World Cup setback silences followers of national team

There were collective cheers, a cascade of outstretched arms and some hugging at a packed Champs Sports Grill when the U.S. men’s soccer team notched a goal late in its World Cup match against Belgium Tuesday.

It was the only cheering the crowd got to do for the red, white and blue.

There was silence as time expired and the Belgians won 2-1, ousting the U.S. from the tournament. Wrapped in an American flag, a dejected Michael Guinard of Altoona slapped his seat.

“Hopefully, the team can get better from here,” he said, already looking forward to the next cup.

Other establishments in Altoona also tuned in to the game, with varying levels of interest from patrons.

About 15 people were in Co”BRH”s Lounge as the match began. There was a bit of a stir right away when U.S. goalie Tim Howard had to make a stop in the first minute of play.

Games involving the United States had been drawing people, with the Sunday game against Portugal two weeks ago attracting the most customers, owner Steve Horton said.

The 4 p.m. start against Belgium was good timing, he said.

“I put it on Facebook that our happy hour is 4-6 (p.m.),” Horton said. “That worked out perfect.”

Brian Kelly watched the game at Co”BRH”s. He was as interested in the regular season baseball game airing next to the match. A self-described “sports fanatic,” Kelly said he doesn’t usually follow soccer but likes watching the national team and watched them in earlier games during the 2014 World Cup.

“If the U.S. wasn’t in it, I wouldn’t be watching,” Kelly said.

A larger crowd gathered at Al’s Tavern. There were cries of “offsides” when Belgian players made a rush at the goal and later, flashes of excitement as the U.S. nearly scored at the 37-minute mark.

Faber Moyer, outgoing regional commissioner of the local American Youth Soccer Organization, watched wearing a U.S. soccer t-shirt with a matching tattoo on his calf. At the half, with the score tied at 0-0, Moyer said he was pleased the U.S. was holding their own in the tournament.

Moyer said that if the U.S. would win a World Cup, it would have a tremendous impact on interest in soccer because there is a trickle down effect when the national team does well. The impact would be felt not only nationally but locally.

“It would be like the Pirates winning the World Series,” he said.

Also wearing United States gear was the “Knickerbocker Football Club.”

Seated at tables in a back room of their namesake bar, The Knickerbocker, about 20 members of the informal club gathered to watch the game as they had for the other U.S. contests.

Not every bar in town saw enthusiasm over the tournament. Immediately before the game, Pellegrine’s Lounge was nearly empty. One TV was tuned into pregame warmups. There was little interest the other times the United States played, employee Jennifer Chang said. Patrons had asked for the channel to be changed during those games, she said.

“I really thought it would be a big thing,” Chang said.