With its World Cup future uncertain after Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Portugal, the final game of group play for the United States men’s soccer team turned out to be much more important than many would have liked.
The chance to advance was still a very real possibility, but coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s club needed the extra push. Though they may have been thousands of miles away, much of the fan base across the country delivered, including those in Howard County.
Thursday’s noon start against Germany was the earliest of the three Group G games for the U.S. With much at stake, fans at Union Jack’s in Columbia refused to let a little thing like work stand in their way.
“I was able to finagle my hours so that I didn’t have to miss any part of the game today,” said Ellicott City native Angie Kozlowski. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any chairs because it’s so packed, and the environment is so awesome. Still, we’re staying and sticking it out.”
Fans clad in collared shirts, ties and slacks were sprinkled into a sea of red, white and blue, proving that if someone couldn’t take the entire day off, an extended lunch break would have to do.
“I was at work yesterday and my boss asked if I was going to come in today,” said Kozlowski’s son, Alex. “I just told her, ‘Definitely not.’
“She just said she didn’t know much about soccer, but that it sounded cool and patriotic,” he added.
That was enough for Kozlowski, who donned a large floppy Uncle Sam hat in support of his country.
The lineup for the seated areas inside and on the patio began at 10 a.m., when the restaurant opened. By 11:15, there was barely room to stand.
According to restaurant general manager Rob Cousins, this type of crowd easily outdoes any exclusively American sporting event—even the Super Bowl—no matter what time of day the game is played.
“It’s definitely bigger, because it’s not every week as opposed to Ravens games,” he said. “The hundreds or so people that are here all root for the exact same team, as opposed to half the crowd supporting one, and the other half the opposing team. You don’t get that roar of the crowd like you do with this.”
Unfortunately for fans watching on Thursday, there weren’t many of those moments for the United States, save for goalie Tim Howard’s inspired play throughout.
Germany scored on a Thomas Müller put-back in the 55th minute. That was just enough to give the opponents a 1-0 victory over the stars and stripes. There were no chants of “I believe that we will win” on this day.
Still, thanks to a 2-1 Portugal win over Ghana, the United States joined Germany in advancing to the knockout stage.
Regardless of the outcome, die-hard fans such as Lynne Phillips, also of Ellicott City, knew the importance of watching the games as a part of a group.
“It’s so much better,” she said. “We don’t get this in the United States. So, when we have the opportunity to come together once every four years, and actually have other people appreciate the sport, it’s amazing.”
Phillips is a fan of the English Premier League’s Arsenal during the regular club season, but when it comes down to the World Cup, those allegiances are put aside in favor of the main cause.
Watching both the Portugal vs. Ghana and United States vs. Germany games as intently as possible, Phillips didn’t want to miss a second of the action.
“I’m off from work already, but I’ve watched every single match of this World Cup. I’m obsessed,” she said. “I was here Sunday, so I thought it would be a lot quieter today. It was definitely not.”
Then there are fans like Baltimore County native Michael Dennis, who works for the Social Security Administration. Many of his co-workers call Howard County home, and convinced the 39-year-old to take some time away from presentations and meetings during his lunch hour to watch his first-ever soccer match.
“This is the first I’ve seen this place this crowded,” said Dennis, who says he's more of a basketball fan. “I couldn’t wait to get out of [work] and come out here. …Traditionally, soccer is not a big sport in this country. I wish I started watching it earlier.”
Cousins said he expects a larger crowd for the United States game against Belgium in the knockout round on July 1. Though Union Jack’s only offers specials on beer, condensing the menu to accommodate for the crowd, the extra staff on hand for Thursday will likely be needed again.
The early start didn’t stop fans from indulging in a drink or two during the 90-minute affair.
Said Angie Kozlowski: “I’d like to know if they think they are all going back to work after this.”