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Carroll fans celebrate start of World Cup

Unlike American football fans who get a Super Bowl every year, football fans — or soccer fans — have a four-year wait between FIFA World Cup championships.

The series brings together the 32 top teams from around the globe to compete in a series of 64 matches and battle for the top prize. In 2010, 619.8 million people worldwide tuned in for at least 20 minutes of the final match of the South Africa World Cup.

Brian McMearty, who manages the Leaders of Regional Development Soccer — LORDS — a Ravens Roost-style collection of soccer enthusiasts who come together for matches, said though soccer fans aren't as ever-present as fans of other sports, they seem to be growing in number.

"I liken it to lacrosse. We've kind of got this cult status," McMearty said. "We've seen the demo on under 30 start to peel away from baseball and football and getting into soccer."

At the Greene Turtle in Westminster Thursday, nearly 50 soccer fans packed the restaurant to watch Brazil face off against Croatia in the first match of the tournament. McMearty said it was a joy to see many people coming together for the games.

"I'm a 50-year-old man, and I've got a love of soccer. It's great to watch two or three generations get together with grandparents, parents and sons all experiencing this together," McMearty said. "It's great to see kids who are 4 and 5 years old see their first matches."

Tom Long was one of the fans watching the game. He said he's been a fan for the past 30 years, and over the past several years he's noticed more Americans have gotten interested in the sport.

"Since 2002, when we were in the quarter finals, to now, you've seen a huge upsurge in interest. You look around here, and this would not have happened in 2002," Long said. "The pace of the game is so fast, and you have to be in such great shape to even think about doing it. It's different in other sports. In football, you have timeouts and delays between plays. This is a constantly moving kind of chess match."

According to the FIFA World Cup Television Audience Report released following the 2010 South Africa games, America is the fastest growing market for soccer fans. Between the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, American viewership rose by nearly 20 percent, more than any other market.

The American team will begin the competition Monday, in a match against Ghana. Following that, they will compete against Portugal June 22 and Germany June 26. The results of those matches will determine if the team continues on in the competition.

Unlike the other lifelong soccer fans watching the game, Tyler Pickler, a fan of team U.S.A., said he's a relatively recent convert to the sport.

"To be honest, I'm a FIFA video game fan, and ever since then I started getting into the World Cup," Pickler said. "It's fast; it keeps moving; I enjoy that. They don't score a lot, so the scoring is a lot more exciting when that happens."

Nearly every person there had several teams they were rooting for in the tournament. McMearty said the No. 1 team he's rooting for this year is the United States team, with the Netherlands team following closely behind.

"This is a very diverse culture we've got right now," McMearty said. "You have people who have families that were born in Argentina or in Ireland. It's a good thing for them to be able to follow America as well as follow the homeland. It adds to the experience."

Dario Gonzales, clad in a Brazil jersey, said being a soccer fan is something that is in his blood. He said only having the World Cup every four years makes the entire event seem more special.

"We've been counting down the days for the last three months," Gonzales said. "We schedule our vacation around it. I've taken off the next four days from work. We're going to be going soccer, soccer, soccer. We'll go to sleep, wake up and move on to the next game."

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