John McGrath: Fans treasuring US Soccer’s crazy, patriotic World Cup ride

Staff WriterJune 23, 2014 

I heard crowd noise I’ve never heard before Sunday, and then I heard it again.

The first time was when Jermaine Jones scored the equalizing goal for the United States in its World Cup game against Portugal.

The roar inside the tent set up adjacent to Doyle’s Public House in Tacoma probably registered on the seismic scale the same way Marshawn Lynch’s touchdown run did when he broke about 23 tackles en route to the end zone in that Seattle Seahawks playoff contest three years ago.

The second time was when the ball deflected off Clint Dempsey and into the Portuguese net during the 81st minute, giving the Americans a one-goal lead and, seemingly, a ticket to the World Cup’s knockout round.

Crazy? I have worked as a sports writer since 1977. I’ve covered the Summer and Winter Olympics in four continents, a dozen Super Bowls, almost as many Final Fours, more than 100 World Series games and some of the most memorable prizefights in boxing history.

No scene produced the electricity Sunday at Doyle’s, where soccer fans gathered elbow-to-elbow and chanted and whooped and hollered during a contest that turned out to be about a minute too long.

The final score was U.S. 2, Portugal 2, a draw with substantial consequences. Instead of facing Germany in what would have amounted to a Thursday morning warm-up game before the World Cup’s elimination phase, the Americans have some work to do.

In the meantime, I will take advantage of these few days to decompress.

What a ride.

“The World Cup is like the Super Bowl when the Seahawks are in it,” Doyle’s owner, Russ Heaton, said Sunday. “It’s like the 1980 men’s hockey semifinal between the U.S. and Russia. People tuned in to it, and it wasn’t just hockey fans.

“I talked to somebody today who’d never seen a soccer match in his life. He wanted to come here and see what the excitement was about.”

The excitement began the moment the U.S. team took the field, when the Tacoma chapter of the American Outlaws — U.S. Soccer’s national fan club — sang a slight variation of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

The lyrics were changed to “When the Yanks Go Marching In.”

I’m too old to get goosebumps from sports, much less from sports fans devoted to a sport I rarely played and scarcely acknowledged.

I got goosebumps Sunday.

John Crouch, owner of the semipro South Sound Football Club, was among those who joined the chorus.

“When you’re in a bar with maybe 50 other people, singing isn’t always appropriate,” Crouch said. “But when you’re with hundreds of people in a tent?

“Let’s sing.”

South Sound FC coach Adam Becker, who also coaches the soccer team at Stadium High School, took a glance at the crowd around him, sweltering in the big tent, and smiled

“I usually watch World Cup games at home, where I can break down the plays and formations and concentrate,” he said. “But today? To be part of this? I had to be here.”

Doyle’s opened eight years ago, two months before the 2006 World Cup. Heaton, then a co-owner, was passionate about soccer, but he wasn’t sure how many customers shared his passion.

“I knew how I felt about the game, but I didn’t know if everybody else was as giddy as I am about it,” he said. “Turns out there are lots of people as engaged as I am. They want to see the U.S. team do well and want to watch the game at the highest level.

“That first win against Ghana already had soccer fans excited,” Heaton continued, referring to the Americans’ 2-1 upset in their World Cup opener last week. “But then you get this national pride mechanism at work, when people with no clue about offsides, or what a false nine is. All they know is there’s these guys out there with red, white and blue on their uniforms, and they want them to win. You can feel the excitement.”

The excitement Sunday turned into euphoria and two of the most robust reactions I’ve ever see sports fans make during a game involving a bouncing ball.

It will be recalled as a 2-2 draw in the World Cup record book, but in terms of sheer intensity — hundreds of chanting fans, watching two big TV screens in a tent — I will recall it as a day unlike any other I’ve experienced as a sports writer.

“You could watch this game alone, at home,” said Heaton. “But why?”

john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com

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