Neither of us are what you would call huge soccer fans, but I get wrapped up in the World Cup and thought a fun story idea would be to visit the local bars and watch the USA-Ghana game with Powell’s soccer fans.
My dad was skeptical, but I assured him people would come out for the game. Don’t underestimate this small Western town. There’s a high school soccer program, college soccer program and there’s thousands of people who love, above all else, rooting for America.
I envisioned red-white-and-blue clad Powellites packed in the bars, hoping their celebration video gets included in the next compilation that goes viral.
My dad hoped I was right, but still had his doubts that soccer, especially here, would be a big draw. I wasn’t buying it.
But when it came to hunches about soccer fandom in Wyoming I did what so many root beer enthusiasts have done before — I underestimated Dad’s. He couldn’t have been more right, and I couldn’t have been more disappointed.
When I parked at the bar 10 minutes before kickoff I was happy to have to search for an open spot. The atmosphere is going to be great! Or so I thought.
Maybe spirits were high in the bank, or the salon, or the electronics store, or wherever else all these cars were taking their drivers.
But the bar was as it always is on weekday afternoons. Slow. Quiet. A few men with bristling faces throwing back Bud Lights.
The game was on two of the three TVs, though that may have been because sports bar TVs are perpetually tuned to ESPN anyway.
It’s not that the game went completely unwatched. There were tepid reactions from those who happened to be seated in front of a screen. One cowboy even let out a “Oooh yeah!” after John Brooks’ game-winning goal. But that was largely the extent of the enthusiasm.
I give Powell’s futbol faithful the benefit of the doubt. It was a Monday afternoon. People have work and maybe they’d rather watch it at home instead of starting their week with one too many and an angry spouse.
Sunday’s match against Portugal, which could have been a clincher for the Americans, was sure to be a bigger draw.
But I wasn’t heading back to the bars. The previous night’s wedding packed enough of a punch for a few weekends and I chose instead to watch the match at the quiet, sober confines of a friend’s house.
I walked through the front door just as the game was about to start but instead of the roar of the crowd and the British accent of the commentator I heard ... is that ... Japanese?
Yes. My friend’s roommate was watching anime.
He was watching anime right as the USA-Portugal game was starting.
It’s not like he’s a Russian lit major buried in some 1,300-page novel about why the world is a terrible place. He’s actually a knowledgable soccer fan — FROM BRAZIL!
So let me get this straight. Americans aren’t excited for the first game against Ghana, an opponent that any sports fan could talk themselves into being a hated rival, and a guy from one of the most soccer-crazed countries on earth would rather binge-watch an anime show and then catch the game later via highlights or DVR?
What about Powell sucks the excitement out of huge soccer matches?
While fandom will obviously be at its peak during glory days and championship runs, it should also persevere through the dark times and winless streaks. American soccer fans were forgiven when the U.S. men’s team was basically a laughingstock just a couple decades ago. But that excuse is gone.
This team is young and this team is good. That’s been proven over two matches that have the Americans on the brink of advancing out of the foursome tabbed “The Group of Death.”
They beat Ghana and held arguably the best player on the planet in check for 99 percent of a 2-2 draw.
I hope fans turn out for Thursday’s match — a potential do-or-die game against Germany. It’s not that I mind watching a game alone, or having a quiet bar mostly to myself. It’s that American sports fans are better than that. And this team we have the privilege of rooting for right now is better than that. They deserve all of the flag-waving, face-painting and chant-screaming enthusiasm shown by those in Brazil’s massive football stadiums.
And though Dempsey, Howard and the rest of the boys can’t hear us in little ol’ Powell (as my co-worker often affectionately calls her hometown), we can hear each other.
The moments that create those (now overplayed) videos of bar patrons going crazy over U.S. goals is what makes the World Cup so great.
On Friday we can go back to arguing about whichever war we are or aren’t involved in and which efforts are and aren’t worth our tax dollars.
But who among us can’t get behind an underdog team representing the stars and stripes?
If the U.S. men advance, I hope American soccer fans advance with them.
The USNMT’s final game of Group G will be on ESPN at 10 a.m. Thursday. Make arrangements with your boss now.