Olympia soccer fans catch World Cup fever during Team USA’s run

More than a few people played hooky from their jobs Thursday to watch the U.S. men’s soccer team stay alive in the World Cup.

At least 150 soccer fans packed O’Blarney’s Irish Pub on Martin Way East in Olympia. Nearly every seat was full as all eyes stayed glued on the TV screens that lined the walls – and applause erupted with every save by goalie Tim Howard against Germany.

Despite losing 1-0, the U.S. will advance to the next round. O’Blarney’s has been busy throughout Team USA’s run in the World Cup, said bar manager Joel Wragg, who served drinks and breakfast Thursday morning to soccer fans, some of whom were dressed in stars and stripes with Uncle Sam hats.

“We have more people in here than we did Sunday,” Wragg said as customers watched the game. “I think a lot of them took off work. I see official badges.”

Over at Casa Mia on Plum Street, about 50 people with coffee and doughnuts gathered in front of a 9-foot screen . The lone goal by Germany’s Thomas Mueller temporarily sucked the energy out of the room. However, the biggest cheer came courtesy of the Portugal-Ghana game that played simultaneously on a smaller TV. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo scored a go-ahead goal, meaning the U.S. was going to advance to the next round regardless of the team’s outcome against Germany.

Brandon Sparks, who runs the blog OlySports.com, recalled a different reaction to Portugal’s game-tying goal last Sunday against the U.S.

“We were here for that game, and it was about as quiet as it could be,” said Sparks, who rallied up attendees for Thursday’s event. As an avid local sports fan, Sparks said Olympia is an untapped market as soccer continues to rise in popularity. Judging by the Pacific Northwest’s passion for soccer, Sparks thinks semi-pro soccer could thrive in Olympia, for example.

“Nobody’s really tapped into that potential,” he said. “Soccer is here to stay.”

Casa Mia co-owner Chris Knudson was already looking forward to hosting a watch party for Team USA’s next game Tuesday. As a lifelong soccer fan, player and former coach, Knudson recalled the time he was in Europe during the 1998 World Cup – and how much more popular soccer has become, especially in the Puget Sound region.

“There’s a lot more excitement,” he said, pleased to be surrounded by fellow soccer fans. “This is a fun crowd.”

Before Thursday’s game, the Team USA posted a “get-out-of-work note” online for fans to give their bosses.

“We will need the full support of the nation if we are to advance to the next round,” the note reads. “By the way, you should act like a good leader and take the day off as well. Go USA!”

The AP reports that Thursday’s game could cost U.S. companies $390 million in lost wages, whether through absences or employees watching the game online.

According to VegasInsider.com, Team USA’s odds of winning the 2014 World Cup are 40-to-1.