SALVADOR, Brazil – The final message the United States will receive before it steps onto the field to face Belgium on Tuesday won't be from head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but from a 22-year-old recent college graduate from Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Mo.
Last weekend, Ashley Porter, a passionate soccer fan who just earned a degree in sports management, wrote a slogan of inspirational support and submitted it to U.S. Soccer as part of a World Cup campaign aimed at bringing fans and the team together.
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Late Monday night, Porter's words were selected to be printed onto a giant placard that has now been mounted in the U.S. locker room at Estadio Fonte Nova and will be walked past by every member of Klinsmann's side as it takes the field for its round of 16 clash.
"It won't be easy. It won't be painless. It WILL be worth it. Go get 'em, boys, we're all behind you."
The concept is a savvy piece of fan engagement that was concocted by the federation's communications and social media teams, but has turned out to also have a practical effect of motivation.
A team spokesman said the players appreciate the chance to feel connected with their support base while in Brazil and "enjoyed hearing from the fans in a unique way."
"We have a special connection with our fans," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "That is one of the great things about this team."
[Related: Five burning questions for Belgium v. US]
U.S. Soccer reached out to supporters via social media in the lead up to the tournament and urged them to send in their messages. Around 3,500 were received and they are still pouring in. Different messages have been used at each game of the World Cup, as well as the matches in the warm-up sendoff series. Others have been placed inside the team's jersey and even on their official luggage tags.
For Porter, who follows the team passionately and will follow her ritual of watching the U.S. while barbecuing with friends and family Tuesday, having her message chosen for use in the buildup to such a pivotal game has only heightened her emotions.
"I literally don't know how to put into words how this team makes me feel," Porter told Yahoo Sports by telephone. "I feel so alive watching them play.
"To have my words picked means so much. I just hope that when they see the message they realize how much the whole country is behind them and that they are not alone out there."
Meghan Brennan of Detroit had her message selected for the U.S.' opening World Cup game against Ghana. Clint Dempsey read the words as he walked onto the field, then scored the go-ahead goal just over 30 seconds into the game.
Brennan's message was: "WE CAN. WE WILL. WE ARE ONE NATION. ONE TEAM." She devised it as a spin on the mantra she uses while running.
"Mine just happened to be [for the first game]," Brennan wrote in an email. "That made it extra exciting."
All the messages are heartfelt, all emotionally charged and all designed to lend unfettered support. As destiny approaches, the U.S. needs all the inspiration it can get.
- Sports & Recreation
- World Cup 2014
- Jurgen Klinsmann