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Notes from Philly’s official World Cup bid viewing party

The hasty exodus said it all. Befuddled fans returned to the cold. A reporter quickly sought out another “Sons of Ben guy” for a quick quote before leaving.

What a stark contrast to the mood, the atmosphere at Tir na nOg pub just an hour earlier on Thursday morning.

Quarter of ten the place was packed, with a heretofore unheard of number (for anything soccer at least) of local media types assembled, the area in front of the projection screen a traffic jam of reporters. It was a bit of a shock. Other than acknowledging that people were watching the World Cup, when was the last time Good Day Philadelphia gave a toss about soccer? Philadelphia Union and Eagles brass gave speeches (the Linc and not PPL Park was our proposed host stadium). Our soccer scarf-adorned mayor soon followed, the levity of his, “first off, let me start with Merry Christmas,” underscoring the cocksure aplomb we were all riding going into this thing.

Qatar? Ha. With a 114 degree summer heat?! Sons of Ben please, came the request, and the reporters, the well-attired non-footy fans smiled politely as the fan contingent let out chants tried and true through World Cup qualifying games given a sparse few seconds of coverage if recapped by the stations represented. Of course, several were borrowed Union chants, well familiar to the ears of Danny Califf, Chris Seitz, and Brad Knighton, who along with coaches Petr Nowak and John Hackworth, lent some credibility to the proceedings. So, yeah, bring the attention, since da-da-DA-DA-DA -THE U-S-A, we were confident.

But then Sepp Blatter made his presence known. On top of that he had the nerve to speak…and speak some more…and then some more…and then acknowledge that he was meandering by speaking some more…all the while the groans growing louder, the curses more justified.

Though everyone thought England losing out on 2018 pushed things in our favor for 2022, I was left too cynical by FIFA’s history. We were in an Irish bar after all. The blathering about winners and unfortunate losers in soccer and the bidding process seemed a direct slap at the English, whose media will unjustifiably face resentment over their unraveling of FIFA corruption surrounding World Cup bidding.

“I feel like I was just punched in the gut.”

But we couldn’t lose. Not to Qatar. The other countries didn’t have the same mega appeal we offered. The other countries didn’t even match up, and one of them was known more for the quantity of their oil rather than the quality — or even existence — of their national team, let alone their sporting history.

And then that five-letter word appeared as that pudgy Gollum-Yoda hybrid pulled the card from the envelope.

Upset, yes, but needless to say, not that many people were too surprised past the initial shock. Blatter and FIFA don’t exactly inspire the greatest confidence.

“I think it’s one of the most corrupt organizations around,” said Andy Alvarez, an irked SoB who spent the season down in Chester two sections over from me at River’s End. “It was bought and paid for- you know I feel we were robbed. By the merit of our growth [as a soccer nation], our ability to host it, our bid, it should have come here.”

To his fellow fans’ confounded expletive-laden cries, he attested to profound visceral disturbance. “I’m very disappointed. I feel like I was just punched in the gut,” he said. “I thought we had a very good chance, I had heard things, I was hopeful, but we can’t control what goes on in negotiating in the back room.” That seemed to everyone as absolute certainty.

What was equally vexing was the sense that American soccer suffered such an injurious blow given what we were going to miss out on. “We lost that little bit of an edge that we could have had, the ability to show the kids, hey, the world is coming here,” Alvarez said, speaking of the huge impact experienced from previously hosting both the men’s and women’s World Cup.

Maybe soon there’ll be another big event to make soccer worth covering, an announcement to draw the mayor. But while the planned run up the Rocky Steps had to be abandoned today, there’s something to be lost in all the media gloss quickly applied to this story- no one’s appreciation of the game is diminished by the event.

“Okay, when’s the MLS schedule come out,” Alvarez quickly said following the announcement, speaking to exactly why American soccer didn’t suffer a blow it couldn’t recover from. By 2022, let alone five years from now, we should be free of the need to crutch soccer along into wider acceptance. A rabid fan base isn’t only here, but its numbers and passion are growing everyday. Just ask Portland, who, like us, finally has an MLS team to complement a well represented and lengthy soccer tradition.

So when’s that USA-Argentina tie?

(Photo: Nicolae Stoian. For more photos from the Tir na nOg, click here.)

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