Air Force combat photographer Mike Buytas was embedded with an Army unit outside of Kabul in 2002, taking pictures as American soldiers trained Afghan troops. At the same time, the World Cup was being played in Japan and South Korea.
World Cup 2014
WHEN: June 12-July 13
USA GROUP SCHEDULE
Monday vs. Ghana, 6 p.m.
June 22 vs. Portugal, 6 p.m.
June 26 vs. Germany, noon
What's a dedicated soccer fan to do?
Buytas found himself one night huddled around a radio with Afghans and members of the French Foreign Legion, listening to a broadcast of a match between France and Senegal.
"The Afghani guys would translate the announcers into French, and the French guys translated it into English," Buytas recalled. "It was a like a game of telephone. After a while you could learn the key phrases, you could hear the excitement in the announcers' voices. But it was definitely surreal."
As the World Cup begins Thursday in Brazil, Buytas and his fellow soccer enthusiasts in Charleston won't have to take such drastic measures to follow the world's biggest sporting event. With a total of 64 matches broadcast on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2, a burgeoning soccer culture in Charleston is preparing to enjoy every moment of the month-long event.
"It's a month-long party, that's for sure," said Buytas, 44, who is now retired from the Air Force and has made Charleston his home since 2001. "It's the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup all wrapped up into one. All the best athletes from around the world coming together to perform for a month in a huge setting. It's easy to get wrapped up and lose your mind for about a month."
An epicenter of mind-losing is sure to be Madra Rua Irish Pub on East Montague Avenue in the Park Circle area of North Charleston. An unforgettable scene took place there in 2010, when Landon Donovan's goal in extra time gave the U.S. a 1-0 victory over Algeria.
"That was one of the best experiences I've ever had watching soccer," said Jason Weber, managing partner of Madra Rua. "The place just exploded when Donovan scored. I'll never forget it."
Madra Rua and other like-minded establishments (Local 616, Prohibition, Molly Darcy's, My Father's Moustache, Three Lions Club at Blackbaud Stadium, Madra Rua in Summerville, Mueller's Pub and The Alley) are laying in supplies for what they expect will be a month-long siege of World Cup revelry. The Charleston Battery will hold viewing parties at Three Lions for all U.S. games.
"This will be huge to our bottom line," said Weber, whose Madra Rua Irish Pub was voted the best bar in South Carolina in which to watch the World Cup.
"Last time, in 2010, our heat sensors went off, there so many people in the place," Weber said. "We were at max capacity in the middle of June, and our AC just couldn't keep up."
Buytas said Charleston soccer culture has come a long way since he moved here in 2001, and he is one important reason. Buytas serves as president of The Regiment, the official supporters club of the Charleston Battery, as well as the president of the Charleston chapter of the American Outlaws, supporters of the U.S. Men's National Team.
"It's a lot more organized now," he said. "We have a lot more groups, our friendly little rivalries like the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry in college football. There's a big sense of community among the fans, and we try to support the businesses that help us out."
In addition to The Regiment and the American Outlaws, there is Charsenal, a fan club for Arsenal FC in the English Premier League, and the Official Liverpool Supporters Club of South Carolina, which cheers on the Reds in the Premier League.
Travis Poole, who helped start Charsenal in 2011, remembers trying to find a corner table at a local pub where he could try to persuade a bartender to find a Premier League game on satellite. Now, his group boasts some 200 members and 30 to 50 "Gooners" will show up for a Saturday morning game at My Father's Moustache in Mount Pleasant. "I would say our city is more soccer-centric than most in South Carolina," said Stan Sulkowski, another Charsenal member. "It is not uncommon to see Arsenal shirts throughout the city."
Another factor in pulling together Charleston's soccer community has been Dan Conover's website (chssoccer.net), which covers everything from the Battery to college and youth soccer and fan clubs in the Lowcountry.
John Lotterhaus was part of a group of American Outlaws who traveled to Jacksonville last week to watch the U.S. team's final send-off match, a 2-1 win over Nigeria. He'll be glued to the TV for the next month.
"At the game, we sang the National Anthem loud and proud and cheered on our boys," Lotterhaus said. "It's always better to watch with a group of people. You are able to chant, to express your love of the game with other fans. There's nothing like it."