In the U.S., the sport of soccer still has its scoffers, but the rest of the futbol-loving world is closing in. The younger generation has a more global mindset, and interest in both the FIFA World Cup and international league games has steadily increased over the years. According to a Reuters Poll, around 104 million Americans will watch the games taking place in Brazil this summer.
The U.S. is among the qualified teams. Unfortunately, the national men’s team has been assigned to group G, which includes some tough teams to outrank: Germany, Ghana and Portugal. Fortunately, its 30-man roster includes some stellar talent, like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Tim Howard. Fifteen members play domestically in Major League Soccer and another 15 play in league teams in Mexico and Europe. The team will be whittled down from 30 to 23, selected according to performance in a series of exhibition games in the U.S. [Local note: Donovan was a member of the inaugural class at U.S. Soccer’s full-time residency program at Bradenton’s IMG Academy, about which you can read more in Mitch Perry’s story].
Live: The final match of the exhibition series, and the last U.S. game before the World Cup begins, will be played in Jacksonville at 6 p.m. on Sat., June 7, allowing soccer fans to suss out the U.S. vs. Nigeria. Tampa Bay Club Sport is planning a road trip to the game, departing that day at noon. The $109 ticket price includes a sideline seat and round-trip transportation via motorcoach party bus. Participants can tailgate with JaxSport before watching the U.S. play. Spots are limited. Visit the event’s Facebook page for updates or check out tampabayclubsport.com.
On TV: Networks where you can catch FIFA World Cup Soccer matches include ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC. Check Univision and other foreign language networks. The games start with Brazil vs. Croatia on Thurs., June 12, 4 p.m., on ESPN.
Watch with other soccer fans: While it is possible to see all of the games at home, catching them with other fans adds excitement to the ritual — and there are more options than you might think. Start with venues of a singular ethnicity. As common sense would dictate, the nationality of the bar, restaurant or club will attract the biggest crowds of that particular background. Count on British pubs like soccer mainstay MacDinton's for lots of action. Sports bars like Courtside Grille will have at least one of their many big screens devoted to the games. For Latino fun, several bars and restaurants along the Armenia Avenue corridor will give mucho play to South American teams — especially Colombia. Renzo's Argentine Steakhouse on Kennedy Boulevard will bring in a hearty contingent too. Here are a few sure bets for catching World Cup soccer action in Tampa Bay:
Tequilas 2014 World Cup Extravaganza The Ybor City Mexican restaurant-bar will be showing the games on all eight of its big-screen TVs with merchandise giveaways and specials. Tequilas Taco Tequila Bar, 1613 E. Seventh Ave., Tampa. facebook.com/tequilasyborcity.
Independent Bar and Café Tampa All games on the big screen and some Euro beer soccer stuff will be passed out throughout the championship. 5016 N Florida Ave., Tampa. facebook.com/IndependentBarTampa.
Germania Hall Pinellas County's German-American Society is setting up the front hall for FIFA viewing in the headquarters of oom-pa-pa fun. More details to come. 8098 66th St N., Pinellas Park, 727-541-6782, germantampa.com.
O'Toole's The Brandon Irish mainstay has some of the best bites and pints in town and will provide a convivial setting for some prime Word Cup viewing. Click here for the pub's Facebook event page, which will be updated
Geek out with your kids (or on your own): A big deal in South America and Europe, the Panini official FIFA World Cup sticker books offer fans a chance to trade player stickers in a baseball card-like fashion and adhere them to spaces designated for each competitor. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the players as well as the nations participating in the World Cup. You can purchase the books and stickers at select Target and Walgreens stores or online, attend an upcoming traders event or start a virtual collection at en.stickeralbum.fifa.com.