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Alaskans head to bars, restaurants, theaters to catch World Cup action

Beth Bragg
Erik Hill

A standing-room-only crowd at the Peanut Farm erupts in cheers when the United States scores a match-tying goal against Portugal, then breaks into a spontaneous, goose-bump-raising chant of "USA! USA!"

Free tickets to watch Tuesday's knockout game at the Bear Tooth Theatre disappear as soon as they become available, with 370 tickets snatched up in 10 minutes and the remaining 30 gone within 30 minutes.

A restaurant in Homer posts a hand-painted sign announcing the date and time of the next U.S. game. A radio station in Kenai puts a sign on its door saying, yes, it will be airing the game.

As the planet pauses to indulge its passion for World Cup soccer, Alaskans have become part of the party.

Places like the Peanut Farm and Bear Tooth are drawing huge crowds for U.S. games and smaller but intense crowds for other games. Day of the week and time of day seem to matter little -- on Tuesday at noon, the Americans play Belgium in their first match in the 16-team knockout round, and teeming crowds are expected at bars and restaurants across the city.

"If you show up at the beginning of the game, good luck finding a seat," said Peanut Farm general manager Travis Block, who expects a full house at the restaurant by 11:30 a.m.

"It's crazy in here. It makes your hair stand up on your arms hearing people say 'USA, USA.' That's so cool.

"I knew we were gonna get big crowds, but nothing like this."

Mexico's match against the Netherlands on Sunday drew a decent crowd, Block said, and about two dozen people showed up at 8 a.m. Monday for the France-Nigeria game.

The Bear Tooth, which is showing all of the U.S. matches and many of the other games in its 400-seat auditorium, has had capacity crowds for the first three U.S. games and no tickets remain for Tuesday's match.

"Attendance is definitely off the charts for the United States games, but we've had pretty good attendance for the other games as well," Bear Tooth manager Steph Johnson said. "Even with smaller attendance, there's still a lot of energy in the room.

But nothing matches the interest for a game featuring the Americans. The Bear Tooth usually doesn't open until 10:30 a.m, but it opened 2.5 hours early last Thursday in order to show the 8 a.m. U.S.-Germany game.

"It was a little bit of a gamble," Johnson said. "Would people really show up at 8 in the morning to watch the game? But we had a line to the parking lot by 7:15 and we opened the doors at 7:30."

Max Croes of Anchorage is a longtime soccer fan who was on the Kenai Peninsula over the weekend and saw signs in Homer and Kenai letting people know when and where to watch the next games. A KTOO story last week that said more than a hundred people crammed into Juneau's Silverbow Bakery for last week's 8 a.m. U.S.-Germany match.

"Our beer sales at 8 a.m. have never been higher," Silverbow owner Jill Ramiel told KTOO.

Croes said he traveled to South Africa in 2010 for the World Cup, but won't make it to Brazil this year. So far he has watched two games at the Crossroads Lounge and one at the Bear Tooth.

"You walk into the Crossroads, and they've put every single TV in the bar on soccer," he said. "I don't think when people walk into the Crossroads they think, 'This is a soccer bar.' ''

But everyone is a soccer fan right now, or so it seems, and so every bar and restaurant with any sense and a flat-screen is a soccer bar. Fans are flocking to places that are showing matches, because like so many sports, soccer is best when viewed with fellow fans.

Rolando Guzman, a manager at Bear Tooth, lived near Mexico City for two decades before moving to Anchorage 21 years ago. He's the person who pushed for the Bear Tooth to show as many games as possible during this year's tournament.

"The last (World Cup) it got really intense for the United States, and I just realized there is huge potential for people to get together and enjoy it together," he said. "It's the excitement of celebrating together. When you're at home and there's a goal, it's 'Great, they scored,' and you can scream. But if you have someone sitting next to you and they scream and they have their color-painted faces and their flags ... it's awesome."

That kind of shared experience is why Alaskans are leaving their living rooms and heading to bars, restaurants, bakeries and theaters to watch the games.

"It's never a room full of strangers when you're watching a United States soccer game with other fans and you're all in it together and you're all cheering for the same team," Croes said.

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

 


By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com