WASHINGTON -- If it feels like D.C. is getting revved up for the World Cup, your senses are not betraying you. From television ratings to the watch parties taking place at social gathering spots around town, World Cup fever has struck the District.
During the U.S. Men's National Team's thrilling, 2-1 victory over Ghana last Sunday, Washington had a higher percentage of viewers tuned into the game than any other market, far outpacing second place New York. Baltimore came in sixth.
Through Tuesday, the average TV ratings in the District for the entire World Cup were also the top number in the country, with San Francisco and New York ranking second and third, respectively.
But the real scene for the first U.S. game was at local bars and restaurants, where capacity crowds packed in, singing and chanting. The Laughing Man Tavern, on G Street NW, has been a home for soccer supporters for years, but the reaction for the World Cup has surprised even them.
"We grossly underestimated the fever," admits general manager Ben Fisk, who says the bottom floor of the bar, below street level and underneath an 11-story building, actually shook when the U.S. scored the game-winning goal in the 86th minute.
Fiske found himself with a capacity crowd packed into the bar before 4 p.m. for a 6 p.m. game.
On a Monday.
"We ran out of our beer special at 5:15," he says. "I thought I was going to run out of beer."
Fiske has tripled both his staff and his beer order in preparation for the madness that awaits Sunday, when the U.S. plays Portugal at 6 p.m. The game is a perfect storm: A contest with huge implications taking place on a weekend, with an early enough kick-off for those in the area to enjoy themselves and still get to work the following morning.
So, if you want to share in the moment, what time should you arrive for the 6 p.m. game?
"We open at 11 a.m. and I'm expecting there to be a line when I arrive," says Fiske. "It's going to be something I've never experienced."
The rise of soccer's popularity in the nation's capital goes beyond World Cup, though.
According to a study from the blog Estately -- which ranks the 50 states plus the District based on data from professional and youth soccer clubs, soccer pubs and information from Facebook and Google -- Maryland ranks second in the nation to only Washington state in its enthusiasm for the beautiful game, with D.C. a close third.
The entire D.C. area was well represented, with Virginia coming in ninth. Why does this region rank so highly across the board? There could be a number of factors in play.
"Areas that have a lot of international, foreign-born residents [placed high on the list]," says Ryan Nickum.
The Washington Post recently broke down a listing of places to watch this year's tournament heading into the World Cup, no matter your rooting interest.
The area has at least one location to support nearly every one of the 32 nations playing this year.
But the enthusiasm is hardly relegated to D.C. alone. Cameroon supporters can head to Silver Spring, Maryland's Roger Miller Restaurant, named after the striker who rose to fame in the 1990 World Cup.
In Virginia, Bosnian fans can drop by Alexandria's Cosmopolitan Grill and join chef, owner and native son Ivica Svalina in supporting the team in its first World Cup appearance. Algerian fans can head out to Seven Corners to the Babylon Futbol Café to join the boisterous crowd supporting their side.
With the diversity of cultures from soccer-mad countries extending into the suburbs of both Maryland and Virginia, it should come as no surprise that the D.C. area has become America's soccer capital.
"D.C. was one of the few areas where it was really a cluster all in the top 10," says Nickum, who is from noted soccer frenzied Seattle. "It must be a real hotbed for soccer enthusiasm. You didn't see that with a lot of other states."
This chart breaks down the rankings of soccer enthusiasm in the 50 states plus D.C. (Estately)
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