In its opening match of this summer’s World Cup, the U.S. national soccer team will step out into a wall of thousands of screaming voices filling Brazil’s Machadão stadium.
Stars Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Jozy Altidore will line up for the playing of the national anthem. The atmosphere will be electric, charged by the passion of being on the world’s greatest sports stage.
Joining them will be one of Johnson County’s own — 10-year-old Nathan Ensley.
The Center Grove area youngster is one of 25 U.S. children chosen to accompany the national soccer team onto the field at this year’s World Cup.
He’ll walk hand-in-hand with one of the members of the team and stand with the players while the national anthem blares from the stadium speakers.
For the soccer fan, it’s an opportunity that he’ll never forget.
“The crowd will be roaring for the U.S. and Ghana, whoever they like. They won’t be cheering for me, but it will still be good,” Nathan said.
Nathan was given the opportunity to attend the World Cup through a contest sponsored by McDonald’s.
It’s part of a global program that chooses player escorts from around the world to accompany each team in the tournament.
More than 1,400 kids will be part of the program, which has been part of every World Cup since 2002.
The company pays to fly the children and one guardian each to Brazil for one of their country’s games in the World Cup. For Nathan and his mom, Patti Ensley, that will be the U.S. vs. Ghana match June 16.
Decision kept secret
Nathan’s interest in soccer comes from his parents. They were reading a book to him on the history of the World Cup, with statistics, match results and player bios.
“He could remember all of the details of who beat who, and the players’ names. He was following right along,” Patti Ensley said.
In the Mount Pleasant Christian Church youth league, Nathan plays forward, working to set up goals for himself and his team.
As a forward, it makes sense then that his favorite player is Aron Johannsson, the Icelandic-American striker for the U.S. team.
Though he’s played only sparingly in international action, Johannsson is considered a possible breakout player this year.
“You have to be good to be on this team,” Nathan said. “He might even be a starter.”
Patti Ensley signed Nathan and his twin brother, Noah, up for the McDonald’s contest early this year. She and her husband, David, found out that Nathan had been chosen in mid-April but had to keep the announcement a secret.
They tried their best to prevent their son from finding out. Trips to get passport photos and apply for visas to Brazil gave something away, though.
“When he first figured it out, we had to downplay it so much that he couldn’t get excited,” Patti Ensley said.
So when Nathan and his mom were called out on to the field at the sold-out Indy Eleven soccer game on May 31, and officials revealed his job at the World Cup, he was ecstatic.
“He’s been so excited since. To be in front of all of those people, it was amazing,” he said.
Nathan and his mom will be in Brazil for four days, flying into Rio de Janeiro first before taking a plane to Natal, the site of the U.S. vs. Ghana game.
Because Nathan also enjoys sports commentating, he will be calling the action while he and his mom watch inside the stadium.
“I’m excited about him getting introduced to a new culture and possibly meeting people from other countries,” Patti Ensley said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and with his interest in sports, it’s right what he wants to do.”
David Ensley will watch the game from home with Noah cheering on his brother and the U.S. squad.
“He’s probably going to have a good time. It’s good that I gave it to him instead of going myself,” Noah said.
Nathan was joined by friends, teammates and family at a Center Grove-area McDonald’s for a send-off party Wednesday. They ate free food, played with the Indy Eleven mascot Zeke and talked about soccer.
The restaurant will hosting a World Cup viewing party, where people can watch the U.S. vs. Ghana game and try to catch of glimpse of Nathan on the field.
“We’re just so excited that somebody from our backyard won,” said Karen Wojtowicz, who owns and operates the restaurant with her husband, Paul.