.S.-Germany, U.S.-Ghana, Costa Rica-Italy, Costa Rica-Uruguay and Mexico-Croatia.

"The fact that I missed South Africa made me not want to miss this one. Not a chance," Wheatley said. "I don’t know if ever in my lifetime again we’ll have a World Cup in the Mecca of soccer in Brazil. This is kind of the no brainer, can’t miss World Cup."

The cost of a World Cup trip

A trip to Brazil isn’t cheap without the World Cup, let alone when prices of everything from housing to food skyrocket in the lead up to the tournament. The Utahns interviewed for this story are spending on average of about $4,000 each for their trips, a figure for some not including food and expenses when they actually arrive in Brazil.

For James and Kathryn Delorey, budgeting for the tournament was extra challenging. The young couple married on May 5 and while planning for a wedding, they also planned the trip to Brazil as their honeymoon, "putting bits away" over the past year.

"The World Cup has always been a bucket list item for me," James said. "It’s something that I’ve been planning to do and Brazil seemed like the perfect time to go."

The couple put in for three games, but were only selected for the U.S.-Ghana game on June 16 in Natal. They’ll travel with five others and will spend 10 days in Brazil, time for soccer, but also time for an enjoyable honeymoon.

"The views of some of the places we’re staying at, on the water and the beaches, look gorgeous," Kathryn said. "I think it will be a lot of fun just hanging out, enjoying the scenery, going on different adventures and exploring a new place together."

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