GENESEO – World Cup fever is gripping our towns. As our country’s proudest holiday approaches, dozens of people flocked to local venues to watch USA vs. Belgium. The United States Men’s Soccer team had successfully advanced through the Group Stage of the World Cup for the second consecutive time. Social media was focused on the soccer frenzy on a national scale driven by the saying “I believe”, the US Men’s Soccer team’s social media campaign.
Of the big four sports in the US, soccer seems to struggle the most for popularity. The youth of America are focusing on other sports including hockey, basketball, football, and up and coming lacrosse, making it difficult for soccer to gain any sort of dominance. Thus, soccer fans seem like a dying breed in the US. However, on a Tuesday afternoon at The Village Tavern in Geneseo, it was clear that there are soccer fans who are proud of their country, and pulling for American dominance in a sport we have never been at the top of.
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“We have been absolutely packed for every US game thus far.” Said Chris Visali, bartender at the Village Tavern. “The turnout has been awesome, and the excitement hasn’t been something I’ve seen in awhile.”
Although it was clear that some fans only knew that a round ball needed to be placed in the net by a player wearing white, they were fans for their country nonetheless. At Club 41 on Main Street Geneseo, fans gathered wall to wall, eyes glued to the TV’s, cheering for their country, growing to love the sport more and more as the minutes waned on.
One thing was known for certain; win or go home. As the game approached the end of regulation, it seemed as though just about anyone and everyone knew that the United States would not be scoring a goal in regulation and would need Extra Time to do the job. As the Belgian team pressed forward, challenging US goalkeeper Tim Howard time and time again, fans everywhere cheered for each of his 16 saves and breathed sighs of relief. Yet, at the 93 minute, the there was a hush over the crowd, as the US was out-manned on a Belgian attack, but this time Howard could not make the save. Complete and utter disbelief fell over the crowd. The buzz that was filling the Village Tavern and Club 41, was suddenly gone. To make matters worse, Belgian substitute Romelu Lukaku made an exceptional run with the ball, finishing past a diving Tim Howard to make the score 2-0 to Belgium as the whistle blew for the end of the first half of extra time.
After Belguim’s second goal, some fans began to clear out, their hopes dashed that the U.S. would advance. However, an unlikely hero, 19-year-old Julian Green, gave hope to those who hung around. It was Green’s first appearance in the World Cup, being substituted on as the second half of extra time began. The first touch in his World Cup career, a touch off a cross from midfielder Michael Bradley, that put the ball in the back of the net, getting a deafening cheer from fans. The Village Tavern erupted. Club 41 could be heard at the Livingston County Courthouse. American fans, given a new wave of hope by a kid playing in his first ever World Cup game, watched on with renewed fervor.
Unfortunately, the score held at 2-1 to Belgium, and the U.S. was eliminated from the World Cup. Fans in the Village Tavern may have felt disappointed, but there was some happiness and sense of community that made the loss hurt a little less. The community effect that sports has on people is at times overlooked. Indeed, on Tuesday afternoon, international soccer fans and die-hard patriots alike were brought under the same roof for a common spectacle: a soccer game.
Both Club 41 and the Village Tavern cleared relatively soon after the devastating final whistle, yet there were positive signs for the future of soccer.
“Hey so, same place in four years?” Said one fan to others nearby.
“Yes!” Replied a newfound friend. “I can’t wait until the next [World Cup]!”
There will always be those who are unwilling to cross the bridge and watch the World’s game, yet this World Cup has been a step in the right direction. If anything is taken from the outcome of this World Cup, the “Comeback Kids” taught us to believe.
[ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CONRAD BAKER]