Soccer fans of the north, World Cup watching in Duluth draws cheers

A man smiles with three boys in a restaurant
Charlie Forsyth and his family cheer on the U.S. men's national team in the World Cup at Dubh Linn's in downtown Duluth on Tuesday.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

In its third game of the qualifying round at the World Cup in Qatar, the USA beat Iran 1-0. The win means the U.S. team now moves on to the Round of 16. It ended up being a nail biter of a game.

At Dubh Linn's, an Irish pub in downtown Duluth, Martyn Greenan, stood decked out in a U.S. jersey. He's from Scotland, but he's lived in Duluth for the past 13 years. And as the match began, like a lot of fans at the bar, he was nervous.

"I think I've been here for so long you know, it's kind of become their my adopted nation now” he said. “And the fact that Scotland haven't been at the World Cup since 1998. It does help to have another team to cheer on."

The U.S. dominated early in the game, but couldn't capitalize on several chances to score.

Meanwhile, at the same time, England was taking on Wales in the same qualifying group. John Richardson, who's from England, watched the English play on his phone, while also watching the U.S. play on the big screen.

"I'm with my two boys here, who have a ‘dentist appointment’ this afternoon."

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Do they really?

“Don't tell their mum" he said quietly. "It's great to experience what I experienced as a kid watching the World Cup, you know, and I picked my boys up from school and they're so excited and you know, they feel slightly rebellious that they're gonna go watch the game. They're missing an hour of school, but it's a lifetime memory."

Richardson moved to Minnesota 25 years ago. Back then, he recalls, soccer was very much a niche sport in the U.S. It was hard to find a place to watch a game. Now, he looks around the crowded pub, and he says it looks just like it would back in England for a big game.

“The days of the USA, not being a soccer nation, I think are kind of over really,” he said. “In four years time, we've got the World Cup here again. So I think it's just gonna grow and grow."

Tom Albright is one of those Americans who's become hooked on soccer over the past 25 years. The Duluth school teacher fell in love with the game watching the U.S. play Iran back at the 1998 World Cup.

"It's the intensity,” he said. “And I think part of the the beauty of this sport is you never know, when that moment might come. You know, in the 95th Minute, like we saw in 2010 against Algeria, or it could come in the first minute, you know, you never know when that moment will arrive."

In this game, that moment arrived in the 38th minute, when U.S. star Christian Pulisic scored just before crashing into the Iranian goalkeeper.

The crowd reacted appropriately by going crazy.

A room full of people watching a screen
Fans gather in to watch the U.S. play in the World cup at Dubh Linn's in Duluth.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

"Dubh Linn's Irish Pub is definitely the place to be in the upper Midwest for watching football,” said Kandi Geary. “It's so fun to be down here and be with other people that really truly are passionate about the game like I am."

Geary is a regular watching soccer, or football matches, here. She fell in love with the sport when her kids started playing youth soccer in Duluth, back when she says they had to fight the American football team to share the field.

She also remembers having to beg bar owners in town to show soccer games.

“Initially, it started being that fans would start to come together for U.S. games, but now you'll find a crowd like this for any World Cup game," she said

Dubh Linn's owner Mike Maxim says they started showing soccer games when they opened in 2006. He says he's seen the passion for the sport grow since then.

"There has always been a kind of a tight knit community of soccer fans in town as far as as long as we've shown it, but it has grown,” he said. “I think the youth soccer is really grown in northern Minnesota, which then obviously, the kids get more into it. The parents are more into it because their kids are into it. So you see a lot of kind of family involvement and just kind of that energy and excitement."

That excitement continues Saturday when the U.S. takes on the Netherlands in the Round of 16. It'll be an early morning at Dubh Linn's. Kick off is scheduled for 7 a.m.