Fans pack Sioux Falls soccer hub for World Cup
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - While many Americans make shopping a tradition on Black Friday, others prefer to watch football.
And today, there was more than the just the American game to for fans to feast.
More than hour before the U.S. played England in World Cup soccer, not an empty seat could be found inside the Gateway Lounge. The big-screen showing the game in the parking lot-turned-beer garden, in 45-degree weather, was packed full of fans, as well.
South Dakota native Jeremy Kieso was one of them. He’s also a referee in Major League Soccer, where the average crowd is over 20,000.
”The energy that I feel when I’m on a game, I feel like now is here with all the fans in the room together,” Kieso said.
When Clint Krahn helped start the Sioux Falls chapter of the American Outlaws soccer fan club 12 years ago, gatherings weren’t quite like this.
”It was just a handful of us,” Krahn said. “We struggled early finding a good chapter bar to come and have the games on TV, and have sound, and welcome us to the darn place — to be here. But once Gateway opened the doors, it was all-in. Our growth skyrocketed.”
The chapter now has over 150 dues-paying members, and not just from in town. Dennis Klein arrived when the Gateway opened three hours before the match to make sure he and his parents could stake a table.
This, after a 90-minute drive from LeMars, Iowa. Klein has made that three-hour round drip drive to the Gateway for a decade, almost every time the American team plays.
What makes it worth the trip?
“Just the camaraderie,” Klein said. “It’s better than watching it at home alone, and there aren’t any places in LeMars to get together and watch like this.”
Sioux Falls mayor Paul TenHaken, wife Jill, and their two kids didn’t want stay home, either.
“This comes around every four years, and this is a big deal in our city,” said TenHaken, who played both high school and college soccer.
”This city loves soccer. And when I see a big crowd this this come out, I want to be a part of it.”
The soccer boom in Sioux Falls — which hosts a bundle of youth soccer events at spacious Yankton Trail park every year — has started at the youth level, Krahn said.
“So many kids grow up with it,” Krahn said. “They play in rec leagues. They play in high school.”
Oddly, the participation rate nationally has actually decreased in the last 13 years. In 2008, 10.4% of kids aged 6-12 regularly played soccer. However, this figure went down to 7.4% in 2018. In 2019, it slightly increased to 7.7%.
But having far more TV sports channels to view games — and other media avenues like websites and streaming apps — has made the sport far more visible to sports fans compared to 20 years ago.
There is no shortage of people who still find the sport boring, but you did not find them at Gateway on Friday.
“I was here eight years ago, and I remember the atmosphere (for U.S. games in the World Cup),” Kieso said. “How exciting it was. How great it was.
“The sport is non-stop. Something is always happening.”
And when the U.S. does score a goal?
“It’s like no other experience,” TenHaken said. “When a team scores a touchdown or a home run, it’s a big deal, but when a soccer team scores a goal and there is only a handful of them every game, this place — the roof will lift off if the U.S. team puts a ball in a net,” TenHaken said.
That didn’t happen on today. But a 0-0 tie did not mean a lack of buzz for 90 minutes. Fans were engaged for every second. Roars and applause came when the Americans threatened to score or saved a possible goal. Some glares and angry barks emerged when the U.S. looked out of sorts.
Many will be back on Tuesday when the U.S. faces Iran.
”I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it,” Krahn said.
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