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Sonoma County soccer fans welcome World Cup action as U.S. returns after 8-year absence

Fans in Santa Rosa, decked out in a sea of red, white and blue uniforms, took in the US-Wales game at pubs and sports bars across the county. Here’s what it looked and sounded like.|

Places to watch World Cup games

Toad in the Hole

116 5th St., Santa Rosa

thetoadpub.com

Epicenter

3215 Coffey Lane, Santa Rosa

visitepicenter.com

Ausiello’s Bar and Grill

609 5th St., Santa Rosa

ausiellos5thstreetgrill.com

Murphy's Irish Pub

464 First St. East, Sonoma

sonomapub.com

Beyond the Glory

1371 N. McDowell Blvd. #130, Petaluma

btgpetaluma.com

McNear’s Saloon & Dining House

23 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma

mcnears.com

Steiner’s Tavern

465 1st St. W. #100, Sonoma

steinerstavern.com

Rosso Pizzeria

53 Montgomery Dr., Santa Rosa

rossopizzeria.com

It was a moment of elation eight years waiting for Sonoma County soccer fans, who watched Monday from their favorite watering holes as the U.S. men’s national team made its long-awaited return to the World Cup.

The first-round match against Wales at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, had it all: yellow cards for crunching tackles, a go-ahead first-half goal for the U.S. and a late equalizer from the penalty spot for Wales.

Fans in Santa Rosa, decked out in a sea of red, white and blue uniforms, took in the action — just the second day of the globe’s quadrennial tournament — at Toad in the Hole, an English-style pub that is home to a large soccer fandom.

“I’m feeling very excited because the U.S., this is our first World Cup in eight years, and then we’re beating Wales in the first half,” said U.S. fan Rocco Reed of Cloverdale. “It’s very exciting, and I got my boys here and it’s great. It just feels really good!”

The U.S. match wasn’t even the first game of the day. That was England-Iran, with a West Coast kickoff time of 5 a.m.

And while the wait for U.S. fans has been agonizing since the men’s last World Cup appearance in Brazil in 2014, it was far longer for Wales, which hadn’t played in the tournament since 1958.

The 11 a.m. kickoff saw fans packed around four screens at Toad in the Hole, including a TV with a tent and picnic tables outside on Fifth Street.

U.S. fans showed off their pride with flags, hats and scarves, and cheers for the Yanks were punctuated at times even by the occasional stadium song.

“Sooo, we tell them, we are the U.S., the mighty, mighty U.S.” went one refrain from the song "Everywhere We Go.“

Harder to spot — or to hear over the home fans — were the Wales supporters, who had less cause to cheer for most of the match.

“USA kind of dominated in the first half. I’ll be rooting for them since I’m here,” Tom Healy, a native of Dublin, Ireland, said during halftime. “They need to go for another goal. They can’t just sit back.”

Beer flowed throughout the match — unlike in Qatar, where alcohol sales were banned at stadiums — as the pub’s servers expertly squeezed their way through the crowd carrying Guinness, dishing out food and taking orders.

“Right now, I’m feeling pretty proud to have my dad owning this pub here in Santa Rosa, a great spot, and having a great group of people coming together to watch the game that so many people love, football, a.k.a. soccer,” said Flynn Stokeld, son of pub owner Paul Stokeld, who was born in Nigeria and raised in South Africa and England.

“My dad’s had this pub for pretty much my whole life,” the younger Stokeld said. “I was 3 years old when he opened it, and I grew up here eating, working, living. I just feel proud.”

Heartbreak for U.S. fans came late in the match, when Wales’ superstar Gareth Bale was brought down in the box by U.S. defender Walker Zimmerman. Bale tied the game from the penalty spot and the disappointment for American fans rang out in a chorus of boos and downcast faces.

Still, hopes remain alive for the American team to advance, and a showdown with group favorite England is next up, on Friday — one of dozens of first-round features in round-robin style play over this week and next.

Toad in the Hole and a number of other sports pubs across the county will be offering fans a chance to catch that action together, with all of its highs and lows.

“I think the environment here at the Toad was top-class,” said Santa Rosa resident Kelcey Chaidez, who was with his young sons, all of them clad in U.S. colors and looking ahead to the next games. “I wish more soccer games in America would be viewed and attended like this.”

You can reach intern Lonnie Hayes at lonnie.hayes@pressdemocrat.com.

Places to watch World Cup games

Toad in the Hole

116 5th St., Santa Rosa

thetoadpub.com

Epicenter

3215 Coffey Lane, Santa Rosa

visitepicenter.com

Ausiello’s Bar and Grill

609 5th St., Santa Rosa

ausiellos5thstreetgrill.com

Murphy's Irish Pub

464 First St. East, Sonoma

sonomapub.com

Beyond the Glory

1371 N. McDowell Blvd. #130, Petaluma

btgpetaluma.com

McNear’s Saloon & Dining House

23 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma

mcnears.com

Steiner’s Tavern

465 1st St. W. #100, Sonoma

steinerstavern.com

Rosso Pizzeria

53 Montgomery Dr., Santa Rosa

rossopizzeria.com

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