If anyone missed their chance to wear clothes adorned with the American flag on Saturday, they got another shot on Sunday while celebrating the U.S. women’s soccer team.
Patriotic enthusiasm spilled over from the Fourth of July holiday, as World Cup soccer fans — many attired in red, white and blue — turned out in force to The Londoner Grill, a favorite Baton Rouge spot for watching soccer. Crowded around TVs in the pub named after a city where soccer is called football and games are called matches, U.S. fans cheered on the women, who won 5-2 against Japan.
Sunday was a rematch of the 2011 final, when the U.S. lost to Japan and the Americans were “out for blood,” said Keri Wallace, who watched the game with friends.
But as proud as those fans are of their country’s team, many of them said what’s truly special about soccer is how it brings people together.
It is, after all, called the “beautiful game.”
Wallace met friends Jamie Pratt and Brandy Hoffman when their children played soccer together in Gonzales about 10 years ago. Their coach was Clint Hoffman, Brandy’s husband.
Brandy Hoffman likens the World Cup to the Super Bowl, except on a world stage.
“It’s somewhere where there’s no politics, there’s no black and white,” she said. “It’s the world coming together to play the beautiful game.”
But it’s not an easy game. Pratt said players must be in good shape because games are essentially 90 minutes of sprinting up and down a field.
It’s also not an entirely easy experience on fans, she said, because there’s “always anticipation of when the goal will come.”
Soccer requires more patience than the fast-paced sports most Americans prefer, said Kamell Clauson, noting that it can take a long time to score, although that wasn’t the case with Sunday’s match. Sometimes there are no goals, but watching games with other fans is still exciting.
“It’s a concentrated pool of energy,” Clauson said.
The environment at The Londoner on Sunday was much like a bar full of loud LSU fans in football season — and featured the same people in some cases — but World Cup soccer games have a key difference.
“Everyone can be like, ‘I’m from this state,’ but this is our country that’s playing on a world platform,” said Clauson, who was wearing sparkly blue eyeshadow and a red tutu.
The Baton Rouge chapter of the American Outlaws, a U.S. soccer fan club, was out at The Londoner, its flag-bedecked members leading the entire bar in chants: “I believe! I believe that we will! I believe that we will win!”
“We get together, drink beer and support America,” said Gary Navo, an American Outlaws member.
Another chant went, “We are the U.S., the mighty, mighty U.S.”
And there were frequent shouts of “USA, USA, USA.”
“There’s no real end to it,” said 12-year-old Lucy Silverman, who had been at The Londoner since 10 a.m. with her dad, Philip Silverman, and friends Clara Collins and Caroline Simpson, who are also 12. They played card games and ordered chocolate cake to pass the time until the game at 6 p.m.
“We’re making it an experience,” said Philip Silverman, who coaches the three girls’ Baton Rouge Soccer Club team. He wanted to show them that if they work as hard as the athletes on TV that night, they too can achieve anything.
The girls said they like soccer simply because it’s different from other sports. Clara, who has been playing with the other girls for about a third of their lives, likes that “it’s not just guys playing,” while Caroline said she is intrigued by the sport’s global popularity. Lucy watches the games to study creative plays.
“They’re still hanging out together, so the friends they make and seeing the same people — it’s sharing that all over the world,” Silverman said.
Karl Simeson and Jonathon Nguyen, members of a local adult soccer team, embody the multicultural nature of soccer’s fan base.
Nguyen is from Vietnam but now lives in Prairieville and calls himself a “Cajun Asian.” He has played soccer for years for both fun and fitness, he said.
Simeson grew up in Germany, where neighborhood kids would place their shirts on the ground as goalposts.
“Soccer is easy to get into,” he said. “You don’t have to have money to get into soccer. In Third World countries, or anywhere else, you can just go out with a ball. ... You just get two or three people. You can play with any amount of people.”