There was no parking to be had for blocks surrounding La Dona Cerveceria on Saturday morning, as bleary-eyed soccer fans with mugs of dark beer planted themselves in front of a wall-length projection of the U.S. vs. Netherlands game at 9 a.m.
Jennifer Parell, who turned 36 on Saturday, had birthday hopes riding on the outcome. She and her sister, who both grew up playing soccer, anticipated a memorable day, win or lose. Similar scenes played out across the metro, as soccer fans gathered in bars and pubs for the semifinal match.
“Either way we’re drinking,” Parell said. “It just depends on whether it’ll be celebratory drinks or sad drinks.”
Ebo Okoruwa nervously downed a beer and a half prior to kickoff. He was mulling U.S. star Christian Pulisic’s pelvic injury, and preparing himself mentally for the repercussions.
“The Dutch have been good for so long,” his friend Christian Matthews said. “It’s gonna be tough, but I’m just excited that we’re actually moving up in the world. It seems like a promising team.”
Ten minutes in, the U.S. gave up a goal to Memphis Depay. The beer hall went quiet.
La Dona manager Ajay Bello remarked he thought there’d be more Dutch fans in the room, given Minnesotans’ ethnic makeup. He had his phone at the ready in anticipation of a U.S. goal.
Down at East Lake Brewery in the Midtown Global Market, the mood following Daley Blind’s second point for the Dutch seconds before halftime pivoted from the nervous melancholy of reluctant hope to a sunken acceptance of looming defeat. A hearty howling went up each time the U.S. was denied a goal.
East Lake owner Ryan Pitman remained upbeat, reveling in the experience of hosting droves of soccer fans of myriad ethnicities throughout the World Cup. With real admiration, he recalled the backbone of the lone Iran fan who hollered with pride each time his team made a move against the U.S. last week.
“It’s been a good, vocal crowd here,” Pitman said, a chorus of groans in the background as the Dutch beat back the U.S. from another near goal. He didn’t think there were any Netherlands fans in his bar that day. If there were, they were being stealthy, Pitman said.
In the back of the bar, Mark — an Oranje fan going incognito in a dark jacket and declining to be identified by last name — chuckled to himself as he texted his Dutch relatives in the Netherlands. They’re all having a great time, he gloated.
Mark’s friend Mark Borrello said he came to East Lake with split loyalties — feelings mirrored within a conflicted friend group comprised of a self-deprecating Dutch American and a Belgian with a bone to pick with the Netherlands, but no real feelings for the U.S. football team either.
“The U.S. team is so young. It feels like you can’t really have a grudge against them,” Borrello equivocated. “For a lot of the players it’s their first World Cup, so it’s like OK guys, go ahead, do well.”
John Kim, who lives in an apartment above the brewery and lacks any nationalistic urge to support one team or another, was happy just to enjoy the skill and artistry of the players in a crowd of fellow soccer lovers. With the World Cup hosted in the winter this year to accommodate Qatar’s high heat, he found himself reminiscing about the energy of summer watch parties four years prior.
“It’s part of the controversy,” Kim remarked. “Not only are you in a repressive country, you’re moving the dates.”
U.S. fans enjoyed several minutes of elation following Haji Wright’s goal late in the second half before Denzel Dumfries swept in a third point for the Netherlands.
In the final minutes of the game, Brit’s Pub in downtown Minneapolis was standing room only with fans sporting long faces. General manager Shane Higgins was pressed with his back against a far wall, shouting, “Come on, come on!” into the ether.
Basking alone in the warmth of victory was Reini Thijssen, a Dutch fan in unapologetic orange in a sea of U.S. hats and scarves. She is from the Netherlands and moved to Minnesota just three years ago for her partner, who seemed decidedly less enthused about Dutch dominance.
“It’s been really fun to see the psychology change,” Thijssen said. “Yeah, I was the only one shouting with the [Dutch] goal. It was kind of lonely to be honest … But of course I’m texting with my friends, and everyone’s so excited.”
As the young and still promising U.S. team hugged out the close of their World Cup run, Minnesota fans in stars and stripes onesies trudged dejectedly through the snirt to compensatory brunch.