MEXICO CITY — Twenty delegates from the US Soccer Federation’s travel company contracted the stomach bug after Thursday’s World Cup qualifier against Mexico — and so did I.
Covering my first road US qualifier in-person, I watched the US men’s national team carve out an exhausting scoreless draw played at immense altitude at Estadio Azteca. However, I spent the night hurling visible scraps of lettuce into my hotel toilet at the Sheraton Maria Isabel. It was reported Sunday on the FS1 broadcast that eight USMNT players endured a similar experience, including midfielder Gio Reyna.
Despite the 7,200 feet in elevation at the venerable Azteca, which took my breath away as I walked up to the open-air press box on the 600 level (there was no elevator), the matchday forecast coupled comfort and clear skies for what was likely the last World Cup qualifier between the two archrivals. The night to come was a stark contrast. I sweated through two T-shirts and soaked my bed sheets on that nauseous night.
Minutes after the post-match press conference, speaking with coach Gregg Berhalter, Reyna and forward Christian Pulisic, about 30 reporters, including myself, loaded the bus to return to the hotel around 11:30 pm MT. After every pothole and bump in the road on that bus is when I learned the bubble guts I felt were more than bubbles.
After attempting to write in my hotel, I hit the bed at 2:30 am, but I didn’t sleep more than an hour. I tossed and turned instead searching for a culprit. I was forced to postpone my flight out of Mexico City.
My diet to that point consisted of the 6-inch deli chicken sandwich, peanut bar, apple and a bag of Lays that I had during halftime of the qualifier. I also had celebrated my arrival last Tuesday with a trip to Dante Brasa y Fuego for Mexican brisket in Mexico City’s elite Polanco neighborhood. The next two days, I enjoyed pollo pozole at La Case de Toño, profound chicken and fish tacos drowned in habanero at El Parnita and ate street tacos from a corner stand in Juárez.
After all, I’m a San Diego kid, who never walked across the border to Tijuana. Last week’s US-Mexico World Cup qualifier paved the way for my first trip to Mexico. Was I naive in my food choice? I took recommendations from Mexico-based reporters in the media pool.
But my trip to Mexico City comes down to this: at 26, I was the youngest USMNT reporter, covering the biggest qualifier, at the largest soccer venue in one of the most populated cities of the world. Food poisoning prematurely ended by coverage and I had to adjust accordingly. The one difference, all of this was new to me.
Several bright moments brought light to a rather disappointing ending to an unprecedented trip. The USSF named the Sheraton the designated USMNT media hotel. The US Soccer Federation allowing me to extend my stay prevented a headache of stress. And once the stomach bug bit me, several reporters and the hotel doctor saved what could’ve been three days of hell rather than two.
One USMNT reporter dropped off Pepto-Bismol and Imodium. Another two booked my doctor’s appointment. For all of it, I didn’t have to leave my room.
I did eventually come out of my self-imposed quarantine on Saturday afternoon. It was time to go home. A negative COVID-19 test is required to re-enter the US and my original had expired, but my second test result had not surfaced. After a 25-minute, traffic-filled Uber trip, I arrived at Benito Juárez International Airport – still no test result. Ten minutes go by. Then 15, then 30. Crickets.
To dial the local physician’s number, I needed a local line. Unable to speak Spanish, I approached an airport security guard to ask where a pre-paid phone was. No English. Searching for clues, he peaked at the pharmacy referral sheet in my hand and assumed I was seeking medical attention. In minutes, airport medics and backup security surrounded me at the TSA entrance to hall F2.
In the midst of the concussion, I messaged the doctor via WhatsApp and got my negative test result. The platoon dispersed but the next challenge came directly after. American Airlines delayed my flight, which meant I’d miss my connection. I was kicked to a redeye, flying to San Francisco to return to Nashville by dawn.
All of this for some bad lettuce.
For stories about Nashville SC or Soccer in Tennessee, contact Drake Hills at DHills@gannett.com. Follow Drake on Twitter at @LiveLifeDrake. Connect with Drake on Instagram at @drakehillssoccer and on Facebook.