In Defeat, American Soccer Fans Upbeat About Future

By MARK WILLIAMS, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Being eliminated from the World Cup couldn't diminish the enthusiasm of thousands of bleary-eyed American soccer fans who once again woke up early Friday to watch their team play.

From Los Angeles to Columbus to the East Coast, fans fueled on coffee and hopes of an upset abandoned their televisions at home to watch in bars and stadiums hours before those venues normally open.

More than 7,500 people, some who traveled from as far as Florida, watched on large screens inside and outside Crew Stadium, home of Columbus' professional soccer team.

They stood up during the closing moments as the United States looked for the tying goal and remained on their feet clapping when the Americans fell short, losing to Germany 1-0.

With an American flag draped over his shoulders, Ken Nekic, 37, of Columbus, was upbeat in defeat.

"Something like this is a dream come true," he said. "These guys are playing with all their heart."

Brian Snyder, 24, of suburban Reynoldsburg, said he was proud of the U.S. team.

"I couldn't ask for a better game except for the U.S. to win. I'm proud of them," he said.

Fans hoped the U.S. team's improbable run to the World Cup quarterfinals and the growing number of fans who turned out in the wee hours to watch the games show soccer is growing in popularity across the country.

At Ben's Half Yard House in Dallas, more than 450 people beat drums and waived noisemakers. The crowd was eclectic. Some draped themselves in American flags and others looked like traditional Texans in Wrangler jeans and boots.

"I'm not even really a soccer fan," said Mark Wolff, 28, of Dallas. "I'm on the bandwagon."

Wearing a red-white-and-blue beard and an American flag around his waist, Billy Gannon, 22, said in Dallas he was "amazed we made it this far."

He said the U.S. team's performance guarantees respect for American soccer.

"Now, you can't overlook the U.S.," he said. "We've arrived on the world scene."

The Cock n' Bull Pub in Santa Monica, Calif., never closed so about 200 people chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A" could huddle around televisions.

Exchange student Daniela Schuster, of Bonn, Germany, was the only patron supporting the European squad.

"I'm keeping a low profile here," said Schuster, 24.

In Philadelphia, about 30 people lined the street in front of the Irish bar Fado, which opened early at 7 a.m.

"I don't think 10 years ago there would have been a line out the door at 6:30 in the morning," said Reth Katz, 29, of Maple Shade, N.J.

Some Americans, who usually turn a deaf ear to soccer, are starting to get swept up in the world's most popular sport.

Jarrett Pettis, 31, of Columbus, and John Brunner, 27, of St. Clairsville, tailgated in the Crew Stadium parking lot before going inside to watch the match.

Pettis said the U.S. team's progress this year was "awesome."

The majority of fans at Crew Stadium drank coffee and munched doughnuts, cheering loudly and chanting "USA."

At the Overdraught bar in Cambridge, Mass., the drink of choice was coffee and the food was waffles, bacon and eggs.

"I woke up this morning feeling the least nervous I felt so far. Even in defeat we didn't really lose," said Evan Whitney, 29, of Boston.

U.S. team member Brian McBride's mother, Maddie McBride-Bisulca, was wearing a McBride jersey at Curragh Irish Pub in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg on Friday morning.

"This is gravy. This is the farthest they've ever advanced. They've shown they can play with the big boys," said McBride-Bisulca, whose son also plays for the Columbus Crew.

Among the crowd at Crew Stadium were Nick Lewis, 23, and Ryan Dolan, 30, of Cape Coral, Fla., and Dolan's 57-year-old father, Chris Dolan of Haines City, Fla.

They drove 18½ hours nonstop, about 1,200 miles, from the Fort Myers area to be on hand for the 7:30 a.m. game.

"Crew Stadium is the place to be," Lewis said. "We invited everybody on the way up from Florida. If we stopped at a gas station, we invited them. We talked to people in Kentucky who had never heard of soccer."

It was during a World Cup 2Night broadcast on ESPN2 that Lewis first saw the madness.

"I said, 'That's it. Let's go party with those people in Columbus.' There was nothing where we were," Lewis said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)