GR soccer fans: Bars may lose money, but fandom still growing after USMNT misses 2020 World Cup

Local team react to Team USA loss

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - The United States Men's National Team didn't qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986 after losing 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago Tuesday.

Leaders of the soccer movement in Grand Rapids said Wednesday that bars will lose money without the U.S. in the event, but local engagement with the sport is still growing in West Michigan.

June is typically a slower month for bars and restaurants in Grand Rapids, so they will see sales hits without the U.S. in the 2018 World Cup, said Eric Albertson, owner of the SpeakEZ Lounge near downtown. 

"[There are at least] three matches," Albertson said. "Every match is worth about $3,000. So you're talking about $9,000 times, say, 30 bars in the West Michigan area -- that's $270,000."

SpeakEZ Lounge is a hub for local soccer fans, particularly the Grand Rapids chapter of American Outlaws, a group of USMNT super fans.

"We were hopeful and expecting a win, but at the 95th minute when the whistle went, it was very sad," Albertson said.

Even without the USMNT team in the World Cup, soccer fandom is growing by leaps and bounds, said Matt Roberts, owner of Grand Rapids Football Club. 

Grand Rapids FC came to the city in 2014 to play in the National Premier Soccer League. The men's team averages 3,500 fans per home game, and GRFC added a women's team for the 2017 season.

"There's an underground soccer culture here," Roberts said. "And we wanted to give them an identity and a face as well. So it's been fun to see it grow."

The World Cup watch parties will still be well-attended at SpeakEZ, Albertson said.

"It's still gonna be a lot of fun," he said. "But there's definitely going to be something missing, and that's our beloved Yanks."

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