Over the course of the last few days, the World Cup has taught us a few lessons about the sport that, beyond our countries borders, is deemed simultaneously beautiful and the planet’s most popular.
For starters, it’s called football — or fútbol to those south of us — and not soccer.
It is played on a pitch, not a field.
They’re called sides, not teams.
And on Monday afternoon, the sport that has captivated the globe’s attention and brought a tantalizing buzz to the United States taught us that Santa Fe might just have a future as a soccer — er, fútbol — hot bed.
About 250 to 300 fans braved the afternoon heat at the Santa Fe Railyard to watch the U.S. defeat Ghana in the World Cup opener. The game — uh, match — started at 4 p.m. when the temperature was within a corner kick of triple digits.
Flanked by the wooden Railyard water tower to the north and the jam-packed Second Street Brewery to the south was a 12-foot by 9-foot monitor that carried a live broadcast of the Americans’ 2-1 victory over the Black Stars.
Fortunately for those who set up lawn chairs, lounged on blankets or stood intermittently among the small army of moms, school-aged kids and grown men wearing various displays of soccer regalia, the heat was rendered not so bad thanks to an early goal by Clint Dempsey and a late one by John Brooks.
“You know, 12 years ago it would be a small crowd in a bar,” said transplanted Philadelphian Upton Shipley. “To have this here, in a place like this with so many people — it’s fun.”
Adorned in a stars-and-stripes rugby shirt, Shipley sat near the front of the crowd as the second half unfolded. At a point when the television commentators spoke of an opportunity slipping away, of Brazil’s humidity taking a toll on the Yanks’ endurance, Ghana tied things up in the 82nd minute.
That goal sent a ripple of moans through the crowd. For a moment, the patriotic symbolism that permeated the first hour and a half of the broadcast had given way to worry, even anxiousness.
Just when all seemed lost, the header by Brooks brought an end to the quiet and ushered in a feeling of national pride the final few moments — the kind that most Americans feel only every so often during the Olympics.
That this moment of pride came among a group of fellow Santa Feans in the Railyard meant so much more than watching it at home.
“It’s a neat thing, really,” said recent Santa Fe Preparatory graduate Will Lenfestey, one of a handful of current and former students from Prep, St. Michael’s and Desert Academy who sat together about 50 feet from the screen. “Soccer’s kind of a big thing, but something like this gets a lot of people who might not really care about it ... excited. Just now we had a bunch of people in our group say we should go out and play a game after this thing’s over. That’s kind of what this does to people.”
It also gets folks interested in the sport. Since Monday’s event was staged by the Northern New Mexico Soccer Club, it served as a springboard for enrollment numbers to start climbing. Club president David Sidebottom said the World Cup usually means a sharp spike in kids signing on to join his league.
“It’s just like what Lance Armstrong did in cycling every time he won the Tour de France,” Sidebottom said. “This gets people, kids, interested. “When you have a U.S. person doing well, you’ll see numbers go up. If the U.S. goes deep into the knockout round, you’ll see those numbers probably go up dramatically.”
For now, the fans in attendance Monday were just happy to see soccer take center stage for once. Tucked into a corner of the throng was a family all decked out in Dempsey game jerseys. The patriarch was none other than A.J. Herrera, the former Santa Fe High boys soccer head coach who will take over the girls’ program at Los Alamos in the fall.
He said he has no particular loyalty to Dempsey other than it was a chance to show some American solidarity now that the beautiful game is all anyone wants to talk about.
“You know, just to see people in Santa Fe get excited about it makes it worth being here to watch it instead of at home on my own flat screen,” Herrera said. “It’s great to see soccer get its due.”