Buffalo is catching World Cup soccer fever

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Western New Yorkers love a good party or sporting match. That’s pretty common knowledge. But it seems the region is developing a new-found excitement for soccer.

“We decided at the last minute for last Sunday’s event, and never anticipated 5,000 people showing up,” Empire State Development Regional President Sam Hoyt said, of the decision to show the June 22 U.S.A. versus Portugal game on a big screen on Buffalo’s waterfront. “It was a great event. And we said, ‘We’ve got to keep doing this.'”

As the U.S. team progresses further into the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament, “It’s getting pretty hot. And I think that the U.S. and Buffalo has caught soccer fever,” Hoyt observed.

An estimated crowd of 3,000 joined in on Thursday’s World Cup viewing party at Canalside, to watch the United States take on Germany.

While it may not compare to baseball or football, soccer’s popularity among Americans is no doubt growing.

“Soccer is for everyone! Anyone can play soccer,” said Botr Rieang, who came to Buffalo 15 years ago. “There is joy, there is speed. Pretty much, every single person from a different language can just play. And that’s how we all meet, one world. Thirty-two teams, and everyone is involved and happy. You can choose whatever team that you want to cheer for, but the thing you get most is excitement. That’s what it’s all about.”

Brightly-colored flags of countries from around the world beckon the die-hard fans to Mes Que, Buffalo’s only soccer bar. Soccer is always on the television screens. On a normal day, it’s filled to capacity. But for World Cup games, the crowd spills out onto the sidewalk.

Mes Que has actually taken to putting a big-screen TV outside for the spillover crowd.

“It’s the most popular sport in the world,” said Greg Nicotera, Mes Que’s bar manager. “And finally it’s taking hold here in Buffalo and all over the United States. People are supporting their country, and their country’s soccer team.”

Chris Miller was among the crowd gathered at the North Buffalo bar for the U.S.-Germany matchup.

“It’s an amazing atmosphere! There’s nothing else like it,” Miller said.

Megan Schermerhorn, James Terzian and Mariah Howe sat in the grass at Canalside. Howe had an American flag draped over her shoulders.

“I love it. I think it’s great,” Schermerhorn said. “I like coming out and, yeah. It’s a lot of fun. Come and hang out with my friends. I really didn’t know this was happening until yesterday, but I’m glad I came.”

“It’s nice for Buffalo to come together and watch the U.S.A. play,” Howe said.

“I think it shows how much we support our country. I’m a big soccer fan. I played it for 14 years,” Terzian said. “I love it. I love playing it; I love watching it.”

Because the first two events have been so popular, all of the U.S. matches will be shown on the TV screen at Canalside. The final game will also be televised there, regardless of which teams are in it.

“This is the beginning of a new tradition. I think you’ll see, regularly, more major sporting events shown on live television down here,” Hoyt said.

Dropping a hint, he added, “For instance, the first Bills away game – it’s in Chicago; it’s September. Maybe we’ll show it down here on the waterfront, and give people another reason to come down.”

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