5 Bars Where Soccer Upstages Football

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- If you've ever walked into a bar on a Sunday and wondered "what's with all the stopping and commercials and helmets," you're watching the wrong football in the wrong bar.

Soccer is the world's sport, but in the U.S. it's maybe a distant fourth behind NFL football, the Major League Baseball playoffs and NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint ( S) Cup. In certain fanatical corners, it may be running fifth behind preseason NHL hockey, which somehow drew 18,400 fans in Washington, D.C., on Sunday compared with the 15,000 fans Major League Soccer's D.C. United has averaged during its regular season. Despite this, there are American fans of non-American football who don't particularly care about any of the above.

To them, the UEFA Champions League matches last week had far more excitement than the dying days of baseball's regular season. These same folks don't see October as NASCAR's championship season, but as the lead-in to the MLS playoffs. To them, the Barclays ( BCS) English Premier League derbies this weekend were far better than any Week 3 "action" the NFL had to offer.

If fans of either football are looking for a head-to-head matchup for fan and pub TV loyalties, it isn't going to happen. The English Premier League's games air far earlier that the NFL's on Sundays thanks to the time difference across the pond, while MLS does just about everything in its power to make sure its Sunday games don't overlap with the NFL. Major League Soccer is making inroads after averaging more fans per game than the National Basketball League and National Hockey League at one point last year, but even the 37,000 fans that attend Seattle Sounders games on average would be considered the worst home crowd in the NFL -- where the Cincinnati Bengals have the league's worst attendance and haven't sold out a home game since the middle of last season, but still draw more than 42,000 fans per game.

That doesn't mean soccer fans or their pubs are just going to hand over the remote when the rest of America is ready fer sum "football." We combed the country's taphouses and watering holes looking for pubs that not only show soccer but make it as big a part of their business as the beers on tap. The following five are the nation's best spots to watch the play on the pitch, enjoy a pint and put yourself far away from pooch kicks, giant shoulder pads and pass-interference penalties:

Nevada Smith's
New York City
Show some respect when you step into The Church.

Nevada Smith's is soccer in New York and puts more than 100 live matches a week on its screens throughout the year. Jerseys and cleats signed by soccer luminaries such as England and former Newcastle United star Alan Shearer, Netherlands and La Liga striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Portugal and Manchester United striker Cristiano Ronaldo and U.S. fixture Landon Donovan line the walls of this soccer cathedral while fan groups from the U.S. and abroad pack the house throughout the year.

The New York Red Bulls-backing Empire Supporters Club calls this place home, but so do the expat firms of European powerhouses including the Arsenal-supporting New York Gooners, Inter Milan backers La Beneamata and even the New York-based fan club of Norway's Sportsklubben Brann. But with two levels, 14 plasma televisions and a giant projection screen, there's plenty of room for fans of Six Nations, Aviva ( AV) Premiership and Magners League Rugby and the Rugby World Cup to elbow their way in for a pint as well.

It's not that Nevada Smith's is opposed to having typical American sports fare on its screens. The Yankees' playoff opener against the Detroit Tigers was being played here before it got rained out. It's just that while much of sporting America was watching Week 3 of the NFL season at 2:45 p.m. Sunday, Nevada Smith's made sure Italy's Serie A matchup between Juventus and AC Milan was front and center.

Consider Nevada Smith's a bizarro Buffalo Wild Wings ( BWLD), where soccer and rugby get the big screens while other sports get tucked away on the tinier televisions above the rest room entrances.

Mulligan's on First
Hoboken, N.J.
It's one thing to have Manchester United on your screens, but completely another to have a panel of their legendary players grace your pub on a Tuesday afternoon in July.

Mulligan's routinely opens its doors in the wee morning hours to show matches from across the pond. On the first Saturday in October, it greeted fans at 7:30 a.m. For an English Premier League matchup between Everton and Liverpool. This summer, however, Mulligan's was rewarded for its efforts by Manchester United fan firm One United USA, which brought Manchester legends Andrew Cole, Gary Neville and Paddy Crerand into the pub in July for a panel discussion a day before Manchester United's appearance in the MLS All-Star Game in Harrison, N.J.

If Mulligan's doesn't have the Giants or Jets early game on once Sunday rolls around, it's nothing personal. Though a metropolitan area soccer mecca, it's still a relatively small place, with 10 screens in the front room and a few more in the billiards room and smaller bar room in back.

To a soccer fan, though, it's a match-time heaven that serves a full Irish breakfast all day and burgers, fish-and-chips dishes and meat pies well into the night. It can become tight quarters during some of the more popular matches, but well-poured pints, ample pub grub and the occasional Premier League drop-in make it well worth a PATH train ride.

