It was 30 minutes before the kick-off of the highly anticipated USA vs. Ghana World Cup soccer game when fans started to trickle into the Centre Street Pub in Schenectady.
Ten HD television screens displayed the pregame show around the room as the bar stools and tables began to fill.
The crowd leaned closer to the screens at kick-off, but many were still distracted as they settled into their seats and made casual chit-chat.
“Oh, wait, wait!”
The voice of Anne Cusano of Rotterdam rang out across the room, causing 30 heads to snap toward the five televisions hanging over the bar. On screen, the ball was quickly making its way toward Ghanaian goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey; Kwarasey slid and missed as the ball rolled over the goal line.
The entire room erupted in cheers and fist pumps as the United States scored the first goal of the game only 29 seconds in, making it the fastest goal ever scored by the Americans at a World Cup game and the sixth-fastest goal in World Cup history.
After that moment, the energy in the room skyrocketed. Those who couldn’t find a seat stood in groups and formed a second row of spectators behind the bar stools, drinks in hand.
Cusano admitted that while her Italian heritage makes her a die-hard fan of Italian soccer, she still loves to cheer for the USA, as well.
“The U.S. has come such a long way. There used to be no coverage, but now you’re seeing games on a month in advance,” she said as she shared a plate of chicken wings with Richard Yanatos.
“I think maybe 12 years from now, soccer will be one of the top five sports in the U.S.,” added Yanatos.
The Centre Street Pub hopes to be a part of that kind of movement in the sports world. While bar manager Lee Bodofsky recognizes that soccer’s popularity isn’t quite the same in America as it is elsewhere in the world, he hopes to capture the spirit of the game at Centre Street.
“This is an inclusive place, and Schenectady is a very diverse area. I think upstate New York is a little different; it embraces soccer a little more than the rest of the country. As an international beer garden, we embrace that, too, and I hope we can take that vibe and help it grow.”
A soccer fan himself, Bodofsky says that Centre Street will continue to showcase every World Cup game, regardless of whether the U.S. team advances or not.
Just over 30 minutes into the game, U.S. soccer players were dropping left and right with leg injuries and bloody noses.
“That’s not good,” sighed Tim SanAngelo of Schenectady as he shook his head.
SanAngelo was among many who came to the game sporting red, white and blue. However, among patriotic cries in favor of the USA, there was one lone Ghana fan: Jimi Juwape.
Juwape, who is in the area on business from his home country of Nigeria, says his Ghanaian wife is the reason that he always cheers for Ghana at the World Cup.
“We brought him out tonight to watch the game,” said Juwape’s co-worker, Rachel Trombetta. “And I’ll tell you what: if Ghana wins, I’m paying. But if the U.S. wins, you have to pay!” Trombetta joked with Juwape as she pointed to the plates and empty glasses on their table.
Juwape shook his head and responded, “I’m confident Ghana will win. We call it the jetlag effect; sure, the U.S. started out good, but they’ll get tired soon. Ghana likes to start out slow and pick it up at the end.”
All joking aside, Trombetta explained that it doesn’t always matter which team is playing. Soccer fans often find themselves rooting for other countries, caught up in the energy of the game.
“It’s like the Super Bowl every single day,” she added.
Even fans like Ed Aguirre of Scotia, whose roots are in another country, are catching onto the rising excitement of U.S. soccer.
“I’m just happy they’re improving. The U.S. has put a lot of time and money into this team and now we can actually compete with the rest of the world,” he said. “I just love the atmosphere. I like to root for my home country of Ecuador, too, but with the U.S., I’m in it to win.”
Late into the second half, it seemed to many of the bar-goers that the U.S. had the game in the bag. A group of men clinked shot glasses together as they started chanting “USA! USA!”, while one of them, George Plakas, walked around with an American flag draped over his shoulders.
However, the victory celebration began too soon as Ghana scored to tie the game in the 82nd minute.
Juwape leaped from his chair and cheered while every other person in the bar growled and sighed in disappointment.
“In Nigeria, someone buys a round of free drinks every time there’s a goal,” Juwape smiled, teasing his American coworkers.
Barely two minutes later, team USA responded with a second goal. Screams and whoops erupted from the bar; while Plakas fanned his American flag, Juwape buried his head in his hands.
In the end, Ghana was unable to respond with another goal, and the United States broke its losing streak to Ghana.
Ed Aguirre excitedly noted: “That feeling when you see your team score a winning goal is the best feeling you can have. There’s just nothing else like it.”
“Of course, we hope the U.S. keeps advancing, so that we can keep drawing a big crowd like this every night. But we’re going to keep hosting soccer games, and we hope that people will keep coming back to join us,” said Centre Street co-manager Mike Rochette.