The World Cup is over, leaving its mark on Team USA fans
The American side did not win the World Cup, but left a lot of fun and lasting memories for the Lansing-area soccer fans who shared the ride through watch parties.
On a Monday afternoon in November, the anticipation at Ozone’s Brewhouse in Lansing, Michigan’s Old Town District was building. It wasn’t for a new craft beer though, it was because the U.S. men’s soccer team was about to kick off their first World Cup in eight years against Wales.
As a collaborative effort between Ozone’s and Lansing Common FC, the brewhouse hosted watch parties for each of the four games the USA ended up participating in.
The brewhouse features fans of the game for years and some that only watch the sport every four years.
Fans at Ozone’s Brewhouse cheer as World Cup action is kicked off between the USA and Wales on November 21, 2022.
“I love the sport of fútbol and the World Cup is one of my favorite sporting events,” Jethro Sarmiento said. “Fútbol has been a huge part of my life, it's like a religion for me.”
Sarmiento, originally from Chile, where soccer is the most popular sport by far. People live and die by the national team. But since the national team has struggled the past two World Cup cycles, it leaves Sarmiento in a tricky situation.
“I haven’t had a true team to support these past two World Cups because Chile haven’t qualified,” Sarmiento said. "Chile haven’t gotten out of CONMEBOL qualifying which is a real shame since there are only 10 members and 4 automatically qualify with a 5th team that gets sent to a playoff.”
Sarmiento said that the environment at Ozone’s somewhat reminds him of home.
USA goal vs Wales: A Tim Weah goal sends Ozone’s Brewhouse into a frenzy as the goal puts the USA up 1-0 against Wales on November 21, 2022.
“I love that people are yelling at TV’s because of a soccer match,” Sarmiento said. “But soccer culture here isn’t like it is in Chile. I remember it feeling like the country shut down for two hours during our matches at the 2014 World Cup. I don’t really know if it will ever get like that in the USA because I think there will always be a ‘soccer, so boring’ culture here, but it is good to see that slowly getting dismantled.”
Although Sarmiento doesn’t have anybody to root for, he still loves the spectacle that the World Cup is.
“There are a lot of problems with this World Cup, one of them being that we are sitting here watching games in November,” Sarmiento said. “But football is a great unifier for everybody. So while we shouldn’t look away at what it took to build this World Cup, we also shouldn’t take it for granted because this tournament only happens once every four years.”
Attendees went as far as taking the day off of work to enjoy the festivities.
“The World Cup happens once every four years and since we didn’t qualify last time, it's been eight since our last game,” Nick Sonck said. “I knew I couldn’t miss this game.”
Sonck said World Cup fever hit him as soon as the USA qualified back in late March.
“I was so excited that we qualified for the tournament that I actually booked a trip to Qatar,” Sonck said. “I had everything ready to go. I purchased tickets to all the USA games plus a few others, I had a flight booked, I booked a stay in one of the shipping containers in the desert that Qatar was setting up. I was excited to go, but then work got in the way which made the trip impossible so I had to cancel and get refunded.”
Retrospectively, Sonck is glad that the trip got canceled.
Wales goal vs USA: A Gareth Bale converted penalty sends USA fans into a dejected state as the goal ties the game at 1-1 on November 21, 2022.
“I wasn’t particularly worried about going, but with everything that keeps coming out I’m glad I didn’t go,” Sonck said. “With all their laws, it really seems like one wrong step, it could be bad news for you. But I’m also glad that I can celebrate here [at Ozone’s] because there really isn’t anything like the soccer bar environment.”
Within the mix of diehard fans, there are still the ones that only watch the sport every four years.
“I am not a huge soccer fan, but I do like the feeling of the country uniting around our team,” Matt Simpson said. “But I can’t help but get excited for one of our national teams doing well on the world stage.”
For somebody that isn’t a huge soccer fan, going to a watch party doesn’t seem like the first option, but Simpson has interesting reasoning behind it.
“For me, it's more enjoyable to watch soccer with a group of people than just alone at home,” Simpson said. “It’s just a very enjoyable and welcoming environment that I just love. You get caught up in the pageantry of the game.”
For the more casual fans, some are tuning out of this World Cup, protesting FIFA and the Qatari regime for their many problems.
“You have to view this World Cup through two different lenses,” Simpson said. “One has to be a focus on the problems with the migrant worker deaths, massive human rights issues, and the blatant sports washing this tournament has become. But I think that you can view this World Cup through a strictly football sense too.”
Although the USA has been eliminated, and the watch parties are dying down since the tournament is quickly winding to a close, this can only be seen as a positive for the future of soccer in the USA. With the USA hosting the tournament in 2026, alongside Canada and Mexico, watch parties, like the ones that were hosted at Ozone’s, will hopefully continue to rise as the country continues to back the national team.