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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Nashua soccer fans optimistic about US World Cup success despite Tuesday loss to Belgium

The crowd at Arena Sportsbar in Nashua on Tuesday mimicked the U.S. soccer team on the field.

As Clint Dempsey or Michael Bradley dribbled the ball up the field in a hopeful attempt at a goal, the crowd tensed and collectively leaned forward, waiting for the moment to celebrate or groan and order another beer. As the ball soared through the air, a woman in the crowd screeched in anticipation before the bar let out a unified sigh when it bounced off the goal post and returned to Belgian possession. ...

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The crowd at Arena Sportsbar in Nashua on Tuesday mimicked the U.S. soccer team on the field.

As Clint Dempsey or Michael Bradley dribbled the ball up the field in a hopeful attempt at a goal, the crowd tensed and collectively leaned forward, waiting for the moment to celebrate or groan and order another beer. As the ball soared through the air, a woman in the crowd screeched in anticipation before the bar let out a unified sigh when it bounced off the goal post and returned to Belgian possession.

For a sport that is so underrated in the U.S., soccer has been gaining popularity since the World Cup began in June.

“We’ve had it so good for so long, and now they’re doing better than expected. … I think that’s part of it,” said Jim Paquette, a local fireman, as to why the World Cup is so popular in the U.S. this year.

Before Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to Belgium in overtime, the U.S. soccer team had been the underdog in this year’s World Cup tournament. After the team successfully navigated the “group of death” in Round 1 of the World Cup, Americans hopped on the soccer bandwagon to support their country’s team.

“The media does not promote it. … If you go to Europe, the atmosphere is so much fun,” said Fransisco Jinja, a native Portugese soccer fan. “Americans don’t get that.”

All eyes trained on the TVs that surrounded the bar Tuesday afternoon as the first half of the U.S. vs. Belgium soccer game finished up. During commercial breaks, groups chatted and ordered another round of appetizers, but when the game returned to the screen, everyone focused on the two teams battling for a place in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals.

Because the U.S. had not made it to the quarterfinals of a World Cup since 2002, many were eager to see how the team held up against Belgium. As the second half progressed, the teams appeared to be at a stalemate of 0-0.

However, fans did not give up easily and continued to cheer and comment as the players raced back and forth across the field. Chants of “I believe that we can win” – which has become a kind of mantra for the underestimated U.S. men’s soccer team – could be heard, while others commented on the team’s performance in the game.

“They’re very defensive, both teams,” Jinja said before throwing his hands up in the air and yelling, “C’mon, Bradley, do something!”

Throughout the second half of the game, the U.S. gave the crowd in the bar just enough hope to keep cheering optimistically at the TV screens. A good play earned congratulatory “whoop-whoops,” while a missed goal caused everyone to slap the table in front of them or toss back their heads in anguish.

When Belgium scored in the first half of overtime, many people believed that the U.S. was done for, and a feeling of defeat permeated the bar. There was no anger from the fans as Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne, kicked the ball past the outstretched hands of the U.S.’s goalkeeper, Tim Howard. There was only a sense of “Oh, well,” as Paquette put it.

Even after Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku scored the team’s second goal, fans weren’t ready to give up.

The U.S. lifted spirits in the bar when Julian Green scored.

“It ain’t over until it’s over,” said Paquette, cheering madly and clapping his hands enthusiastically along with everyone else. However, Green’s goal, the latest ever scored in a World Cup match, was the team’s last.

Belgium will play Argentina in quarterfinals July 5.

Despite Belgium’s win, the U.S. soccer fans had an optimistic outlook on the loss.

“Well, we made it exciting. … It was a good one,” Paquette said. “We lost, but we’re still happy.”

Emily Kwesell can be reached at 594-6466 or ekwesell@nashua
telegraph.com.