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Soccer

For Baltimore soccer fans and bar owners alike, watching 2022 FIFA World Cup together is what it’s all about

As a huge soccer fan, devouring the Premier League and Champions League, Mike Steenstra dreamt of opening his own soccer bar — a place for like-minded fans to soak in a unique atmosphere. But when it came down to it, between raising his two children and affording a mortgage with his wife, Steenstra felt he needed to reach one rung lower on a ladder of dreams.

So instead, he’ll settle for keeping his day job while organizing a week-long watch party for the World Cup. It’s not his full dream, but it’ll do. For now.

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“Soccer bar was the goal,” Steenstra said, “and World Cup Pop Up was what it became eventually.”

At the SoFive indoor soccer complex in Columbia, Steenstra has organized an event that encapsulates a World Cup experience. There are viewing areas with beer and projection screens. There are fields to play on and crafts for children to complete during 90 minutes of soccer. In all, Steenstra hopes the event — which requires a $10 entrance ticket — energizes a soccer-loving region.

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“I think the game’s about to explode in the U.S.; I really believe it,” said Steenstra, who lives in Rockville. “Getting kids involved and giving them a space to run around and have some fun while the parents drink beer, it kind of all came together.”

In celebration of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Mike Steenstra is running the World Cup Pop Up Party event at SoFive soccer complex in Columbia. There are viewing areas with beer and projection screens, as well as fields to play on and crafts for children to complete during 90 minutes of soccer. (Courtesy of Mike Steenstra)

As the sport grows in the region, the impending World Cup is another occasion for that passion to make itself known around Baltimore, with several prime locations to catch soccer.

And with the U.S. national team included in the field after missing out on the 2018 World Cup, the at-home rooting interest will ramp up Monday, when the U.S. faces Wales in its first match at 2 p.m.

“I’m sure you’ll have plenty of people faking sick on the Monday and Tuesday matches,” said David Geckle, a board member for the Baltimore chapter of American Outlaws, the U.S. supporters club.

Geckle will be at what he expects to be a crowded Canton Local to watch Monday’s match, which will open an hour before kickoff. For Friday’s 2 p.m. kickoff against England, the Canton Local will open two hours early.

For many, this World Cup only builds upon a life full of soccer. As Michael Clarke grew up around Our Lady of Pompei Church in the East Baltimore neighborhood of Highlandtown, he first fell in love with the sport.

The obsession was inevitable. “It was always in the forefront for us as kids,” Clarke said, and it remains that way for the owner of Claddagh Pub in Canton. When Clarke opened the bar in 1995, his love for soccer shined through in the form of matches on TVs and scarves on the wall.

Three decades later, the local watering hole is as soccer-obsessed as ever. With the World Cup opening Sunday in Qatar, Baltimoreans can find places to watch matches all around the city. Claddagh will be one such place, with the flags of each country participating hanging around the bar and the official Qatar 2022 flag fluttering outside.

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Clarke’s pub stands just over a mile from where his love for the game developed. In his ownership of Claddagh, that fixation has seeped through to each customer — a pint in hand, a crowd of supporters in full voice and all eyes glued to the ball pinging around each television screen.

In celebration of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Mike Steenstra is running the World Cup Pop Up Party event at SoFive soccer complex in Columbia. There are viewing areas with beer and projection screens, as well as fields to play on and crafts for children to complete during 90 minutes of soccer. (Courtesy of Mike Steenstra)

“It’s our thing. It’s organic, it’s something we grew up with, and we fight for our sport,” Clarke said. “If you go back to the 90′s, we’ve been a soccer pub since day one. Now, I love the Ravens. Football’s huge for us, don’t get me wrong — American football. But soccer is my passion.”

Clarke and his pub aren’t alone.

Sláinte Irish Pub and Restaurant in Fells Point expects to open its doors even for the earliest 5 a.m. kickoffs, a timeslot that begins Tuesday with Argentina against Saudi Arabia. At the World Cup Pop Up in Columbia, all 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. matches will be shown from Nov. 21 to 27, excluding Thanksgiving Day. The final U.S. match on Nov. 29 will also be available at SoFive.

A throng of fans is expected at Union Jack’s in Columbia, as well as Looney’s Pub in Maple Lawn. Guilford Hall Brewery in Station North will have watch party events throughout the World Cup, with a sprawling 20-foot by 12-foot screen and drink specials.

Elsewhere, the Abbey Burger locations in Federal Hill, Mount Washington and Fells Point will all show matches. Owner Marigot Miller said the Federal Hill location will open for 11 a.m. kickoffs, except on Thanksgiving. Mount Washington and Fells Point will open at 11 a.m. on Friday through Sunday and for the 2 p.m. games during the week.

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“We’re all soccer, in all the locations,” said Miller. The Federal Hill location serves as an Arsenal supporters bar, while West Ham fans occupy the Fells Point location and Newcastle supporters call Mount Washington home. “World Cup previously, pre-Covid, was definitely intense and great for us. And we definitely have that soccer vibe.”

Since its opening in 1995, soccer has reigned supreme at Claddagh Pub in Canton. For the World Cup, owner Michael Clarke has decorated with each country’s flag to add to the club soccer merchandise donning the walls.

Still, there’s an underlying current of discomfort surrounding this edition of the World Cup.

To combat the Qatari heat, the tournament is being played in the winter for the first time in its history. The Guardian reported in 2021 that 6,500 migrant workers have died since Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010 as they built stadiums and other facilities needed. And Qatar’s history of human rights violations also cast a pall over the competition.

“I’m not as jazzed up as I was in 2014, just because there’s so much other stuff,” Geckle said. “Even outside of the Qatar issue, this being in the winter, it’s never happened before, and you have players getting hurt right before the World Cup.”

But there will still be fans watching the games around Baltimore, and competing themselves during stops in the action at the World Cup Pop Up on SoFive’s indoor fields.

In a perfect world, Steenstra might never close down the World Cup Pop Up event. He has decorated with country flags and old U.S. 1994 World Cup flyers. But even with an end in sight rather than a permanently established pub, there will be beer, soccer and friends. Steenstra will take a week of that over nothing — particularly for a World Cup.

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“Just the way international soccer brings the entire world together, really, is so unique,” Steenstra said, “and I think the United States is really on the cusp of something special.”

United States vs. Wales

Group B match

Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Qatar

Monday, 2 p.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5


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