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Goooaaal--Whenever, Wherever

By Josh Brustein

There were two kinds of people on the N train in Astoria at 7 am.one Wednesday morning. Those trudging to work and those rushing out to watch Brazil play Turkey in the World Cup semifinal match.

The train stopped at 36th avenue and several people in blue, yellow and green dashed across the platform and down the stairs. There was already a group of fifteen or twenty people standing outside of Made in Brazil, cheering as each new arrival passed them to go in. Some had just woken up. Others, like Felipe Costa, had been awake all night. Costa, a young Brazilian immigrant who plays for a Manhattan club soccer team, has watched every game that Brazil has played, and many in which they had not. He shrugged off the brutal schedule – start times have been between 2:30 and 7:30 am and he works in the afternoons – saying simply "Of course I’ve been up all night. It’s soccer."

Mehmet Cebeci, who works at the 24-hour Turkish restaurant Bereket on East Houston and Broadway, had also been up late for the month of June. But he watched the semifinal match at home with his family, sheer exhaustion keeping him away from Bereket’s special screening of the game. Cebeci’s said that his decision was not representative, though, and that "many Turkish taxi and limo drivers [took] the day off."

Brazil went on to win the World Cup on the last day of June, their fifth win in 72 years.

But while establishments like Made in Brazil and Bereket became ‘home fields’ for people from different countries to watch their national teams play, other places reflected how diverse New York's soccer fans have become. Nevada Smiths, a popular soccer bar on 3rd Avenue and 12th street in Manhattan, often played host to large groups cheering for both sides. Fans simultaneously celebrated and mourned a goal, or cheered and jeered a referee's call.

Miku Happonen, who was born in Finland and lived in Germany for 14 years before moving to New York, had been watching the games at Nevada Smiths. With friends spread all over the world, Happonen had been coming to the bar alone, but hadn’t been watching by himself. He kept in contact with German friends in Seattle, whom he called "at halftime, or when anything happens." In the 71st minute of Tuesday’s match between Korea and Germany, a German foul gave Korea a dangerous free kick from just outside the penalty box. Happonen could barely stand to watch the television. Once the ball was safely headed out by Germany, however, he took a deep breath of relief and put his phone to his ear, eager to discuss the play.

Across the bar, Cheolyu Kim was rooting for his home team, Korea. Kim moved from South Korea to the United States four years ago. He was quick to point out that this is not the first time that Korea has done well, and reeled off the names of all the players who scored for Korea in the 1986 tournament in Mexico. But he admitted that he has been pleasantly surprised with Korea’s cinderella run in this World Cup as well, calling it "very weird," and saying that "no one expected it like this." Like Happonen, he used the game to keep in touch with friends, and called home to Korea at the match’s close. Kim’s call wasn’t as happy, however. Korea lost 1-0, ending their chance at a championship.

Watching the world’s most important soccer tournament in a country whose loyalties lay more with American football than with the Beautiful Game might seem unfulfilling. But those who cheered for their home countries from New York enjoyed it nonetheless. Many also share an optimism that the US side’s strong showing this year may be bringing reluctant Americans around. "I wish that it would have been the US versus Brazil in the final," lamented Costa, "That way soccer here could grow."

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