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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

July 4, 2014 at 4:04 PM

Joe’s World Cup Journey: Watching USA’s final song in Denver

A crowd packs a bar in Denver before the World Cup quarterfinal against Belgium.  Photo by Joseph Sims

A crowd packs the Three Lions pub in Denver before the World Cup quarterfinal against Belgium.
Photo by Joseph Sims

BY JOSEPH SIMS

Seattle native Joseph Sims, 21, will travel around the country during the World Cup in search of the heart and soul of soccer in the United States. Read about his journey in the Take 2 blog.

It is July 1 in Denver. It’s the USA’s time to shine in the knockout round, and my friend and I arrive at the Three Lions pub at 9:30 a.m. anticipating a fantastic day of soccer.

For being such an important day, the early crowd is thin. Although the place isn’t empty, there are plenty of open tables. About three-quarters are in their USA gear, the other quarter are in Argentinian blue and white. I am the only person wearing the red of Switzerland for the day’s first game. A kind Argentinian woman in her late 20s invites me and my friend to sit with her at the best table in the house, even though I am “wearing the wrong jersey.”

During the Switzerland-Argentina match, the bar rapidly fills up. By halftime every table is full, and by the end of regular time I have to fight through the crowd to reach the bathroom.

Patrons are almost exclusively clad in USA gear, yet as in other cities on my journey, they are as engrossed in the day’s first game as they would be if their own country were playing. A gasp for every big save. A loud cheer for Argentina’s go-ahead goal three minutes from the end of extra time. A groan of dismay when Switzerland’s Dzemaili hits the post with a header two minutes later.

The American fans also offer up consolation generously. In the half hour after the game, I get many pats on the back and words of comfort praising the Swiss for their good fight. I need this, as the heartbreaking loss has me closer to tears than any other moment so far in this World Cup.

There is no time to mourn. The USA plays next, and I must change into my USA outfit, complete with lucky socks.

In the lead-up to the match, there are the customary cheers for U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and boos for the Belgian squad, but compared to everywhere else I have been there is very little chanting until just before kickoff. This isn’t for lack of voices. Every inch of space is taken up 30 minutes before game time, and the bar has to stop letting people in before the match even starts.

In the first half, the energy of the bar seems to have little relationship to the game. Seven Nation Army is sung, as is Florida State’s War Chant. The crowd is just as partisan as in Philadelphia, complaining about most calls against the USA, even if the decision is obviously correct. Otherwise, the fans start out cheerful and optimistic, with the only target of negativity Michael Bradley, who has had a poor tournament by his high standards.

At halftime, a friend who joined us during the game asks how we know the people we are sitting with (four other American men have joined us and the Argentine woman). We don’t know them, we respond. Only soccer binds us together. How wonderful it is that the beautiful game can bring together people all over the world with nothing in common but a love for the sport.

A giant American flag unfurls, covering everyone on the ground floor. Chants of “USA!” begin as we hold it up, only stopping once the second half begins.

The crowd gets more intense in the second half the closer the game comes to extra time. By the hour mark, chants and bursts of noise are so frequent I can’t even hear my friends. People are so fixated on the match that they don’t notice a fire truck slowly roll by the bar with a giant American flag painted on it. Tim Howard’s saves are cheered as loudly as if the USA had scored a goal. A loud, drunken rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” is sung as regular time ends, 0-0. We are headed for another 30 minutes.

At the beginning of extra time, De Bruyne makes it 1-0, Belgium, and the energy drains from the crowd. Encouraging cheers and chants wane, and fans criticize every small mistake. The frustration increases when Romelu Lukaku makes it 2-0 right before halftime of extra time.

As the crowd threatens to become downright toxic, a lifeline appears. Julian Green, 19,  scores a wonderful volley, and USA is only one goal down. A cheer that is as much relief as it is jubilation wells up, along with a belated beer shower. The crowd’s energy is back. Screams erupt for every USA chance.

The final whistle blows, ending the United States’ World Cup journey. The silence lasts about 10 seconds before a round of applause begins. It starts small, but soon everyone in the bar is clapping. Despite everything that happened during that match, the crowd is still eager to thank the players for an entertaining journey. And while it ended sooner than we would have liked it, it firmly established the USA as one of the world’s top 16 teams.

We leave to explore the city, hoping the nation will not stop watching the World Cup now that the USA is done. I certainly won’t. I hope that watching the USA for the past three weeks has given them enough of a taste of the world’s game necessary to create more lifelong fans and further the game’s presence here in the United States.

Joseph Sims, 21, graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla in May with a degree in politics.  The graduate of Roosevelt High School in Seattle has an obsession with soccer that has taken him all over the globe, from the World Cup in South Africa, to the Emirates Stadium in London, to the Sounders-Timbers rivalry right here in Seattle. Follow his journey around the country during the World Cup to find the heart and soul of soccer in the U.S. in the Take 2 blog.

Want to be a reader contributor to The Seattle Times’ Take 2 blog? Email your original, previously unpublished work or proposal to Sports Editor Don Shelton at dshelton@seattletimes.com or sports@seattletimes.com. Not all submissions can be published. Opinions expressed are those of authors, and The Times reserves the right to edit and publish any submissions online and/or in print.

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