Having watched World Cup matches with fans of Brazil, England, Australia and other countries, I realized that I hadn’t watched the USA play with American soccer fans. That would not be difficult to do as it seems as if New York City has developed a major case of World Cup fever. Everywhere you walked bars and restaurants had signs out front inviting customers in to watch the match. Even with all these options, I knew the perfect place to see the USA take on Germany in the final match of the group stages. I headed out to the Bohemian Hall Beer Garden in Astoria, Queens. This is a legendary Czech beer hall that dates back to 1919 and is the oldest beer garden in New York City.
For a match taking place at 12 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, it sure looked as if everyone took advantage of Jurgen Klinsmann’s permission slip to miss work for the match. The doors to the beer garden didn’t open until 11:45 a.m. yet the place was packed by the time the game kicked off.
The beers were being poured and the grill was going as the benches and tables filled up. It was amazing to see so many fans out to watch a soccer match as the sport has always taken a back seat to baseball, NFL football, basketball and hockey. There were lots of USA jerseys, a few folks draped in the American flag and there were even a few Germany fans mixed in.
The first half ended goalless and with the USA advancing even with a tie, everyone seemed to be in good spirits. Things changed in the second half, however, when Germany took the lead in the 55th minute from a Thomas Muller goal.
Despite some close chances the USA ended up on the wrong side of a 1-0 score. Regardless, with Portugal defeating Ghana the USA still progressed to the knock out rounds due to a superior goal differential. The atmosphere remained jovial.
After the match some of the crowd left, but when you’re hanging out in a beer garden on a summer afternoon and your team has advanced, why not stay to watch Belgium take on South Korea? It seemed as if a lot of folks felt the same way.
With the USA making it to the knockout rounds, World Cup fever continued to spread throughout the city. I therefore decided to head out to another soccer bar for the USA’s winner- take-all match with Belgium.
Back when soccer was ignored by most of the population, Nevada Smiths was one of the few places that showed live matches from England and other leagues throughout Europe. As I approached Nevada Smiths I realized that soccer’s popularity had really grown as there was a huge line, television cameras and overall bedlam. It made me wonder where all these people were when I used to go watch Arsenal versus Manchester United matches at 7 a.m. on Saturdays.
Rather than fight the crowd, I headed to Central Bar, another one of the early soccer bars in New York. The place was packed but I was able to get in and find a place in the back with a great view.
Everyone was pumped and there were a number of crowd-led chants of “I believe that we will win”. When the US anthem was played the entire place stood and sang along. I hadn’t seen that at a sporting event in ages.
I spoke with former marine Jose Berrara who was wearing a USA soccer jersey and had stopped in to watch the match after work. When asked why he was there he said, “I came here to root for the USA at my neighborhood bar.”
Berrara explained that he had grown up in the area and came to be a fan of soccer from spending time with friends in the bar when they would show soccer matches. At first he laughed at the sport, but eventually he was hooked. He’s now been following the US men’s national soccer team for eight years and has watched every USA match of the tournament at Central Bar.
The match itself was amazing. While Belgium had three times as many shots on goal, they couldn’t break down the USA defense and specifically goalkeeper Tim Howard. Howard would go on to set the all time World Cup record for saves in a single game with 16.
The game ended goalless and went to extra time. Belgium broke through in the 93rd minute when Kevin De Bruyne finally breached Tim Howard. They added a second in the 105th minute through Romelu Lukaku who was teammates with Tim Howard this past season for Everton of the English Premier League.
Amazingly the US fought back and scored one of their own in the 107th minute when 19-year-old substitute Julian Green scored on his first touch of the ball.
In the end, the USA came up short, but the team and Tim Howard certainly earned a lot of respect for American soccer throughout the world. Hopefully USA fans will watch the rest of the World Cup and the sport will keep growing here at home.