By Kristian Dyer
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On a typical Tuesday night, Mike Minervini will see about 50 people come to his sports bar in North Jersey.READ MORE: Prayer Vigil Planned On First Birthday Of Baby Girl Shot In Bronx
The bar is called Miami Mike’s. Located on Route 10 in the center of Morris County, is the largest sports bar in the area. It’s routinely packed on NFL Sundays, where fans of all 32 teams flock for the big screens and grilled wings.
But over the past three weeks, Miami Mike’s has been taken over by another football — what we call soccer. It’s yet another sign of the times that this sport has gripped our country. On Tuesday afternoon, over 400 people filled his sports bar, leaving a standing-room only crowd and forcing the colorful and engaging Minervini to open up the adjacent ballroom for the overflow crowd.
As a reminder, this was to see a soccer game. This was to see the United States lose to Belgium, 2-1.
We’ve come a long way, baby.
This wasn’t possible four years ago, when Minervini saw “about 200 fans” watch the United States get bounced out of the World Cup, 2-1, by Ghana. That was on a Saturday, smack in the middle of the day; a perfect time for people to go watch a game. There is no work on Saturdays for most people, and the match filled most of the tables in that place.
On Tuesday, men and women in business clothes poured out of their offices early for this match, arranging their schedules to do what their brothers and sisters throughout the world have been doing for years. They moved their lives around, cancelled meetings and appointments for a sport that just a few years ago was barely recognized.
Against framed photos of Dan Marino, Ricky Williams and — oddly enough — Mark Sanchez, these 400 got together, cheered and sang. They waved flags and scarves and packed a sports bar to crane their necks to watch a game. The bar was packed, more than on an NFL Sunday. For soccer.
For soccer, people. For soccer.
An entire generation of soccer fans is coming of age now, and it only knows the sport and the enthusiasm for it as mainstream and legitimate. It wasn’t always the case, even recently.
It was the 2006 World Cup — that’s just eight years ago, for those who aren’t gifted in math — and I met with my friend Victor at a steakhouse just off a major highway in North Jersey. It was mid-afternoon on a Saturday and the United States was set to take on Italy, a match of major proportions. We walked into the restaurant, hoping to grab a burger and watch the game. This was a marquee game and we wanted to watch it with other American fans.READ MORE: Cab Driver Stabbed, Convenience Store Worker Robbed And Stabbed In More Bronx Violence
Or so we thought.
Dressed in our jerseys, we were the only ones watching the television monitors for the entirety of the game. Once in a while, we were joined by the busboys or one of the cooks in the back. This was no out-of-the-way restaurant; this place routinely drew good crowds for the NFL, college football or March Madness. We expected a crowd, but instead we got a spot with no one around us — not even close.
We watched alone, our cheers during the 1-1 tie echoing throughout the place and annoying the other customers in the restaurant, who didn’t even turn a glance towards the one television set with the World Cup game on.
Now, two World Cup cycles later, 400 people fill Miami Mike’s on Tuesday, double the number from four years prior. The bar took in $9,000 during the game, when on a typical Tuesday there would be a handful of people in the place by late afternoon.
Some will say that this is just patriotism on display, people getting behind a movement like the Olympics.
WRONG. This was a soccer crowd, questioning the decisions by the head coach and yelling for overlapping runs. Not just a bandwagon, but part of a movement, an upswell of support that dotted hundreds if not thousands of bars across the country.
These were former soccer players and current, those who remember the original incarnation of the New York Cosmos. Some of these people suffered through the United States’ 40-year World Cup drought (a drought that ended in 1990), and others didn’t know a time when the nation wasn’t a near automatic to qualify for the tournament.
But whether they grew up as the only kid on the block who played soccer or were part of this national love affair with the sport, they were united in one voice on Tuesday afternoon.
And in places like Miami Mike’s, where the NFL rules and the Sunday Ticket is a way of life, it was taken over by the sport the rest of the world calls football or futbol. Those 400 fans lustily cheered, groaned and chanted “I believe,“ joining the chorus sung all over the country.
But they didn’t just “believe that we will win.” No, they also believed that soccer has arrived.
And it’s not going anywhere but up.
Kristian R. Dyer is the Jets’ beat reporter for Metro New York and a contributor to Yahoo! Sports and WFAN. He can be followed on Twitter @.
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