There are 18 flat screen TV monitors peppered on the walls of Bull Wings Sports Bar and Restaurant and on this Tuesday afternoon every one of them is showing the soccer event of the year – USA vs. Belgium in the World Cup.
And, this isn’t just any World Cup game, either. It’s the round of 16, the knockout round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The winner takes on Argentina Saturday in the quarterfinals. The loser goes home.
It’s the noon hour and the game starts at 1 p.m., Pacific Time, and the customers are streaming in, hoping to grab a seat at the bar or at a table. During World Cup games, those chairs fill quickly at Bull Wings.
|Bull Wings' general manager Robert Goslin sporting his USA soccer jersey|
You know they are soccer fans, too. Most everyone has the Team USA Soccer logo on their shirt. No one came with faces painted like an American flag like you saw on ESPN’s telecast from Brazil, site of the FIFA World Cup. There were a few bar patrons sporting USA stars and stripes in their clothing, though.
Included in that group is Bull Wings’ general manager Robert Goslin. Wearing his USA soccer jersey, he’s all grins because the World Cup has meant good business for him, especially when either the USA or Mexico have played on television.
“We opened up early for the 9 a.m. games and we’ve been filling up a couple hours earlier than we normally would,” Goslin said as he gazed over his restaurant. “It’s like Sunday mornings for NFL games.”
He’s promising a raffle and some giveaways on Saturday if the U.S. makes it to the quarterfinal round.
Several FC Elk Grove players and coaches are there, too, sporting their team jersey. Their director, Rich Moorhouse, is also the boys and girls’ soccer coach at Pleasant Grove High School.
“It really helps soccer the more people watch,” Moorhouse said. “It helps grow the sport.”
He added that every time the World Cup happens he’s seen more and more kids playing soccer in Elk Grove.
“This being the most-watched World Cup so far, I expect it will happen again,” Moorhouse said. ESPN has averaged 16 million viewers every time the U.S. has played this year.
“My heart says 2-1, U.S.,” he predicted.
It’s game time and every seat in Bull Wings is now taken. Several people were taking a longer-than-normal lunch break. Others, well, just didn’t want to say where they should be.
The first round of applause out of the Bull Wings’ crowd came after the Star Spangled Banner was played.
Ronald Vigil of Sacramento brought his friend, Allen Demondon of Elk Grove, for some lunch and beverage prior to the game.
“I’m just learning the game, he’s the soccer fan,” Demondon said pointing at Vigil.
Michael Demayo is ready for the game, promising to cheer for Belgium. No reason, just enjoying an afternoon with his Elk Grove friends, Archie Munar and Virgil Yuhre.
Belgium, a northern European country, is the 11th-ranked team in the World Cup. They have won three games in a row in the competition and won its group in the preliminary rounds.
The U.S., just barely got out of its group competition and is the 13th-ranked team, hoping to make it to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 2002.
The crowd in Brasilia was ready for the game. All eyes in Bull Wings were glued to the monitors on the walls.
A pair of former Sheldon High School athletes and friends, Alex Dillard and Sam Yee, is sitting at a table hoping the U.S. will pull off the win. Both young men graduated from Sheldon in 2007. Dillard was a slotback and a defensive back for football coach Ed Lombardi. He was one of the fastest runners for the Huskies and showed that on the track when he ran the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes.
But, Dillard points to Yee for all the expertise in soccer.
Yee played soccer as a youngster growing up in Elk Grove. He played for the Huskies and then went on to play the sport at Cal State-Monterey Bay. He explained the difference between college soccer and the type of soccer played on the World Cup level.
“The U.S. has played really well thus far (in the World Cup),” Yee said. “They played through the ‘group of death’ and have advanced to this round.”
Yee became the soccer analyst at Bull Wings, offering insights to what both World Cup teams were doing as the game got underway.
As the U.S. net was being attacked early by Belgium, Yee commended the play of U.S. goalie Tim Howard.
“He’s one of the top five goalies in the world,” Yee said.
Howard knocked the ball away from the net several times in the first half of the game. Each save drew a round of applause from the fans in Bull Wings.
“We’re lucky,” Yee said. “They should have scored a couple times.”
The first half of play ended at a 0-0 tie. A mass rush to the restroom began. Waitresses refilled the refreshments. Customers were checking their cellphones.
Yee and Dillard think if the U.S. can pull out a win, it could be historic.
“These guys would be heroes, American heroes,” Yee said. “To get by this round would be something. Look at the teams that have been knocked out, Italy, England. Belgium is a little underestimated and they have a good, young team.”
“It would be like the ‘Miracle on Ice’,” Dillard added. “We weren’t expected to get out of our group. We had the hardest group in the World Cup.”
The game resumes for the second half and once again neither team can score, though Belgium has easily out-shot the U.S.
“Tim Howard has made lots of great saves,” Yee said. “We are dangerous when we get the ball in the box, but it doesn’t happen enough.”
The first extra-time period starts and two minutes in Belgium’s Kevin DeBruyne snakes a shot past Howard and into the side of goal.
The crowd at Bull Wings let out a huge “Aww.” Demayo is the local applauder. His friends ignore him.
At the 104th minute of the game, Belgium scores again. Bull Wings goes quiet. Demayo claps. Some fans head to the exit.
“Two-nothing is the most dangerous lead in soccer,” Yee proclaims. “We just need to finish our opportunities. Don’t know if we’ll have very many opportunities, but the game’s not over yet. There is 20 minutes left.”
The crowd finally had something to cheer about when Julian Green of the U.S. scored three minutes later. Several people got up out of their seats and started jumping. It was 2-1, Belgium.
Thirteen minutes left, one more goal and the game would be tied, 2-2, and then could be decided on penalty kicks.
The Bull Wings’ patrons clapped every time the U.S. earned a free kick, gasped when the ball was kicked in or near the box. The fans became coaches and shouted instructions towards their nearest TV monitor.
One young girl wearing a USA soccer jersey is standing, hands touching as if she’s praying the U.S. would score and tie the game.
But, the clock ticked down and the referee whistle was blown. Game was over. So was the U.S. play in the World Cup.
Howard ended up with 16 saves, the most by a World Cup goalie since 1996.
Most of the patrons headed to the exit. No one is saying much.
Yee and Dillard are ready to leave. Yee will begin training at the Sacramento Sheriff’s Academy soon. Dillard has been doing some elderly care. It’s back to the day’s routine.
Like everyone else, it was good just being with friends on a Tuesday afternoon.