English fans impressed by US support, growing fan base

EAST HANOVER, N.J. -- In the back of a sports bar in North Jersey on Wednesday morning, about a dozen Englishmen stared at a television as England put the finishing touches on a win against Slovenia that would push them through to the second round.

Then, as Landon Donovan scored the US’ stoppage time goal against Algeria, pandemonium broke out around them as 200 fans reacted.

“It was incredible! The passion of the fans was unreal,” said Ben Furniss of Portsmouth, who, along with his watching buddies, was in North Jersey working as a camp counselor. “The passion was the same as over in England for the sport.”

BUY: US NATIONAL TEAM GEAR

Dressed in an English kit, Joseph Birch said that he was disappointed to learn that his duties as a counselor would take him away from the World Cup and into a country where he was unsure if they would even televise the matches.

As fans wearing national team jerseys and draped in flags filed out, it was clear that to the English fans at hand that soccer is, in Bruce McLintock’s words, “getting there.”

“I’d have to say that we’re a little way off from being a true soccer nation,” said American Tim Cordier, who took a half-day from work to watch the game. “But we’re off to a damn fine start. We’re growing, and I don’t know if something like a bar the caliber of Miami Mike’s opening early for the World Cup was possible four years ago.”

The namesake of the bar, Miami Mike, said he anticipates standing room only for Saturday’s second round game. Roughly 400 people attended the US’ first match against England nearly two weeks ago, and the draw could be bigger this time around.

“I think the attention, having the World Cup and the national team on the front page of the New York Times for instance, is incredible for the sport,” said Wayne Johnson, a cousin of Trinidad & Tobago legendary goalkeeper Shaka Hislop. “It creates a traffic scene, where everyone stops and stares. People want to learn more, people want to understand this sport.”

A former soccer standout at Newark Academy who went on the play college soccer, Jackie Strell bit her nails as she watched the United States come close to scoring.

“I get very emotional for the games, said Strell, who was also a former intern for New York Red Bulls. “I don’t want the US to let the crowd down in the stadium or the crowd back home watching them. This game [against Algeria] means so much to the sport, to its growth.”

Standing in the back of the bar, the Englishmen watched a sea of US jerseys pour out and couldn’t help but be a bit awed.

“The Americans are on the rise,” said Kyle Spelman. “We were clearly out-supported by them today. It was a great showing by the Americans on the field and here at the bar.”

Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed on Twitter @kdyer1012.

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