By Susan L. Wright
Editor's note: The U.S. team was 1-0-1 in the World Cup and was scheduled to play Germany Thursday.
In little coffee bars in Bahrain or pubs in Islington, sports bars in Boulder, simple shacks and impressive embassies, auditoriums and homes, hyper-enthusiastic groups of fans have been gathering for almost two weeks, in varying degrees of World Cup fever.
One newspaper in Great Britain reported 1 million England supporters were expected to pack into 32,000 pubs across the U.K. for the 11 p.m. start of the first England game World Cup clash and roughly 17.5 million pints of good British beer would be served.
A couple of days later, at 6 p.m. EST, crowds of fans gathered around the Daytona Beach area -- and throughout Volusia County -- brimming with excitement and intense, adrenalin-fueled energized spirits to watch as the U.S. team faced Ghana (a team that had beaten the U.S. four years ago in the last World Cup.)
No one was counting the number of public gatherings or sports bars or the pints of beer being consumed in the area, but there were plenty and the mood was boisterous.
If the fans were excited before the game started, a U.S. goal in the first 30 seconds brought them all to their feet, in one surge of energy -- and a loud, stunned cheer -- from the campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to the bars and sports pubs from Ormond to Port Orange.
One of those gatherings was in the modern, airy Henderson Welcome Center at ERAU where about 160 students, faculty, staff and a sprinkling of outsiders from the community were surprised by the sumptuous buffet dinner with actual round dinner tables and sit down seating. What had been announced as appetizers and snacks, with everyone invited to bring a dish from their own country, had turned into a generous dinner hosted by ERAU's president and his wife, John and Maurie Johnson.
But everyone's eyes were glued to the two movie screen-sized TVs suspended on the far wall, big enough so everyone in the room had a clear, unrestricted view of the action.
The crowd included a group from Ghana (Embry-Riddle serves a large contingent of foreign students from all over the world) all in happy, unabashedly buoyant spirits and participants from about 32 other countries, adding a global feel to the festive atmosphere. The entire ERAU women's soccer team, including coaches and their families were there.
Even after the U.S. got the game off with a bang with its early goal, Frederick Aryeetey, a junior from Ghana, was sure his team would still pull off a win. Perry Tommey, 24, a recent graduate from Ghana in aerospace engineering, was thrilled at the turnout to watch and beaming with joy at the sheer fun of being able to watch his home team with all his friends, the prospects of winning and the spirit of the gathering. And the food.
They'd all played soccer as children back home in Ghana, "it's just part of our culture,' said Edmund Odartey, an ERAU graduate from Ghana who is a director of alumni relations and was in charge of organizing the event.
On the other side of the room, the women's soccer team took over several tables and a row of coaches and staff had pulled out chairs in a line in the back. Samantha Bohon, who is the ERAU women's team coach but started her soccer career with the Ormond Beach recreational teams and played for Seabreeze High School, and went on to play for the national team, brought her family, including her two children. "This is great -- the whole atmosphere, to see so many different people, from all over the world, such an international event. Several of the girls on the team are from other countries. Our assistant coach here, Liam, is from Scotland."
A few miles north, in the convivial, cheerfully crowded atmosphere at Houligan's Irish Sports Pub, several large groups and scattered smaller groups, mostly 20 and 30 somethings clustered around tables looking up at the televisions scattered throughout the restaurant -- including a group at the stand-up bar outside. ("Millenials," defined as anyone between 18 and 35 years old, are the largest group of soccer fans across the country.)
One of the groups was organized by Roderigo Guillen of Ormond Beach, whose day job is as a social worker for the elderly, but who first was introduced to soccer as a player for Ormond Beach's recreational teams. He said he got hooked on the World Cup in 1994 -- when he came to watch the U.S. play at Houligan's with his dad. So, as far as he's concerned the Granada Boulevard Houligan's is the only place to watch the World Cup.
Now, he's there with his girlfriend and about 30 of his friends -- and he's leaving in two days for a vacation in Brazil where he'll stay for 10 days to enjoy the World Cup festive atmosphere and has tickets to two actual games. For now, he said when the U.S. made the goal in the first few seconds he was "ecstatic."
He's such a soccer fan, he also organizes a fan group out of Orlando named the Iron Lions -- but for this game, he said he just called up some friends. They'll be meeting at Houligan's for games -- at least until the U.S. is eliminated, but some of them will be there for the final round no matter what.
One of those friends, Kurt Schaeffer, another graduate of the city's recreational soccer leagues, said, "Four years ago we had 80 people by the end. This is a global phenomenon, that's here for everyone to enjoy. When you realize that people all over the world are getting together and there's this kind of excitement, the electricity in the air all over, it's really great."
Back in the center of Daytona Beach, on International Speedway Boulevard, about 40 members of an organized club of fans that included adults and children, families with soccer-playing kids explaining the intricacies of the game to their parents, gathered at Miller's Ale House.
Clayton Saxour of Port Orange is the spokesman for the group, which is listed as an "unofficial" branch of the nationwide network of soccer fan clubs, The American Outlaws (which has no connection with the biker club, simply named The Outlaws,) and he was there with his two boys, both of whom play for Port Orange teams. Mr. Saxour said his kids got him involved in the sport and now he's in love with the game.
He said the kids are the experts -- they root for the U.S. but "they're realistic, they know it's a long shot."
"They know these international soccer players, they'll tell you who the top players are, what their strengths are, they'll follow the Dutch player or the English, as much as the team," he said. His 11-year-old son thinks Portugal will win in the end.
On that Monday, Mr. Saxour said the atmosphere was "full of energy, everybody was buzzing, it was just electric." Especially after the early goal, he added.
But near the end, he said, "We all knew that a win would give us three points going forward, but a tie just gives one. So when Ghana scored, we just . . . it was like someone let the air out of the place. "
"Literally within four minutes, John Brooke hit the header (and scored the winning goal) the roof went off the place -- the place just erupted," he said.
World Cup 2014 ends July 14.