Chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” enveloped The Londoner Pub & Grill twice Sunday, first when Alex Morgan scored late in the second half to give the United States a 1-0 lead over Japan in the Women’s World Cup final and again when Abby Wambach’s header made it 2-1 in the 104th minute.
By the count of Londoner manager Rob Irwin, some 300 fans were on hand to cheer the favored U.S. in its World Cup bid.
But the cheers soon turned to silence.
Homare Sawa brought Japan even in the final minutes of extra time, securing a 2-2 tie and sending the game to penalty kicks, where the U.S. came undone and Japan scored the upset.
“I definitely didn’t see that coming. It was like the Brazil game in reverse,” said Suzanne Miller, who watched the game with friends from the Baton Rouge chapter of the American Outlaws, a national soccer support group.
In the quarterfinals, Wambach tied Brazil in the final minute of overtime, setting the stage for the U.S. to advance in penalty kicks.
Another nail-biter against France in the semifinals punched the U.S. through to its first World Cup final since 1999 and helped generate soccer interest even in the heart of Southeastern Conference country.
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, The Londoner was a prime spot to watch the big game.
Fans chose from 34 beers on tap and feasted on shepherd’s pie and other English-themed entrees. They enjoyed soccer in a place where soccer is always a priority, no matter the time of season or even time of day.
Routinely, the two-story tavern on Sherwood Forest Boulevard opens at 9 a.m. — two hours early — so fans can watch European League matches.
“We’ll show soccer no matter what else is on,” Irwin said.
They showed the Royal Wedding earlier this year, opening The Londoner’s doors at 5:30 a.m. and serving breakfast to about 150 customers.
Sunday’s match began at a very ordinary 1:45 p.m. CDT, but fans like Mark Jones would have been there no matter what.
Jones founded the Baton Rouge chapter of the American Outlaws two-and-a-half months ago. He wore a bright red T-shirt and a U.S. flag-themed bandana around his neck.
“My father is from Liverpool,” Jones said. “I had no choice but to love soccer.”
Love was everywhere for Sunday’s final.
An hour before kickoff, The Londoner had an hour wait to be seated — if anyone ever left.
Gonzales resident Josh Alexander sat at the upstairs bar in a Landon Donovan jersey. He beamed with confidence.
“I think Abby Wambach will have two corner-kick goals,” Alexander predicted. “She’s going to head them in.”
Joey Chaisson, Alexander’s neighbor, even had a score in mind.
“I’m calling it — 3 to 1,” he said.
Fans waved miniature American flags waitresses left at their tables. The tension thickened as the U.S. missed one early opportunity after another. The place erupted when Morgan finally ended the offensive drought. There were gasps. There were groans.
Ultimately, there was shocked silence.
Miller took solace — if only a little — in knowing Japan might have given a boost to their nation in the wake of a devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
“If it wasn’t against the U.S., I’d be happy for them,” Miller said of Japan. “Against the U.S., not as much.”