Andrew Dys

Olé, USA! Oh-nooo, USA!

Soccer fans, from left, Tripp Fogle, Tony Reiriz, Kyle Ellerbrock and Dane Whitman, all of Fort Mill, react as Team USA misses a scoring opportunity while playing the Czech Republic in the first round of the World Cup. The group was watching the game on television at the Towne Tavern in Fort Mill on Monday.
Soccer fans, from left, Tripp Fogle, Tony Reiriz, Kyle Ellerbrock and Dane Whitman, all of Fort Mill, react as Team USA misses a scoring opportunity while playing the Czech Republic in the first round of the World Cup. The group was watching the game on television at the Towne Tavern in Fort Mill on Monday.

FORT MILL -- With all of the anticipation of buy-one, get-one-free dry cleaning, the United States entry into the biggest sporting event on the planet came on television in York County at noon Monday.

Other countries shut down during World Cup soccer games every four years. Americans barely take a long lunch.

Lucky for most people, they had to work Monday. The United States lost to the Czech Republic, a country that didn't even exist a generation ago, by a score of 3-0. In soccer, that is a thrashing.

The Czech Republic used to be part of Czechoslovakia. Apparently, the Slovakians from the old Communist days wanted their own soccer team. They probably would have won Monday, too.

The Czechs' biggest claim to fame is how its citizens allegedly drink the most beer per person of any country on Earth. Americans are far down the beer per person list. The Czechs won in soccer Monday. Draw your own conclusions.

Soccer fans are rabid in some countries: English hooligans are legendary thugs. They have maimed opposing fans and are banished not just from some stadiums but are banned from entire countries.

"Back home in Costa Rica, game day is a day off for everybody, a big party," said Maria Bolanos, who watched the ugliness of the Americans' first half at Towne Tavern on her lunch break.

Just five minutes into the game, the Czechs scored on a header by a 6-foot 8-inch behemoth named Jan Koller, to the collective disgust of five former Fort Mill High School soccer players who watched the game together at the restaurant. In America, women are named Jan. Nobody is scared of television's Jan Brady from "The Brady Bunch."

In Germany at the World Cup, a guy named Jan strikes fear into hearts.

The Fort Mill guys died a thousand slow deaths.

One shot hit the post for Team USA, the only high note all afternoon in a symphony of failure.

"Nooo," groaned Kyle Ellerbrock, echoed by Tripp Fogle and Dane Whitman.

"Brutal," screamed Fogle.

"Uhhh," said Whitman through covered eyes.

Will Barbieri and Tony Reiriz looked broken across the table. Their faces were masks of fallen dreams. They said nothing -- and that was just the first half.

Soccer above the junior leagues and some high schools is a tough sell in the South, where high school football, college basketball and football, and even professional football is king. The USA players' names are not household names to anybody but true fans. Television coverage is rare.

"Americans grew up with baseball or other sports," said Greg Causey, who watched part of the game with his family over lunch. "In South America, or Europe, they grow up with it. Soccer is their national sport."

John Bryan works at McHale's on Rock Hill's Main Street. He watched the second half between customers, recalling fond memories of wild fans in England. When the Czechs scored their third and final goal, he sagged to his knees in despair.

With the exception of a couple other fans watching the game, in an Irish pub no less, he was alone.

"I was in a pub in England not long ago watching the game between Jamaica and England in World Cup qualifying," Bryan said. "It was around 5 in the afternoon. Wild, out of control. Drunk? They were all smashed. I didn't get into it until I went there, and then I was hooked. Here, it just never has caught on."

By the end of the game, the Americans dragged around the field like they were in leg irons. Fans such as the Fort Mill five had already left.

But soccer fans want more punishment. They want to cheer again even if the prize is heartbreak. The next Team USA game is Saturday against Italy.

"I'll definitely watch the next game," Reiriz said. "It's the World Cup."

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