Whether they were one-time soccer fans or lifelong die-hards, Charlotteans spilled out the sides of local bars Tuesday afternoon, gathering to watch the afternoon World Cup game that pitted the United States against Belgium.
They’d taken off work in preparation – some calling in sick, others using vacation time. After the United States was eliminated 2-1 in extra time, many said they’d keep following the tournament, although their dedication would likely drop.
But Tuesday afternoon, patriotism was rampant.
“It’s just a once-every-four-years type of thing,” said Josh Koerner, a manager at Enterprise Rent-A-Car who said he was able to leave work early. He played soccer in college, so while he’ll continue to watch the tournament, he said he didn’t think everyone would.
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“As soon as this comes around, supporting soccer is just like supporting America,” he said, pausing as a rousing “U-S-A” chant began at Courtyard Hooligans in uptown Charlotte. “See?”
At Hooligans, American flags adorned the bar and covered the beer cans.
Inside the venue was full, but the parking lot was even more so – cordoned off with plastic barriers encircling a pop-up outdoor bar, a spread of chairs and a sprawling display of television screens. The area, which fit 650 people and included Olympic swimmers Ryan Lochte and Cullen Jones, hit capacity nearly an hour before opening kick.
“It’s probably the closest you can get in Charlotte to being in the actual stadium,” said Paul Horner, who got to work at 6 a.m. Tuesday so he could leave in time.
“I could sit at home on my couch and drink beer, but it’s about the atmosphere and the people and seeing everybody embrace the sport.”
Catcalls and chants echoed through the parking lot before the game, from seven choruses of “I believe that we will win,” to a rousing rendition of, “When the Yanks go marching in.” Bartenders stood on the bar to oversee the crowd, occasionally blowing horns to add to the din.
“There’s never a quiet moment,” shouted Ashley Ricci, who was selling beer from one of the tubs. She said most of the outdoor setup will continue for the rest of the World Cup, but it’s not used for most of the year.
Tal Jacobs had driven from Concord to watch the first half of the game at Hooligans, but after a couple of hours in the sun, he took cover for the second half at the still-packed but slightly calmer Valhalla Pub next door.
“It’s like a fraternity party over there,” said Jacobs, who said he’d root for Costa Rica now that the U.S. is out. “It can be hard to tell what’s going on sometimes, but you can kind of tell by the shouting.”
Bar owners and managers said they’ve been busy throughout the tournament, though the games the U.S. played in were crazier than the others. At Tyber Creek Pub on South Boulevard, a huge inflatable soccer ball and international flags covered the front entrance – decorations, managers said, that were helping to lure in more customers.
“It’s just been insanity,” she said, a red, white and blue bow atop her head. “It makes our weekdays feel more like weekends.”