By JO LUTZ
Daily Press Staff
As the U.S. men’s soccer team scored the goal Tuesday against Iran that would advance them to the World Cup quarterfinals, small but dedicated pockets of soccer fans cheered throughout Silver City — and many more looked on with mild interest. As the world’s favorite sport slowly gains traction in the United States, the most-watched sporting event globally has brought Silver City fans out of the woodwork, too.
Over the years, popular watch spots here have included bars, bookstores and bike shops. During the decisive U.S.-Iran match, a small group gathered at Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery, while just down the street, an even smaller one gathered at the Silver City Book Shop.
Owner Michael Lacey had placed a television directly inside of the entrance of his small shop, making a cluttered nook by the front window into a drop-in World Cup watch party for most daytime games. Regular audience members include Silver City Museum Director Bart Roselli, Light Art Space owner Karen Hymer and Slovenian translator of British descent Roger Metcalfe. Lacey offers all comers beer and whiskey, regardless of time of day.
Lacey himself is from Edinburgh, Scotland. Scotland is not playing, so he hates all the teams, he said — especially “the evil Persians,” as he calls Iran, whose national team has played under a cloud of controversy over human rights in the country.
Metcalfe, of course, watches the British games with great interest, but said people who grew up with soccer culture have a more complex relationship with their teams than U.S. fans.
“It never feels like you’re ‘rooting for’ the national team,” Metcalfe said. “It’s almost like a morality play that you’re watching — you want them to do well because you feel like you’re associated.”
He also noted that U.S. soccer fans are unique in having conscious origin stories about how they became interested in the sport.
Hymer, for instance, went to school in Arizona before the passage of Title IX, the federal law requiring schools to offer equal sports access to women. She distinctly remembers suddenly being able to play volleyball.
“When I was growing up — I went to high school in the ’70s — there were very few female sports,” she recalls. “There was tennis, and later track. After Title IX passed, they added volleyball. We didn’t have soccer in Arizona. Not for white people, anyway.”
Hymer said she was exposed to the sport during college, and started to play on recreational teams in Tucson in her 30s. She was hooked, at one time playing on four different teams and coaching youth soccer — including her son.
“Forward was my favorite [position to play]. I liked to score. I was very good with my head,” Hymer said, referring to “heading” the ball, or hitting it with one’s head.
“Really? That’s very unusual for a girl,” Lacey said, hopefully also referring to the soccer move. “Girls aren’t encouraged to use their heads.”
“Well, it’s in the air, you’re gonna head it,” Hymer said. “I did get knocked out once. It was stupid — I headed a goal kick.”
Host of many past World Cup watch parties, Hymer joked that her family had to set up a TV for her this Thanksgiving so she would come.
Normally, that wouldn’t be a conflict. The 2022 World Cup is the very first to compete for Thanksgiving viewers with the game sometimes called “American football,” since summer temperatures in host country Qatar were deemed dangerously hot for fans and athletes.
For Silver High math teacher and soccer coach Aaron Rogers, who has summers off, the schedule change is not convenient. Rogers was able to watch some of the matches during his lunch break, sometimes joined by students. Rogers also writes as a correspondent for the Daily Press.
He said his favorite place to watch games is a soccer pub in El Paso called The District Kitchen.
“That’s really a unique experience, because they lead all the same chants that come from the in-person game crowds,” Rogers said.
The Toad also put on the U.S. matches, and Tuesday’s qualifying match was watched by about 10 people.
Jaime “Waggie Wags” Wagner is not only a World Cup fan, but follows club and league soccer between cups.
“When I lived in Portland, I worked at a pub that was owned by a British guy,” said Wagner, recalling that when the World Cup was on, the owner would open up the pub for all his friends, even in the morning. “Once I served them all, I figured I might as well stay and watch the thing it was all about.”
Behind Wagner, David Berry cheered each good U.S. play or favorable call in an American flag top hat and scarf. He also had a soccer fan origin story involving foreigners.
“I played soccer as a youth with a bunch of Hungarians,” he said. “They introduced me to the World Cup. This was in western New York. Their passion was just unparalleled. I was so influenced by them, and their inclusion of me. That was the spark!”
It’s Metcalfe’s impression that soccer culture is more mainstream here in Silver City than in the average American town.
“I think it’s maybe a little stronger here, largely because of the Hispanic community — so many people with Mexican or Latin American connections,” he said. “They grew up with soccer.”
Deming High School soccer coach Heraclio Martinez found himself in Silver City on Tuesday, where he was intercepted by the Daily Press. He said he started playing soccer when he was 4, but didn’t start watching it until well into adolescence. Now, he is one of few fans familiar with every single player in the brand-new U.S. lineup, in part because of the popular soccer video game FIFA.
“I watched them come from the youth league to where they are now,” he said. “I used to play a lot of FIFA, and Lewandowsky scored a lot of goals for my pretend team. He played for Dortmund at the time. So, you know, Dortmund has always been my favorite club after that.”
That club also produced American star Christian Pulisic, who scored Tuesday’s critical goal.
While this year’s crowds gather in front of the bar, during previous World Cups, the back room of the Toad hosted festive watch parties, according to Metcalfe and Lacey.
“The most interesting one was when Spain beat Holland 1-0 in the final,” Lacey recalled. They watched with Michelle Geels, who helped plan logistics for the Tour of the Gila and happened to be Dutch. They had a table decorated in Dutch colors, and a Spanish fan named Pablo was also in the room.
“The Dutch decided to win the World Cup by kicking the Spaniards. It was truly unbelievably dreadful — one of the most brutal games in the history of football,” Lacey said of the game, after which both Spain and Holland were fined for players’ bad behavior. “Michelle was kinda sad about the whole thing. At the end of it all, it was Pablo’s day.”
Another Silver City World Cup watch spot did not host this year. According to Metcalfe, late Gila Hike and Bike owner Martyn Pearson, also British, was instrumental in gathering people to watch the event.
“There’s always been a strong soccer community around Gila Hike and Bike,” Metcalfe said. “I often went and watched games in the bike shop. We would do brackets together.”
Lacey recalled doing brackets with Pearson’s girlfriend at the time, whose name was Molly.
“We chose her team ‘BOLO,’ as she called it — ‘based on looks alone,’” he laughed. “Her BOLO team beat all of ours who knew a lot about the game.”
On Tuesday, both the United States and British teams won their matches. Both will advance to the quarterfinals, an expected outcome for England and one quite unexpected for the U.S.
When surveyed, European fans in Silver City have neutral-to-positive reactions about the team of their adopted country.
“You expect all these great teams to play with skill and guile,” said Metcalfe, referring to titans like England and Germany. “What carries the U.S. through is just that dogged determination. There is still an innocence that’s refreshing. If they don’t have so much of the skills, they will make up for it in sheer determination.”
Lacey is just glad that both the U.S. and British teams won their matches, so all his guests could leave happy — even if he didn’t, as he still insisted he hates all teams except Scotland and his Edinburgh club team, Heart of Midlothian.
Jo Lutz may be reached at [email protected]
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