As nearly 25 million people tuned in to watch Team USA play Portugal in the World Cup, Mallory Stonier stood on the field.
The 9-year-old Vancouver resident was one of 27 kids around the country who won a contest through McDonald’s that sent them on a five-day trip to Brazil. Just before Sunday’s match in Manaus, Brazil, Mallory and 10 other kids walked onto the field hand-in-hand with Team USA’s starting lineup. She was paired with midfielder Graham Zusi, whom she says is now her favorite player.
He didn’t say anything to her, but “right before we walked out, he squeezed my hand twice,” Mallory said. Looking around the field before the roaring crowd, she said, it seemed like she was watching from afar.
“I felt like it couldn’t be happening,” she said. The kids, who were called player escorts, stayed on the field till the end of the national anthems. “Then, we just ran off the field,” she said.
They were trying to get off the field before Portugal came around to high-five the USA team. Not sure how fast to get off the field, they sprinted.
“I enjoyed watching that,” said her dad, Brandon Stonier, who was waiting in the stands. “They ran fast.” About five minutes into the game, Mallory joined her dad to watch it. The crowd erupted into cheers when Team USA scored goal No. 2. Although Portugal scored at the last minute, resulting in a 2-2 draw, Mallory could not stop smiling.
Mallory is the daughter of state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver.
The game in Manaus was actually the last leg of their trip. Their first stop was Rio de Janeiro, where they visited Ipanema Beach, saw monkeys at Sugarloaf Mountain and played soccer at the Flamengo Football Club. The player escorts practiced headers and shooting with Ronald McDonald as the goalie.
After that they flew to Manaus and went on a boat tour of a wide river where the Rio Negro and Amazon River converge.
“The game was definitely the pinnacle of the end,” Brandon Stonier said.
Mallory hopes to attend another World Cup someday with her older brother Zachary, a soccer buff. Attending a Thorns game Wednesday night, she was taken aback by how small the stadium felt in comparison to the sheer size and loudness of the World Cup.
She got a souvenir to give to Val Hadwin, one of the owners of the local McDonald’s she frequents with her soccer team. Last month at the restaurant, her family and teammates surprised her with the news that she had won the trip to Brazil. Now, back on her home turf, Mallory returns to her own soccer games with the Washington Timbers Football Club. On Friday night she began the Clash of the Border tournament, which pairs teams on either side of the Columbia River.
McDonald’s is donating $1,000 to her east Vancouver soccer club, said Michelle Safo, spokeswoman for the fast food chain in Southwest Washington. Mallory’s parents say the money will likely go toward putting turf on the field at the Harmony Sports Complex.