World Cup kicks up excitement in Harford

Looney's of Bel Air employees Darian Smelser, left, Abby Faust and Shayleen Thomas were dressed up for the U.S.-Portugal match Sunday.
Looney's of Bel Air employees Darian Smelser, left, Abby Faust and Shayleen Thomas were dressed up for the U.S.-Portugal match Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Darian Smelser, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The World Cup has been blowing up on big screens and social media throughout the Baltimore region, and Harford County has proved no exception to the excitement over the two U.S. games so far.

People reported packed venues for the June 16 U.S. match against Ghana, as well as Sunday's nail-biter between U.S. and Portugal, which ended in a 2-2 tie.


"It was as busy, honestly, as a Ravens game, and people were very into it," Amie Bradfield, a manager at MaGerk's Pub in Bel Air, said Monday afternoon about the Portugal match.

She described a sea of red, white and blue spectators packed into the pub, and taking up both bars, to watch the game on a large projection screen. The bar offered a Star-Spangled Banner drink and shooters for the crowd.


"We were full," Bradfield said about Sunday. While soccer and the World Cup may not have been on many Americans' radar screens even a decade ago, "it seems like people are more into it," she said.

Jack Kemmerzell, of Bel Air, said he tried to go out a week ago with his wife, Michele, to watch the U.S.-Ghana game.

"We couldn't get in the bar at Perry Hall," he said about DeSantis Pizza Grill & Bar, a popular place to watch soccer.

Another bar was also "packed," so "we ended up going across the street to Bill Bateman's," he said.


"It was pretty cool," Kemmerzell said about the excitement over global soccer. "It was a lot of spirit, and I think it was these kids between 20, 30 years old [driving it]."

He played soccer in high school and said he has enjoyed the games so far.

"I wish the clock would have been faster yesterday," Kemmerzell said with a laugh Monday about the Portugal match. "I think the U.S. has been doing well."

Monday was more subdued at both MaGerk's and Looney's, with just a handful of people watching the Croatia-Mexico or Cameroon-Brazil games late afternoon.

He and Michele were at Looney's Monday afternoon, with small American flags still decorating the bar as the game played in the background. No one was in red, white and blue, and the dominant color was the more baseball-centric orange.

But did the Kemmerzells plan to watch Thursday's game against Germany?

"Hell yeah," Jack Kemmerzell replied, as his wife exclaimed, "Oh my God."

Michele Kemmerzell said they watched the Portugal game at home Sunday and "we were screaming."

"Honestly, I thought we [the U.S.] were totally out of it, so come on, Germany! Bring it on," she proclaimed.

They agreed with other Harford residents who thought the World Cup is more popular than before. Television-wise, Baltimore viewers set a record Sunday night, with the eighth-highest rating for the game nationwide.

"I think it's a Baltimore fan approach, because we haven't rooted for the Orioles for so long, and now we have two competitive teams," Michelle Kemmerzell said, referring to the Ravens.

"This is another team to root for," she said about the U.S. soccer team. "I think it's great."

Darian Smelser and Sarah Hall, who worked as waitress and hostess at Looney's Sunday night, said it was an extremely busy night, as was June 16 for the Ghana game.

"Last Monday, you would have thought it was a Friday," Hall said.

On Sunday, people were standing on the stage just trying to see the game, Smelser recalled.

"The whole entire place was chanting, 'U.S.A.,'" she said. "There was not a single seat in the house."

Another waitress, Shayleen Thomas, posted a video to Facebook showing the sea of chanting revelers.

No incidents were reported, except for one gentleman who got on a table to chant "U.S.A" and was asked to get down, she said.

"Everyone dressed up," Smelser said. "Everyone was in it together. It was nice."

Tonia Reina and Andy Copes, both of Bel Air, were at MaGerk's Monday to watch the Croatia-Mexico and Cameroon-Brazil games in the outdoor garden.

"I am a big soccer fan. I watch it all the time, not just during the World Cup," Copes said. "I am a big sports fan in general, but I would be watching it even if the U.S. wasn't in it."

Nevertheless, both Reina and Copes said they were rooting for the hometown – or home country – team. Reina added she is also cheering on Brazil.

Sunday's game was "torture," Reina said.

Copes called it "so stressful" and said he was "nervous" but "disappointed" that the U.S. ended up with a tie.

Each had their own theory for why the World Cup seems to be picking up steam here.

"I think soccer's been more popular now because they put more of the England Premier League [professional soccer] on TV," Copes said.

Reina said the World Cup is another reason to be social and enjoy a day out.

"It makes it more fun when you go out," she said, but added: "I think people are becoming more patriotic, too, in times of war. It brings people together. When you go out and you see people with Brazil or Mexico shirts or whatever, it's kind of cool."

Tim O'Hare, of Bel Air, was at the bar inside MaGerk's watching the game Monday. He said he is mostly a lacrosse fan but enjoys watching soccer, too, when it is on TV.

"It's the biggest event in the world, and why wouldn't you be paying attention to it?" O'Hare pointed out.