Small Bar
Chicago (multiple locations)
Major League Soccer's Chicago Fire moved out to Toyota Park in the suburbs years ago, but soccer fans in Chicago proper are getting along just fine with their three outposts of Small Bar, thank you.

Voted best soccer bar in America last year by U.S. Soccer, Small Bar combines UEFA Champions League games, Chelsea and Manchester United matches and and the Chicago Fire's full schedule with 20 taps loaded with craft and Belgian beers such as Dark Horse's Scotty Karate, Three Floyds' Gumballhead and Two Brothers' Heavy Handed IPA. Its three locations on Division Street, Fullerton Street and at Logan Square care as much about the Arsenal match on the screens as the $4 Allagash White specials on the taps.

As with any soccer bar worth its salt, Small Bar is occasionally rewarded for sacrificing its television space with visits from players such as U.S. national team captain Carlos Bocanegra, who popped in after the team's World Cup campaign last year. Being Chicago's official bar of the U.S. squad doesn't hurt, either, but in a place where arguments mostly involve fans of different European sides squabbling over which team should be getting better play, Small Bar can seem downright foreign compared with its surrounding sports saloons.

4-4-2 Soccer Bar
Portland, Ore.
This is a town with no NFL team, no Major League Baseball team and no National Hockey League team. If the TrailBlazers aren't on, every bar in town should be a soccer bar.

That's kind of the case in Portland. The Portland outpost of the Kells is the flag-wavin' official U.S. Soccer pub, shows MLS, La Liga, Six Nations Rugby and Gaelic games and serves as the stop for the Portland Double Decker bus to Portland Timbers and TrailBlazers games, but isn't a strictly soccer pub. The Thirsty Lion, meanwhile, shows all the Timbers matches and gives away tickets, but touts NFL football every Sunday and University of Oregon football every Saturday. It also serves as a mini-Ann Arbor for University of Michigan alumni and football fans.

If Portland soccer fans want more pure soccer surroundings, however, the bar named after a soccer formation is a good start. The 4-4-2 doesn't care much for other sports and kicked off October by shunning the NFL for an 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. solid slate of soccer that featured not only the Timbers taking on the Vancouver Whitecaps, but a Seattle Sounders matchup against the Philadelphia Union sprinkled in among La Liga, English Premier League and Serie A matches.

It's not hard to please soccer fans in a town that never gave up on the Timbers after their North American Soccer League days in the 1970s and 1980s, but showing University of Portland women's soccer team matches during the week is just going the extra mile. The school produced U.S. women's team super sub Megan Rapinoe, who set up Abby Wambach for her game-winning header against Brazil in the Women's World Cup this summer, and her U.S. teammate Stephanie Lopez as well as U.S. men's team members Steve Cherundolo and Heath Pearce and Sounders goaltender Kasey Keller.

With an bar that looks like an international soccer hall of fame and a menu that's just as diverse with its Bosnian Cevapi and Suduk sausages, 4-4-2 is a bar built around the world's game, not just one that happens to show it when there's nothing "better" on.

Fado Irish Pub
Seattle
Seattle's one of those rare towns where soccer fans are fortunate enough to have not just one bar dedicated to their game, but two pubs that could care less about the Seahawks, Mariners, Storm or any other team that doesn't play the beautiful game.

The first, the George and Dragon Pub, has been showing a full state of English Premier League, UEFA Champions League and international games since 1995 while serving up toasties, fish and chips, shepherd's pie, chicken curry and a little bit of England in the Pacific Northwest. It's still a hot spot for Sounders games and pints of Strongbow, but there's just one thing it lacks and that sets its chain pub competitor apart:

Gorilla FC.

Not only does Fado host MLS games, Euro 2012 qualifiers, U.S. Soccer friendlies and Premier League and Serie A matchups, but it serves as the home base for activist Sounders support group Gorilla FC before every home match, offering members drink specials for their allegiance. If you're thinking about joining for the cheap drinks, however, just be aware that Gorilla considers itself anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic and actively protest racist and neo-Nazi events in the city.

They're also not afraid to use that cash they're saving on Guinness ( DEO) to organize benefits for groups such as Doctors Without Borders and and the Free Burma Rangers. This occasionally gets the group meet-and-greets with Sounders players at Fado, but they're hard-earned.

If you're a fan of Tetley's Bitter and like to watch your soccer from the comfort of your local pub, the George and Dragon may be your place. If you're more of a Guinness drinker who thinks nothing's ever been won by sitting on one's backside, head over to Fado and go Gorilla.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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