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Has Soccer Arrived? Who Cares?
Certainly not the people at the Team USA watch parties.


The World Cup soccer parties are everywhere, which could be a report from Brazil or England or even Kathmandu, but is quite true in the good ol' US of A, too.

Whenever ESPN shows highlights of Team USA, they are spliced with scenes from massive viewing venues in Chicago and Kansas City and New York. But ESPN could just as easily turn its cameras on Milwaukee and see much the same thing.

On Brady Street, Sunday's U.S. vs. Portugal viewing party was supposed to be at the Nomad, but it ended up encompassing a massive swath of the street. So many thousands of people swarmed the area that police eventually closed the street to traffic.

That was Milwaukee's largest soccer soiree, but far from the only passionate one. This World Cup has netted big crowds at other bars dedicated to the Beautiful Game, such as Downtown's Upper 90 and Riverwest's Champions Pub. Even bars and dining establishments that don't normally cater to a sporting crowd have "watch the World Cup" banners hung in their windows.

The big crowds and big TV ratings for this World Cup have prompted a slew of media stories either wondering whether soccer has arrived in America, or flat-out declaring that it has. Such stories have always seemed silly to me, because really, who cares?

Time spent wondering who likes soccer and hates soccer is really time wasted. Because those who hate the sport will keep making the same old tired jokes, while those who enjoy it are too busy... well... enjoying it themselves to wonder whether anybody else is.

Down in Bay View, the Highbury is soccer's ground zero, as it has been for a decade. On Sunday, the packed house didn't spill into the street, but it did reach the sidewalk, where the enterprising owner of a pork rind cart had set up shop to feed the expected masses. Inside was a sea of red, white and blue clothing, scads of U.S. National Team jerseys, and no such thing as personal space.

Jeremy Mattson of the American Outlaws, a nationwide soccer fan club, was there, and he was a hard man to miss, what with his Uncle Sam hat and booming voice. He was the guy who, for several hours,  led the assembled masses in near-constant cheers and the now-familiar "I believe that we will win" chants. "I have a voice that carries," he said afterward, and the surprising thing was that he had any voice left to say it. Not surprising at all was that he, like the rest of the folks inside, had beer stains on his clothes. Whenever the U.S. scored, everybody got soaked in the celebration. Nobody minded a bit.

Sunday's game ended in a 2-2 draw, disappointing because Portugal scored the tying goal in the dying seconds, heartening because it left the U.S. as a favorite to advance to the World Cup's 16-team playoff. The U.S.'s fate gets decided Thursday, and depends on the outcome of its 11 a.m. game against Germany. Win or tie, and the party continues. Lose, and hope for help from the Ghana vs. Portugal game. If that help doesn't come, it's a four-year offseason before the next chance in 2018.

The parties will be back then, too. And so, most likely, will the stories debating the ascendance of soccer.

Nobody will be reading them during the beer showers.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, where I tweet as howiemag.  And listen to me talk sports with Mitch Teich once a month on WUWM's "Lake Effect."





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