World Cup a hit Idaho Falls

Local soccer fans watch nervously Sunday as a player for the Netherlands’ team scores a goal against Mexico in the 2014 World Cup. About 30 people watched the game at Buffalo Wild Wings on Sunday.

While many eastern Idahoans spent Sunday morning in church, about 30 people paid reverence to the world’s soccer gods flying across the big-screen TVs at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Instead of church pews, they sat on bar stools.

Instead of a fiery sermon, they listened to Spanish-speaking announcers yell “gol!” at the top of their lungs.

It’s estimated there are 3 billion soccer fans worldwide — that’s more than the world’s entire population of Catholics (1.2 billion) and Muslims (1.6 billion) combined.

“Soccer is my second religion,” said Janette Duarte, who left church early to watch Mexico play the Netherlands in the 2014 World Cup.

Duarte and others in the mostly-Latino crowd watching the game shared the same sentiment. Though soccer hasn’t reached the same popularity in the United States as it has in other countries, many Latinos in eastern Idaho watch the game because of it’s cultural significance.

Ivan Delgado, 30, and his wife Kate Delgado, 28 drove down from Rigby to watch the game with friends. Restaurant employees said fútbol fans started lining up at Buffalo Wild Wings at 9:30 a.m., half an hour before the game started and 90 minutes before the restaurant usually opens on Sunday.

Ivan Delgado said watching soccer is a part of his roots as a Mexican-American.

“A lot of our traditions are games,” Delgado said. “It’s all about getting together with friends and family, eating food and hanging out.”

Delgado, who was born in Mexico City, said because the Mexican community in eastern Idaho is so tight-knit, they participate in a lot of traditional Mexican activities.

“There’s a pretty big Mexican community in this part of Idaho,” Delgado said. “A lot of us aren’t into camping or hunting, so we are into our traditions.”

A big tradition is soccer, whether playing or watching.

“It’s just what we do,” 20-year-old Abel Munez said.

The ecstasy of defeat

Mexico lost the nail-biting game 2-1. For a minute, the crowd’s heads fell into their palms as they let out a collective sigh.

A minute later, everyone was back to smiles.

“It’s upsetting to see my team lose, but at least I’m hanging out with my friends and having a good time,” Delgado said. “That’s what this is really about.”

Buffalo Wild Wings employees couldn’t complain either.

“Business-wise we did really well,” manager Aaron Briscoe said. “Watching Mexico lose was a little disappointing, but I think everyone still had a good time … the energy was off the charts.”

Delgado said even though his team is out of the World Cup, he’ll still watch most of the games.

“I might cry for a little bit,” Delgado said, jokingly. “But I’ll be OK. There are more games to watch; it will be fun.”