Doubts over World Cup in Qatar fade as Chicago soccer fans gather to watch U.S. team play Wales

Ashley Kj?s took the day off work Monday.

Rather than suiting up for the office, Ashley suited up for the pub; instead of a coffee, he held a beer; and instead of a computer screen, his eyes were on a flatscreen TV in a Near West Side pub.

He was among dozens packed inside The Embassy, 1435 W. Taylor St. in Little Italy on Monday afternoon to watch the U.S. play Wales in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

“I’m here to root for the US team,” said Kj?s, who was wearing a blue team jersey. His wife raised her eyebrows. A friend shook his head.

“But I follow a bunch of the Welsh players,” he added, explaining several players from his favorite professional team, Swansea City, were on Wales.

It was the opening match for both teams.

The half-avowed Welsh supporter was alone in a bar among fans wearing red, white and blue.

Ashley Kj?s (left, in blue jersey) and Caroline Kj?s (right) were among those at The Embassy watching the U.S. team take on Wales on Monday.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Almost all of fans gathered Monday admitted to some reservations to watching the popular game’s signature tournament this year, which has been mired in controversy over Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and stance on LGBTQ rights.

“I don’t feel great about it,” said Ryan Fischer, 25, a University of Illinois physical therapy student who went to watch the game with her fiance and a classmate.

“You’re stuck in a situation where you want to watch, but it’s hard to fully support with what’s going on.”

A few teams planned to wear armbands to support LGBTQ rights but decided against it after FIFA threatened to punish players, according to the Associated Press.

“I get that you might not be able to share political messages but inclusiveness, wearing a rainbow-colored armband feels like less of a political statement,” said Reid Kiger, 24, Fischer’s fiance.

All screens were tuned to the World Cup on Monday afternoon at The Embassy.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Any reservations faded, at least for a little while, after Timothy Weah put the U.S. ahead in the first half, bringing the room full of cheering fans to their feet.

“When they scored that goal, I got goosebumps,” said Michael Potsic, 35, who lives in Pilsen, adding that he hadn’t been following the team closely.

“There’s just something about watching the game in a crowded sports bar that’s great,” he said.

The confidence in the room turned to anxiety when Wales tied the score on a penalty kick with less than 10 minutes left in the game.

“There’s no way that was a penalty,” a few yelled.

Kj?s, and his dual sympathies, drew hard stares from his friends.

“I should never have come here,” he said.

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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