Clovis News: Sports

Fans flock to catch soccer fever at Clovis bar

On Saturday, a who's-who of Central California soccer passed through Mad Duck, a Clovis bar and grill where the game is a bit of a religion. And they yelled themselves hoarse.

Professionals from the Fresno Fuego team, high school coaches, college players and other enthusiasts chanted "USA! USA! USA!" at encouraging moments during the 2-1 U.S. loss to Ghana in World Cup play.

It had been a madhouse at Mad Duck for days, because the place opened at whatever time the U.S. team took the field -- before 6 a.m. if necessary. Flags of various countries advancing in the World Cup hung above the bar and tables where people clustered elbow-to-elbow.

The five wall-mounted, 52-inch flat screens somehow didn't seem to be enough.

"This is beyond the World Series or the Super Bowl," said soccer player Kamran Vahabi, 46, one of the partners in Mad Duck. "This is more like the Olympics because it happens every four years."

The name Mad Duck represents initials in the names of the seven owners, and Kamran is the "k" in duck. It's a sports bar where soccer -- not baseball, football or basketball -- is No. 1, reflecting the popularity of the sport.

The popularity makes sense, says Randall Smith, 45, of the local California Odyssey Soccer Club, a youth soccer organization that has produced many national stars on U.S. youth teams.

"The sports culture has changed over time," he said. "You have a lot of kids and other people playing this sport now."

Susan Negrete, 30, a former player at Fresno State, said there are options now for players to continue in their sport after they finish college. She mentioned the Clovis Sidekicks Women's Soccer Club, which competes on an amateur level.

"We've developed our own community, and it's not small," she said. "The World Cup helps bring us together."

Ghana's national team silenced the fans at Mad Duck with an early goal, but the score didn't really surprise this bunch of aficionados.

Scott Alcorn, 44, head coach of the Fresno Fuego, said it is part of the U.S. team's profile to give up early goals. He said he didn't have an explanation.

"The U.S. is a top-15 team," he said. "I don't know, maybe they're just not ready to play sometimes."

Many in the crowd anticipated a comeback, including Steve Kaiser, 27, who said he has followed the career of U.S. player Landon Donovan for years. Sure enough, Donovan later scored the team's only goal, and the place again erupted in fist-waving and patriotic chants.

Just outside Mad Duck, passersby peeked through to the door to catch a glimpse just as Donovan's shot found the net. Amid the smiles and nods from less-fanatic soccer followers, Will Bowlin, 29, stood and shot a video of the scene.

He said he would load the video on Youtube under the title "Mad Duck equalizer goal," so people could find it. Is Bowlin now a devout soccer fan?

He smiled and shrugged: "A little bit of one, I guess."