It’s no longer just weirdos and loners. Everyone now watches the World Cup.
It’s been 12 years since I’ve watched the United States men’s national team play a World Cup game in America. The options were my couch, a friend’s projection screen in his office, or the watch party under the Brooklyn Bridge. I chose the latter.
I arrived about 20 minutes before Lionel Messi broke Switzerland’s heart. Already, the archway was filling up with U.S. supporters broken up into two sections: the high school kids up front and the adults sitting on folding chairs or picnic tables behind them. The little Argentine did away with the pesky neutrals (though that’s perhaps not a fair joke to make about this Swiss team) in extra-time, the dance music started, and people started to file into the makeshift venue in earnest. Some were coming from work, DUMBO’s rash of ad agencies having shut down for the afternoon, while others were fully decked out in USMNT apparel. Props to the dude in the Lupe Fiasco shirt. That was aggressive. One girl wore a US Squash national team shirt, which still scored points for patriotism. A man had on an Ole Miss football shirt, which was at least red. Just down from him sat a guy in a Pittsburgh Penguins tee shirt, which was not.
The overused, ridiculous, and popular “I Believe” chant rang out at random intervals roughly every five minutes. (It felt like 90 seconds.) One of the leaders wore a tank top with a lobster on it (red!), a matching headband, and could have been Zac Efron’s body double in Neighbors.
Also present: a lot of chanting that wasn’t exactly sporting. “Belgium suck” was popular. “Asshole. Asshole.” rang out when ESPN showed Vincent Kompany. The Belgian captain is a lot of things, but an asshole he is not. The Belgian national anthem got some boos. “F*ck you, Belgium,” came in the third-minute of first half stoppage time. I don’t know. I assume part of this was teenage boys being teenage boys, who—and I say this as a former teenage boy—are morons, but it was also pretty off-putting. You (mostly) don’t hear this type of behavior at a stadium or in a fan fest in Brazil because there are people from other countries to keep you in line. But under a bridge surrounded by 500 of your countrymen, all bets are off, apparently. I. Believe. This is going a little too far.
A round of good respectful applause came as the ref blew his whistle to signal the end of the opening 45.
I left the children and entered a nearby bar for the second half. More work attire, fewer jerseys, although at least 20 percent of the patrons had some type of patriotic getup on their person. If nothing else, the bar had run out of Budweiser, which has a bottle featuring an American flag. The place was packed, although it looked more like any big sporting event. If there’s one takeaway from this World Cup, I think it’s ultimately going to be that we’ve reached a critical mass of soccer fans in the U.S. People watching the World Cup now looks like the same people watching the Super Bowl. This hasn’t been a tipping point—I’m not even sure such a thing is possible what with the way the digital era has fractured our interests and made changed patterns of consumption—but Americans love sporting events and the World Cup is now, officially, a sporting event. There was a spontaneous “I Believe” chant in the 83rd minute, a synchronized groan when Chris Wondolowski missed a dream-haunting chance near the death, and the arrival of whiskey shots for the two men next to me in the 111th. An epic effort all around. But there would be no victory for the U.S.
“J-E-T-S. JETS. JETS. JETS,” a drunk man wearing a U.S. jersey yelled as I walked out the door into the afternoon sunshine. The World Cup is over for the United States. The NFL season starts on September 4th.