New York/New Jersey: Venue, Vidi, Vici
In the entryway to each venue office is a placard that counts down the number of days until the opener. The decreasing digits only accelerate the already frantic pace of 36-year-old attorney Charlie Stillitano, the VED for Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Despite 20-hour days that may include fielding irate phone calls from the New Jersey governor and sweet-talking a union boss, along with attending countless meetings and overseeing a paid staff of 30, plus some 1,500 volunteers, he fairly bounces down the hallway, high-fiving, schmoozing, exhorting.
To Stillitano, a former sweeper at Princeton and in the American Soccer League, participating in the Cup is like sipping champagne from the Holy Grail. It is especially sweet because Italy, homeland of both of Stillitano's parents, will play at the Meadowlands and train in his native New Jersey. At the December draw, the field was divided into six four-team groups; each team will play three games in a round-robin over the Cup's first fortnight. After that, the top 16 countries advance to the one-loss-and-ciao knockout rounds, which will include a semifinal match at the New Jersey site.
In all, the Italians will play between two and five games at the Meadowlands, which means Stillitano is hearing from ticket-seeking Stillitanos from around the globe, including one unfamiliar relative from the Ivory Coast. On some days this outpouring of interest can bring tears to the VED's eyes. "The people in soccer have been preaching to the choir for a long time," he says. "Now all the things that we have been talking about for years—the passion, the excitement—everyone in America will get to see for themselves."
Orlando: Open for Business
The rumor around Church Street is that bars have ordered 4,000 kegs of Guinness for the incoming Irish. The city's TOPS—Tourist Oriented Police Service—have received sensitivity training and now know that Dutch fans are only being playful when they make off with an officer's hat. Brochures providing advice will be available to those battling the bewildering heat during games that will start at 12:30 p.m. in the Citrus Bowl.
While it may seem that the World Cup invasion is only a rumor at this point, host cities are in fevered preparation for the projected million international visitors, who will contribute a large chunk of the estimated $4 billion that will be spent between the Atlantic and the Pacific over the course of a month. Even in Orlando, where there's a theme park on every corner, the organizers are laying on a dozen concerts, festivals and fairs to entertain fans between games. "I'm more concerned about how we behave than how our visitors from around the world do," says Joanie Schirm-Neiswender, the cochair of the venue's host committee. Indeed, since the fall of '92, 11 foreign tourists have been killed in Florida, not to mention that in the same span two visiting soccer teams have had their hotel rooms burglarized during trips to the U.S.
San Francisco: Sprucing Up
Each of the nine stadiums required substantial work to lit FIFA's guidelines, from expanding the playing surface to supplanting artificial turf with grass, as in Detroit and East Rutherford. But none needed more extensive renovations than 73-year-old Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, which underwent a $5 million face-lift: Aluminum bleachers replaced wooden ones, locker rooms and rest rooms were refurbished, a volunteer crew of high school students spent days cleaning debris from under the stands. The field itself demanded some work, but soon it will need more: On June 12, eight days before Brazil takes on Russia in this venue's opener, the turf will be trampled on by 30,000 during Stanford graduation ceremonies.
Detroit: Terra Unfamilia
On this day Channel 5 from Thailand is in town. A three-man TV crew is roving around a huge expanse of turf assembled in the parking lot outside the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich. The cameraman takes a three-minute close-up of soil and sandbags. The reporter kneels close to the sod. "I think it's very good grass, some of the best," he says. "There's lots of kinds of grass—green, white, yellow, brown, purple. It's very nice."