World Cup fever hits Sebastopol

If Sebastopol resident Mike Bianucci can’t be in the stands at a World Cup soccer game (which he was, in Germany in 2006), then a strategic seat at the long copper bar at K&L Bistro is close enough to count this year.

“Someone from our family has gone to every World Cup since 2006,” said Bianucci, one of about 50 people watching last week’s Spain vs. Portugal game taking place in Russia. “One of my sons is now on his way to Russia and he has seat tickets. Just being in the city where a World Cup is happening is exciting and, since I can’t be there, this is the environment to watch World Cup soccer.”

The month-long World Cup is already a week old and local sports-oriented bars and restaurants are having some difficulty accommodating the schedule of games that puts most of the early contests in the early morning hours, some beginning as early as 3 or 5 a.m., Pacific Time.

Most bars in this area don’t even open until 11 a.m., which is the hour the last of the day’s scheduled matches at venues in Russia.

“It is awful timing for the U.S., even on the East Coast,” said Lucas Martin, who owns K&L Bistro with his wife Karen.

When he was younger, Martin played soccer for the semi-pro San Diego Nomads and he remains active in adult recreation league play.

Bianucci was on hand, taking advantage of Martin’s hospitality since K&L appears to be one of the very few establishments in Sonoma County to be opening for fans to watch the early games in the group stages that can start anywhere from 3 to 8 a.m., Pacific Time.

Every day through June 28, there are soccer matches among teams representing 32 nations, which is more than enough to attract the attention of niche fans like those who favor teams from Iceland or Senegal or the powerhouse favorites like Germany or Brazil.

This year’s cup — a quadrennial worldwide event that boasts of being the most watched sports contest on the planet — is even more disappointing to soccer fans and to sports bar operators as well because the U.S. team failed to qualify. Neither did the Italian team, often the default choice for Americans, nor did the Dutch squad, often the choice of fans that appreciate technical skills.

Martin said the lack of a U.S. team or one from those countries with rich soccer traditions is, along with the time zones of the games, another deterrent to stimulating interest in the sport.

“Soccer fans are soccer fans and the true soccer fans will show up. For me and for them, it is all about watching a great game,” Martin said. “I am going to be open for every game. At those hours, I can only promise coffee and pastries. Besides, I have to be here if I want to watch, because I don’t have television service at my home.”

Martin’s prediction is that Germany will be the ultimate winner when the final game is held on July 15, despite Germany having lost to Mexico, 0-1, in last Sunday’s 8 a.m. game. (In group stage play, four teams play each other once and the top two move on to a subsequent Round of 16 knock-out stage that begins June 30.)

“I think Germany will win, but I’d like to see some interesting team go all the way, somebody like Croatia,” he said.

Here are other spots in west county where you may catch World Cup games:

In Sebastopol:

Gravenstein Grill, 8050 Bodega Avenue, opens at 11 a.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. weekends and has three large television screens. “The timing of the games makes things awkward, but we did have about 10 people here watching the other day, some of the same ones that came here because we showed all the Warriors games,” said Brandon Parkhurst, general manager and partner at grill.

Taqueria El Favorito, 250 South Main Street, opens 10 a.m. daily. Only one screen in the front room, but head straight for the back room where there is a large screen regularly popular with fans of teams from Latin America.

Crooked Goat, 120 Morris Street in the Barlow, opens at noon and has several screens. “We don’t open til noon, so that’ll cut down on our business, but I am sure we’ll have it on if people ask,” said a bartender.

In Guerneville:

McT’s Bullpen, 16246 1st Street, opens at 6 a.m. and has one big and several smaller screens. A couple dozen people focused on the games last weekend.

Stumptown, 15045 River Road, opens at 11 a.m. and has nine televisions. “Soccer is not one of the more popular sports here,” although the bartender reported a couple tables full of patrons were watching last weekend.

Rainbow Cattle Company, 16220 Main Street, opens at noon and has four screens. A bartender said, “we put on whatever games people want to watch.”