If you pass by Quigley’s Irish Pub over the next month, you might not notice anything out of the ordinary. But head inside, and you’ll probably be welcomed by a rauccous crowd huddled over a television watching a soccer game.
Just like the rest of the world, America is catching “World Cup Fever,” a term coined to describe the fanatic following of FIFA’s World Cup soccer tournament that features dozens of national teams.
“It’s just something to look forward to every four years,” said Abbey Hillman, a soccer player at Kennedy Junior High School. “It’s like a goal that I can always look after, and it shows what we can do if we really work hard.”
The United States Men’s National Team, or USMNT, has never won the competition that takes place every four years. In fact, the highest placing for the Americans is third place in 1930, the inaugural World Cup.
But that relative lack of success hasn’t curbed domestic enthusiam.
For a number of World Cup competitions, Quigley’s has featured watch parties — a place where residents can watch their teams play amongst like-minded fans, regardless of affiliation.
“It’s fun to see everybody high-fiving, smacking and jumping around,” said Andy Nosek, General Manager of Quigley’s for the past 18 months. “I got jumped on by…I don’t even know who he was. [But] it’s fun.”
On a muggy Monday afternoon, USMNT is playing in its first game in this year’s World Cup.
The Americans are supposedly pitted in the “Group of Death,” a name given by media outlets because of the national powerhouses in their initial four-team grouping (like FIFA’s second-ranked Germany or fourth-ranked Portugal).
Before the United States plays those teams, it first must contend with a scrappy Ghana side. While the Ghanaians are lower-ranked by FIFA, they are still a thorn in the side of the Americans. After all, Ghana knocked the United States out of the World Cup’s Round of 16 in 2010.
Long story short, the Americans need a good result.
Dozens of USMNT fans stream into the relatively-cramped pub, donning various forms of USMNT paraphernalia.
Late-comers to Quigley’s on this day are disappointed as they stroll in after kick-off because Clint Dempsey puts the Americans up over the Black Stars within the game’s first minute.
Dempsey’s goal, officially credited at the 32-second mark, is the fasted United States goal in World Cup history.
Knocking on the door throughout most of the competition, Ghana finally equalizes on André Ayew’s 81st-minute strike, sending a muted hush over the USMNT-faithful in Naperville.
But just moments later, halftime-substitute John Brooks scores one of the most memorable goals in United States history — a header near the six-yard box that sneaks past Ghana goalkeeper, Adam Larsen Kwarasey.
And as expected, Quigley’s possibly breaks decibel records.
This type of enthusiam isn’t atypical of today’s American audience. According to Nielsen Media Research, nearly 16-million Americans watched the game on television between ESPN and Univision, which were both carrying the contest. For context, Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs garnered nearly 18-million viewers, and the five-game series averaged more than 15.5-million viewers.
On ESPN’s mobile-streaming app, WatchESPN, an additional 1.4 million viewers soaked in the United States victory.
“I remember watching on Spanish television, and I don’t even speak Spanish,” said longtime USMNT fan Michael Baran. “That was the only place where you could watch it. So it’s grown a lot.”
United Kingdom publication, The Telegraph, reports that of all the visitors coming to host country-Brazil for this year’s World Cup, the United States has the largest number of fans in the South American country.
All of these numbers support a growing suspicion that soccer is finally becoming palatable for the average American sports fan.
If the crowds at Quigley’s are any indication, Naperville is following that trend as well.
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