June 11, 2014

No matter your colors, there’s a World Cup viewing spot for you

All levels of soccer passion can be served by the region’s sports-focused bars and restaurants.

There might be no greater tribute to the rise of soccer in this country than the number of bars and taverns tweaking their menus and hours to accommodate the number of people who want to watch World Cup action.

After all, every game will be televised live, so staying home and observing at your preferred level of volume always is an option.

But for the next month, whether you’re rooting for the Yanks, El Tri, Seleccao das Quinas, Clockwork Orange or you just want to savor the styles of all 32 teams, there will be a local spot ready to seat you in front of a big screen and surround you with fans who may or may not be wearing the same color shirt.

Since the 2014 World Cup is being played in Brazil, viewing in this area will be at much more convenient times than in 2010, when the Cup was hosted by South Africa and offered Zero Dark 30 kickoffs. Daily games in Brazil start at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m.

Any list of soccer-watching hangouts in the area has to start with the two places that have taken on the role of host taverns for the American Outlaws – the official support club of the U.S. National Soccer Teams.

In Modesto, that role is filled by P. Wexford’s Pub, while in Merced, the American Outlaws gather at The Partisan.

“Every city can have a chapter, and we’ve found it brings a lot of positivity to the local community,” said Modesto chapter president Matt Ernst, 33, who grew up playing elite AJAX soccer and also played at Johansen High and Modesto Junior College. “We have a lot of coaches involved with the Outlaws, and it keeps me feeling young and excited when new people come in.”

The American Outlaws were born in Nebraska in 2007 by a group of fans tired of seeing Americans outnumbered in the stands at international matches – even those played on home soil.

“It was as a way to organize fans so that when the U.S. plays at home there’s a home-field advantage,” Ernst said. “As recent as four years ago when the U.S. played Mexico, it would be 90 percent Mexican fans. We wanted to give U.S. fans not only a place to gather but a way to be in the stadium so that our team can hear us.”

The Modesto chapter was the 18th recognized by the national organization. The Merced chapter holds charter No. 116. Both groups will be in full throat when the U.S. is playing.

But for fans who would like a more relaxed viewing experience, or who may be rooting for a team other than the U.S., there are other options.

“Wexford’s is for the hard-core viewer,” said Roman Wagner, who also will cater to World Cup watchers at two other Modesto properties he owns – Rivets and The Boardroom. All three will be open for all World Cup games.

“Wexford’s holds a little over 100, and it will be packed. We have room for 200 at Rivets, and this is where a family can spread out a little more. I don’t think the crowd at Rivets will be hard core, but we might be surprised. The Boardroom will be a good place for people who are working and can get away to watch the games.”

The national chain establishments that share a walkway at the Vintage Faire Mall also will be opening early to accommodate the 9 a.m. crowd.

“We’ll open at 9 a.m. every day there are early games, and our goal is to make this the best place outside the stadium to watch the games,” said Robert Wilson, general manager of Buffalo Wild Wings. “It’s important to us that our guests dictate what they want to watch, and we have 64 large screens.”

Across the breezeway, B.J.’s Restaurant & Brewhouse will be opening at 8:45 a.m. every day the tournament features a 9 a.m. first-game kickoff and will offer a limited brunch menu and drink specials.

Four years ago, Buffalo Wings and Rings in east Modesto’s Village One had mixed results when it opened early for soccer action, according to manager Theresa Costa.

“We opened early and had a good crowd for some of the games, especially Mexico, and nobody would show up other mornings,” said Costa, whose restaurant normally opens at 11 a.m. Their solution this year is to open early only for the 9 a.m. games featuring Mexico, Portugal, Spain or the United States.

For those sports-themed establishments that have planned ahead, the World Cup can be an every-fourth-year boost to the bottom line.

“This is huge for us,” Wagner said. “We’re all about the customer, and we’ll be there and open and ready to go.

“We know that some of the lesser teams might only draw a few fans but it’s important to provide this kind of venue. There’s a big difference in the experience of watching a game when you can go to a place and find common fans – an instant camaraderie that makes watching the games special.”

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