DANVILLE — Every four years, large groups of soccer fans gather around their televisions to watch the World Cup.
This year, millions of Americans are getting into the spirit and that includes a group of more than 50 fans that showed up on Monday afternoon at Snappers Bar and Grill at Turtle Run and that group was delighted when the United States opened Group G play with a 2-1 victory over Ghana.
“Soccer is the world sport and it’s building in the United States,’’ said Danville soccer coach Chris Griffin, who unofficially organized the viewing party at Snappers. “It’s the most popular youth sport. I think the ratings are going to show that everyone is behind it.
“We definitely had a great turnout here at Turtle Run, and there was a lot of non-soccer people here to support the United States.’’
Unofficially, there were 62 people watching when John Brooks header found the back of the net in the 86th minute giving the Americans an all-important opening-game victory.
“This win is huge to build the popularity this year,’’ Griffin said.
Adnan Abdelghani, the president of Danville Area Soccer Association, was one of the group of American supporters on hand on Monday, along with Danville High principal Phil Cox, former Danville coach Gabe Lutterschmidt along with several Danville High soccer players and a couple of former all-area selections, Pete Goodwin from Schlarman and Dennis Forrest of Danville.
“This is huge, it is building the soccer experience by watching the World Cup,’’ Abdelghani said. “This is going to enhance the game and get the word out about soccer. We’re very thrilled and very happy with the result and the exposure that soccer is getting in the United States.’’
But, why did Griffin decided to organize a viewing party?
“You see all the World Cup viewing parties around the world, whether its at Copacabana Beach in Brazil or Millennium Park in Chicago, it looks like a lot of fun,’’ Griffin said. “There are a lot of true soccer fans in Vermilion County. So, why not get together and enjoy this experience?
“Today was a helluva lot better than watching this in my living room by myself. If I could have it at my home, I would, but I don’t think my house is big enough.’’
And when U.S. superstar Clint Dempsey scored just 34 seconds into the match, the volume level at Snappers reached a very high level. That is something that Griffin’s neighbors might not have wanted to hear.
“I’ve got a lot of non-soccer people that are constantly sending me texts in the past week about the World Cup,’’ Griffin said. “They are watching these games and I think it’s great for the growth of soccer.’’
For the first time since the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, this year’s event is being played during normal hours for Americans with games starting at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.
“More people are going to be able to enjoy this World Cup without conflicts of work or school,’’ Abdelghani said. “It should help a lot for developing the soccer initiatives as more people become exposed to soccer this month.’’
Griffin points out that soccer has grown by leaps and bounds in regards to being on television.
“I always tell my guys that they have a great opportunity. Back when I played at Danville High, all we had was the NASL (North American Soccer League) and you got about 1 game a month,’’ Griffin said. “Now, there are is a soccer match on the television almost every day when the leagues are playing like the MLS or the Premier League in England.’’
Abdelghani is hoping that this year’s World Cup has a positive influence on the local soccer scene.
“This has always been a very supportive community when it comes to soccer,’’ he said. “This year, it’s been a notch higher for Team USA because we know that we have a great team that is capable of going to the next round and hopefully beyond.
“The support is there and it’s better than I’ve seen before. Victories like the one today shows our local kids that they can set their goals high after watching our leaders take the field and get a huge victory.’’
Things get quite a bit harder for the Americans in the second match of group play as they will face Portugal, a 4-0 loser to Germany on Monday, this Sunday. That match will start at 5 p.m. and Griffin said he expects another big crowd at Snappers.
“I really think that Sunday is going to be a big game,’’ he said. “I hope this crowd is twice as big.’’