Peoria soccer fans celebrate America's first World Cup appearance in almost a decade
The Fox Pub in Peoria was standing-room-only on a Saturday morning as the Netherlands netted the first goal in its World Cup knockout round game against the United States. Pub owner Matt Rixner knew he wanted the Fox to be a soccer destination from when he first opened in 2010.
“I mean, I played soccer when I was younger, I played for a year in college,” he said. “I enjoy it, I love the English Premier League and this is, to me, the best sporting event that there is in the world.”
Though Rixner doesn't see a lot of venues for watching soccer in Peoria, the games remain popular at Fox Pub.
“I wish it was more. I’d love it if there were more places, but just people coming out to watch,” he said. “I think in youth, the youth programs are growing a lot, we’re seeing that. Hopefully, as these kids get older, they want to come in and watch soccer.”
Cliff Vieria, one of the Peorians out to see the U.S. face off against the Netherlands, came clad head to toe in red, white and blue. He said dressing up brings a little unique, exciting flair to the game. He knew he had to make it out for at least one U.S. game because this is the first time the U.S. was in the World Cup in eight years.
“It’s a unique opportunity, the U.S. doesn’t make it this far very often. The World Cup only comes every four years,” Vieria said. “I thought with my young kids, 8 and 6, it might be a good experience for them to see a group cheering together.”
Across the pub, some Dutch fans in orange cheered as another ball rolled past the American goalie.
Veerle Vanderloo is a Peoria high school teacher, originally from the Netherlands. Some of her students came along to see the match.
“Over here, soccer is more like a niche, for like a few people are very interested in it,” she said. “I do like to see that there’s more attention, that more people are very excited for soccer. But it will never reach the level of being like the number one sport it is.”
On the other side of the table, David Mooney and his wife watched the game with their kids. He said his interest in soccer started with meeting his wife, who is Dutch.
“I played basketball, baseball and American football my whole life,” he said. “Never really spared a moment for soccer as I was growing up, to call it, until I met her. Then I lived over there for a total of about two years. That kind of helped me see how important this sport is to people across the world.”
Though interest in our part of the world is still growing, the Fox Pub isn't the only place to watch the World Cup in Peoria. Just across the street, the Olympia Sports Bar and Grill, owned by Andrew Lagouros, opened its doors for a morning brunch and football.
“It’s really cool to see people getting into sports, since we are a sports bar,” he said. “We can see, like you know, either when somebody makes a field goal people go crazy or teams lose and you can feel the deflation of the crowd, type thing. So the energy is always really neat. The USA tying England was huge, the bar was going crazy.”
Lagouros is Greek, and soccer is important to him and his family, so being a host for the biggest tournament in the sport is an easy decision. He sees it as facilitating more excitement for a growing "cult following" of Peoria soccer fans. The patriotic aspect of cheering the United States on also helps bring in a crowd.
“When it becomes a national thing, patriotic people want to show their support for the country anyway they can,” Lagouros said. “It’s kind of cool to see people who may not know anything about soccer be cheering for soccer regardless.”
Olympia doesn't usually serve breakfast food, so the game required a good deal of extra preparation. But Lagourous said it's all worth it.
“It’s just really cool to see, especially seeing people decked out in USA gear, I feel like it’s the Fourth of July almost, like I should go get fireworks or something,” he said. “But it’s just really neat seeing people coming together and rooting for one event.”
A busy morning at both bars showed that no matter who you're rooting for or whether you call it football or soccer, there’s plenty of love for the sport in Peoria.
The United States did end up losing the game to the Netherlands, 3 to 1, missing the chance to advance to the quarter finals.