World Cup draws US, Portugal fans from around Triangle

dkane@newsobserver.comJune 22, 2014 

— A chorus of boos greeted Ashley Perveiler on Sunday when she walked into The London Bridge Pub to watch the World Cup match between the United States and Portugal, at a bar that has drawn national attention as a soccer viewing hub.

Perveiler, 23, of Wake Forest, was wearing the red striped jersey of the opposing team from Portugal, a country with little more than 3 percent the population of the United States, and likely an even smaller percentage of emigres and their families in the Triangle. A friend took a picture of her surrounded by U.S. fans in red, white and blue giving her the thumb’s down.

Perveiler was born in Connecticut, but her mother is from Portugal.

“I’m 100 percent American, but when it comes to these kinds of international games, I totally pull for Portugal,” she said.

She and her friend, Ana Galizes, 26, may have been the only two Portugal fans in a downtown that was awash in U.S. colors – vests, shorts, many Mad Hatter-sized hats – to watch a match that was practically a must-win for Portugal and a next-round cincher for the U.S.

Galizes couldn’t get into the pub. It was turning people away an hour before the match, and two other bars were also standing room only. They eventually found two barstools at the end of the bar at Woody’s in City Market.

It turned out to be a great spot to watch the game, and they were rewarded with an early goal from Portugal, lifting them out of their seats and clapping furiously. The crowd was decidedly pro-U.S., but took no umbrage at their celebration.

At the other end of the bar, Kelly Schowalter, 26, and her boyfriend, Brent Bethel, 25, of Raleigh wore T-shirts with the American flag on their chests. They were caught up in the excitement of the game, but also knew what they were experiencing is a relatively recent phenomenon in America.

Bethel didn’t play soccer as a kid. He was introduced to it playing the FIFA World Cup soccer video game, which he said has long been the most popular in the world.

“That’s mostly how I know about the players,” he said. “More from playing the video game than from watching it on TV.”

They, too, had landed at Woody’s after Tir Na Nog was simply too crowded. That pub, like the London Bridge Pub, had a much more raucous U.S. crowd that watched the first half pensively as the Americans sought to even the score. It exploded when the Americans tied the score early in the second half and then went ahead roughly 20 minutes later.

Blair Johnson, a manager at the Irish pub, said World Cup soccer took off there four years ago, when the United States played England. Now, the games are a bigger draw than any other sporting event – including ACC basketball.

“Coming out to an international bar has become really popular,” he said. “Everybody in their red, white and blue, it’s just a really cool atmosphere.”

Galizes is president of the Portuguese Association of North Carolina, a group of about 150 families mostly located in the Triangle, but also in the state’s other two biggest cities – Charlotte and Greensboro. It’s a small but tight-knit group that connects with picnics and similar family-oriented events every few months, and sponsors a booth at Raleigh’s International Festival.

Galizes came to the Triangle in 1998, when she was 10 and her mother had remarried, to a man with North Carolina ties. She’s a photographer with a new job as a customer service representative for Zenfolio, a company that helps photographers set up websites for their work.

Though interest in soccer in the United States is still growing, it takes a backseat to football, baseball, basketball and even hockey, a Canadian import. Americans usually don’t catch soccer fever until the World Cup comes along, but for many Portuguese it is an integral part of their lives. It is the country’s most popular sport, and one of the world’s top stars, Cristiano Ronaldo, plays for the national team.

Galizes remembers Portugal’s loss to the U.S. in the 2002 World Cup, and she cried when it lost the finals of the European championship to Greece two years later. Her father persuaded her to go out and celebrate, and they went to the Hard Rock Cafe in Lisbon, where a packed house sang the national anthem and a string of Portuguese rock songs.

This time around, Portugal was again on the ropes, having lost its first game in a blowout to one of the favored teams, Germany. Demoralized by the Americans’ lead late in the game, Galizes and Perveiler left Woody’s, only to discover their team came back with a tying goal at the end. Suddenly Portugal gave itself a slim shot at making the next round.

The U.S. chances to advance were clouded, adding more interest in Thursday’s game with Germany, and likely packing the downtown pubs for a third time. But Galizes said she’s not likely to venture out to watch her team play again.

At this point, she said, “I prefer to watch the game at home.”

Kane: 919-829-4861

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