It was business as usual Monday afternoon in downtown Spokane – until the United States soccer team took care of business against Ghana in its opening match of the World Cup.
“USA!, USA!, USA!,” the crowd cheered at the Post Street Ale House – and this isn’t even an Olympic year.
And while downtown Spokane didn’t exactly stop in its tracks at 4:45 p.m. – when the USA clinched its 2-1 win – it slowed down enough to catch a glimpse of what the rest of the world already knows.
“This is just a great game,” smiled Pete O’Brien, a teacher at St. George’s School who joined about 100 other fans at the ale house.
Across the Inland Northwest, fans gathered by the dozens, numbers that impress only the people who know how far the game has come in the United States.
Those numbers are adding up.
“This is on another planet from what we had four years ago,” said Abbas Faridnia, technical director of the Spokane Shadow Soccer Club and the organizer of an outing that included about four dozen people, half of them youth players.
“To get this many people on a Monday afternoon, it’s just phenomenal,” said Faridnia, who saw the trip as a bonding experience for younger Shadow players.
But as the future of Spokane soccer devoured hot dogs, their parents savored the scene. Said Jeff Ripley of Spokane, who brought 30 friends together: “We’re very passionate about it, enough to take time off work for this.”
That was easier for some. Barrett Rossie of Spokane worked his freelance consulting job around Monday’s match, instead of the other way around.
“I wouldn’t miss this for anything,” said Rossie, who played college soccer at the University of Virginia “before they got good.”
Along with three dozen others at O’Doherty’s Irish Grille, Rossie nursed his beer as the U.S. tried to nurse an early 1-0 lead.
Fans shook their heads with every errant pass, and some looked to Rossie for answers.
That’s when an old man in the middle of the bar looked up from his newspaper and informed everyone that “We’re kicking the ball too hard.”
Perhaps they were, but fans wanted to know why.
“That’s one reason I’m here, to learn from people who know more than I do,” said Bryn Morganie, who said she likes the game’s “elegance and non-stop action.”
Monday’s match lacked those qualities at times, as American players were felled by nosebleeds and pulled hamstrings. Indeed, the referee added 5 minutes of stoppage time to make up for the delays.
Some fans grumbled, while others wondered why they just didn’t put the time on the clock instead of letting the referee to keep it a secret from billions of fans.
At least Rossie wasn’t called on to explain the necessity of the offsides rule, a head-scratcher for many Americans.
In the second half at Post Street Ale House, the fans were one with their team in far-off Brazil, absorbing every Ghanaian attack and cheering with every stop.
“I’ll take 1-0 right now,” O’Brien said, shaking his head as the Americans struggled to put together more than three passes in a row.
Sure enough, in the 82nd minute, Ghana tied the match and figuratively kicked the crowd in the gut. Fans, who had held their breath for half an hour, exhaled with a loud groan.
But five minutes later, all was well: Twenty-one-year-old John Brooks headed home a corner kick to put Team USA ahead and send the fans out of their chairs.
“USA!, USA!, USA!,” they cheered, loud enough that a couple of passers-by pushed their noses to the glass to see what the fuss was all about.
Business as usual? Not anymore.