When the men’s World Cup comes around every four years, Santa Barbara is usually ready for a rollicking summer party. But this year’s month-long soccer tournament, featuring 32 countries from all corners of the globe, conflicts with school and work schedules and competes with the NFL and NBA. It’s because of the fierce summer heat in Qatar, a controversial choice as the host country in more ways than one.
Because of the time difference, it will be more of a show for coffee sippers than beer drinkers, although it’s been claimed that a pint of Guinness is a nutritious breakfast. The earliest matches in the first round will start at 2 a.m.; the latest, including all three U.S.A. matches, kick off at 11 a.m.
Qatar will play the opening game against Ecuador on Sunday, Nov. 20, at 8 a.m., followed by two weeks of competition within eight groupings of four, with the top two in each group advancing to the knockout rounds. It will be a week before Christmas when the champions raise the trophy on December 18.
There will be an epicenter of intense fandom on West Ortega Street in downtown Santa Barbara, where the redoubtable Press Room, the self-described World Cup headquarters, sits across from Dargan’s Irish Pub. The Press Room will be open for every match, as it was in 2002 when it was the only bar on the West Coast to screen the matches from Japan and South Korea in the middle of the night. Dargan’s plans to open an hour before 8 a.m. and 7 a.m. games.
The Press Room, inhabited throughout the year by English Premier League fans, will be teeming when England faces off against Iran at 5 a.m. Monday, and when England faces the United States the following Friday, “We’re going to be slammed,” proprietor James Rafferty said.
There will be plenty of room up State Street at the Arlington Theatre, which announced it will put seven first-rounders and all the knockout matches on the big screen. Admission will be free with the concession stand and bar selling food and beverages.
Between Santa Barbara’s own sophisticated soccer fans and international visitors — Rafferty once logged patrons from 35 different nations over the course of a World Cup — there should be plenty of interest.
The eventual champion will likely be one of the seven countries that previously won the trophy — an eighth titlist, Italy, did not qualify this year — Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Spain and Uruguay.
Rafferty would like to see England, with steady Harry Kane and young Jude Bellingham, go all the way. Peter Moore, founder of the Santa Barbara Sky FC pro team slated to play in 2024, also is pulling for his native England but said, “I’m old enough to remember more than 50 years of heartache” since England won its only crown in 1966. Moore expects Argentina to make a strong showing with Lionel Messi, “the best player of the generation,” taking his last shot at the title.
Rudy Ybarra, Santa Barbara’s first homegrown professional player and longtime coach, agrees that Argentina is formidable because of Messi’s supporting cast, but he sees Brazil winning its sixth World Cup with a cast of “nine attacking players” led by Neymar.
Gustavo Argredano and his wife Maria Licon both played soccer, and they are used to waking up at 4:30 a.m. to watch a game from Europe. “The World Cup unifies us,” Maria said. “For three weeks we can forget about problems.” They would like to see a new champion — Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo, or South Korea, with Son Heung-min. “Once the ref blows the while, they never stop running,” Gustavo said.
Bernard Hicks grew up in Brooklyn an avid basketball player and fan, but when he moved here and became athletic director at the Westside Boys & Girls Club, the kids taught him to appreciate the skills of soccer. “It’s my second favorite sport,” he said. “It’s basketball with your feet.” Hicks looks for the stars like Messi and Ronaldo to come up big in Qatar.
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Team U.S.A.’s chances are “slim and none,” Rafferty said, but Ybarra likes the youth of the team, with a true star in Christian Pulisic, although they should be a stronger in 2026 when the World Cup comes to the U.S., Canada and Mexico. If they hope to advance out of Group B this month, the Americans need the three points for a victory against Wales, Ybarra said.
The exclusion of high-scoring Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez from Mexico’s roster does not sit well with Ybarra, who thinks another attacking player, Raúl Jiménez, lacks match fitness.
France won the 2018 World Cup and has two dynamic players in Kyrian Mbappé and Karim Benzema. Germany and Spain will try to reign over the same group. The Netherlands, another European power, cannot be discounted.
How about an African team — Senegal? Morocco? And, oh, Canada finished ahead of Mexico and the U.S. in qualifying.
“Things are so crazy in the world,” said Raúl Gil, who will welcome fans to his Westside restaurant, El Zarape. “Why not in the World Cup?”
Here is the Arlington Theatre’s schedule:
-U.S.A. vs. Wales, Monday, Nov. 21, 11:00 a.m.
-Netherlands vs. Ecuador, Friday, Nov. 25, 8:00 a.m.
-U.S.A. vs. England, Friday, Nov. 25, 11:00 a.m.
-France vs. Denmark, Saturday, Nov. 26, 8:00 a.m.
-Argentina vs. Mexico, Saturday, Nov. 26, 11:00 a.m.
-Spain vs. Germany, Sunday, Nov. 27, 11:00 a.m.
-U.S.A. vs. Iran, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 11:00 a.m.
-All Round of 16 (Dec. 3-6), Quarterfinals (Dec. 9-10) and Semifinal matches (Dec. 13-14).
-Third Place match (Dec. 17, 7 a.m.) and Final (Dec. 18, 7 a.m.).
END OF THE ROAD: The college soccer season came to a disappointing end for UCSB. Two late-season losses at UC Riverside — including a 1-0 setback in Saturday’s Big West championship match — cost the Gauchos (10-4-6) a berth NCAA men’s tournament. They had a 2-1-1 record against the rest of the tournament field, including a 3-1 win over No. 8-seeded Oregon State. Noting that UCR is matched against Portland, with the winner going to Oregon State, Gaucho forward Finn Ballard McBride said, “I feel we could have gone far in the tournament.” Ballard McBride scored 13 goals, ranking him fourth in the nation, but UCR denied him Saturday. The senior from Sydney will be pulling for Australia’s Socceroos in the World Cup. He’s hoping France, the favorite in their group, will be the latest defending champion to underperform.
IN THE HUNT: Several area teams are still experiencing postseason success. Westmont College women’s soccer (14-0-3) is bound for the NAIA championships after defeating Ottawa (Arizona) 2-1 in the Golden State Athletic Conference final. The Warrior volleyball team (22-6) also received an NAIA invite. Bishop Diego High’s football team (9-3) will play a CIF Division 3 semifinal game on Friday (Nov. 18) at Upland after upsetting previously unbeaten El Modena, 31-21. SBCC expects to receive a bid to a community college football bowl game (Nov. 26 or Dec. 3); the Vaqueros (9-1) reeled off nine consecutive victories and claimed an outright American Pacific League title by shellacking Santa Monica last Saturday, 65-27. UCSB women’s volleyball is still in season; the Gauchos (14-2 in the Big West) will host a showdown against Hawai‘i (15-1) on Nov. 25.