U.S. World Cup game draws a crowd

Despite 10 am start, Offshore Ale was full of fans and hope.

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For many attending the watch party, there was standing room only. — George Brennan

On a cool, damp Saturday morning in Oak Bluffs, an otherwise subdued Kennebec Avenue was decorated by American flags hanging outside Offshore Ale Co., alongside signs that read, “Watch the World Cup Here!” 

Meanwhile, eight hours ahead and halfway across the globe, the U.S. men’s national soccer team was competing for its tournament life. For the first time in eight years, the U.S. was back in the World Cup, and fielding one of its most talented teams ever.

Inside, Offshore Ale was packed with fans, excitedly chattering and cheering as they looked on at the various TVs showing the U.S. elimination game against the Netherlands. As the game began, almost everyone was already standing, and people were passing around brackets to bet who could best predict the rest of the tournament. Flags of all 16 nations left in the knockout round festooned the walls and banisters, with the American, Brazilian, and English flags forming a trio facing the entrance. The crowd was so animated, the commentary coming from the TVs could barely be heard.

In the third minute of the game, the Americans were gifted a golden opportunity to score, and Offshore Ale an opportunity to erupt. On a busted play, the ball fell to star forward Christian Pulisic in a 1-on-1 with the Dutch goalkeeper. In a panicked shot, Pulisic struck the ball straight at the goalie, and the crowd breathed a loud sigh of frustration. It was a disappointing moment, but also an energizing one. 

Seven minutes later, however, Dutch forward Memphis Depay of FC Barcelona drew first blood, and nearly everyone groaned. 

Meanwhile, Jared, a fan of the Netherlands wearing an “Oranje” sweatshirt, cheered and cracked jokes. Jared, who goes by “Shaggy,” is an American who partially grew up in the Netherlands, and has remained a fan of their national team even after moving back to the U.S. He said that his first word as a toddler was “Ajax,” a renowned club team from Amsterdam.

Jared wasn’t the only international Islander in attendance at Offshore Ale. Unsurprisingly, there were a couple of Brazilian fans there rooting for a good game, as well as Garry from England, who coaches his daughter’s M.V. United club soccer team. Garry was enthusiastically rooting for the U.S. because he knew how much a victory would do for American soccer culture, but admitted he’s ultimately hoping England will win the whole thing.

In the 43rd minute, the crowd was reignited when American forward Timothy Weah had an amazing shot on goal from outside the penalty box. Struck powerfully off a bounce, it appeared that Weah was going to tie the game back up, but he was stymied by the Dutch goalkeeper. And almost right on cue, three minutes later, Netherlands midfielder Daley Blind added to the Dutch lead, putting America’s World Cup dreams even further in doubt.

Dejectedly, a few fans trickled out at halftime and didn’t return, but the vast majority at Offshore Ale stuck around. And 30 minutes later, they would be rewarded for their loyalty. After a long series of attacking chances for both sides, the Americans finally came through on a goal by forward Haji Wright, bringing on a roaring, proud, pent-up celebration. Everyone’s hands rose to the air, and hugs, high-fives, and hollers were exchanged by all.

For a brief moment, it felt like America’s World Cup dreams were coming true.

Over the next 15 minutes, the U.S. men’s national team was ultimately unable to tie it, but after the game ended, everyone applauded the nation’s performance at the highest stage of world soccer. Overall, it seemed the watch party was a big success. The game was an opportunity for friends and community members to get together, and the staff at Offshore Ale said that they’ve enjoyed the extra business throughout the World Cup run by the U.S. team. For now, it’ll be Brazil, among other nations tied to the Island’s fanbase, that will be drawing crowds at Offshore Ale and other World Cup watch parties over the next couple of weeks.