Reynolds gives life to roles

Ryan Reynolds

At 11 a.m. Saturday, O'Malley's Bar and Grille reached capacity and started turning people away.

At 1:45 p.m., a bare-chested man painted red, white and blue waved an American flag out his car window as he rode down King Street.

By the time the U.S. World Cup match against Ghana began at 2:30 p.m., the King Street sidewalks were all but emptied, and all eyes were on television screens. Soccer fever had arrived.

"The Super Bowl was big, but this is on a scale of its own," O'Malley's owner Kevin Dignan said. Inside the Irish pub, the roar of the fans became deafening minutes before the game when star midfielder Landon Donovan appeared on-screen in a commercial.

Someone picked up a chant of "U.S.A.!" Somewhere in the bar, somebody was beating a drum.

It's been a big year for soccer in the U.S. ESPN reported its largest-ever audience for a soccer game June 18 when the U.S. made a dramatic comeback to tie Slovenia, only to have that record broken June 23 when the U.S. defeated Algeria.

Why the sudden interest? Certainly it can't hurt that the Americans were finally winning a few.

But Dignan said it's also a matter of demographics.

"It's a generation of kids who grew up playing soccer, and they're becoming adults and coming in here," Dignan said. O'Malley's had a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd made up largely of twentysomethings Saturday, many echoing the familiar refrain "I've always been a fan."

Standing at a screen near the front door, James Dangerfield said his interest had to do with his high school soccer career.

"It's a lot easier to follow if you've played it," said Dangerfield, a 2004 graduate of Wando High School. "It's a lot easier to get into a 0-0 game."

Down the street at Charleston Beer Works, customer Sethe Wetter said some of the energy died down when the Ghanaians put a goal in around the five-minute mark.

"It's like a balloon deflating," Wetter said. "But it's what we always do. We get down early and come back."

The bar was fairly crowded, but the place to be on Saturday was at an Irish pub. Like O'Malley's, Madra Rua Irish Pub, near Park Circle in North Charleston, was packed and rowdy.

Mark McLysaght, who said he has watched every World Cup since he was born in Limerick, Ireland, in 1966, directed the cheers from his end of the bar.

McLysaght pumped his fist and struck up a chant of "Ole!" when midfielder Clint Dempsey took a U.S. foul inside the goal box, and then he hushed the crowd as Donovan lined up the goal-scoring penalty kick.

Back at O'Malley's, early in the tie-breaking extra time, a man in a Jozy Altidore U.S. jersey stepped out to the sidewalk to make an announcement to the smokers: "They scored. They scored." From the tone of his voice, it was clear he meant Ghana.

In the sweltering heat at O'Malley's, the mood soured from there. Fans booed opponents who they thought were faking injuries; a few lofted their middle fingers on high as Ghanaian fans rejoiced on-screen. Someone started another chant of "U.S.A.," but it died almost as soon as it started.

In the end, the Americans couldn't swing another comeback. But a few doors down from O'Malley's, at Midtown Bar & Grill, there were winners.

Co-owner James Maybank said business had been booming during all four U.S. World Cup appearances -- and crowds were packing in as well for the Clemson-Carolina College World Series games Friday and Saturday nights.

"Since the baseball game last night, it's been nonstop," Maybank said. "We're all huge soccer fans now."