June 21, 2014 10:08:14 PM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
With the United States securing a win in the group stage of the World Cup on Monday night, the nation is turning its attention to the games in Rio de Janerio. The U.S. faces Portugal tonight.
Locally, soccer fans are uniting as the U.S. team tries to improve on its round-of-16 finish in 2010 and attempts to get back to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002. On Monday, the U.S. beat Ghana 2-1 in a game that left seasoned fans on the edge of their seat and new fans cheering with excitement.
Evan Aldringer has been a fan of the sport since he was in elementary school. Donning a red, white and blue T-shirt and a hat picturing Chuck Norris against the backdrop of an American flag, the Delaware native and two dozen of his friends gathered at Buffalo Wild Wings in Columbus to cheer on the USA.
"I grew up playing soccer since I was like 7 years old," Aldringer said. "I've watched every World Cup my whole life and yeah, it's an awesome sport."
Aldringer said while he and his friends have been avid watchers of the games, he wishes more Americans would watch as well.
"I really wish soccer was more prevalent in the U.S.," he said. "Right now it seems like, soccer is, it's not frowned upon but it's like the number one sport in every country except the U.S. I feel like our team could be so much better if it was more prevalent in the U.S."
Aldringer then compared America's fascination with football to soccer.
"Imagine if you had every running back like on college football teams," he said. "You put them on the striker and you took every wide receiver in the NFL and made them our outside midfielder. How good would the U.S. be? We would be unstoppable. It would be like the USA's basketball team in the Olympics."
Aldringer's friend, Jonathan Daniels, is also a lifelong soccer fan, as is the rest of his family. In fact, Daniels' sister is in Brazil watching the games. Daniels was surprised he hasn't seen more fan support while in Mississippi. Both Aldringer and Daniels are stationed at Columbus Air Force Base.
"The last World Cup I was at was in D.C. and there was a lot more support," Daniels said. "I guess it's not very popular down South."
When asked what they would say to encourage people to watch the games, Aldringer wasn't optimistic.
"It's impossible," he said. "It's not an American sport. In America you have football, basketball and baseball. Those will forever be the number one sports in America."
Referencing the Major League Soccer teams, Aldringer said, "I don't know, if we got better players playing MLS, which we're trying to do now, that could boost the sport."
Columbus native Jimmy Parker echoed Aldringer's sentiments about the MLS and America's overall lack of interest in the sport. Parker and a friend were also at Buffalo Wild Wings Monday night to watch the game. Parker has played soccer since he was a child. As an adult, he now coaches park league soccer.
"Basically, it's the most watched sporting event in the world but not by people in the U.S.," Parker said. "Most people's complaint about soccer is the lack of the scoring. They don't really consider it a lot of action. The point of soccer is mainly the technical aspects, the ball movement versus the actual scoring."
As Parker was speaking, one of the players on the U.S. team was kicked in the face. The entire restaurant let out a collective "Oh!"
Parker added, "And then people getting kicked in the face."
Young fan Macy Walton was with her family Monday night. Her family joked that they came for the wings but the 12-year-old soccer player came for the game.
Walton started playing soccer this year. Walton said she doesn't have a favorite team but says she thinks the U.S. has been playing the best, noting they scored a goal in the first 30 seconds of Monday night's game.
Walton said people should watch the sport because it's fun.
"It's high energy and it's fun," she said.
Parker said that if the U.S. continues to do well in the World Cup, more Americans might be inclined to watch.
"It does seem to be gaining popularity in the U.S.," he said. "If we have good showings in the World Cup, you'll see more fan participation in the U.S."
Parker said regardless of the USA's performance, he'd continue to watch the game.
"I'll continue watching it," he said. "I really don't have a favorite team other than the U.S. I'll watch it for the game, though.
Aldridge said he too would watch the game until the very end. He encouraged others to watch the game too.
"They're missing out on a great sport," he said. "It's the number one sport in the world."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.