They turned out by the tens of thousands, some painted in red, white and blue, waving flags and chanting “I Believe!” in city parks, stadiums and sports bars from coast to coast on Tuesday to watch the US national soccer team play Belgium in the knockout round of the World Cup. Some were die-hard soccer fans. Others were newcomers, spurred on by the rising tide of support for the national team in the world’s biggest tournament.
They left without what they wanted: a win.
From Texas to Chicago to California, fans watched nervously as the US and Belgium played 90 scoreless minutes before Belgium scored twice in extra time. The US responded with a goal but couldn’t tie the match to send it to penalty kicks. After 120 minutes of soccer, the Americans’ World Cup was over. America, in the middle of its World Cup frenzy, got a reminder that soccer can be a cruel, cruel sport.“It was heartbreaking,” said Adam Graves, a 39-year-old special needs teacher who stood among about 2,000 fans sweating in the 95-degree heat in Austin, Texas, at a city watch party at a park near downtown. “What a roller coaster. Just when you thought we were out of it, we were back in it. That’s what I love about soccer,” Graves said.
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Tuesday’s game was the fourth for the US in Brazil as it tried to move deeper into the tournament. With every game, the crowds swelled as die-hard soccer fans joined the newcomers. Suddenly, America looked like a soccer-crazed country, as people skipped work and gathered in big crowds and watched the game play out on giant screens.
Each game pulled in more fans: The US-Portugal game drew 24.7 million television viewers overall, and the 18.22 million who watched on ESPN were the most the network has ever attracted for an event not involving American football. The Germany game averaged 10.7 million viewers, making it the third-most watched World Cup game ever on the network.
The swelling enthusiasm forced cities to make changes to accommodate crowds. In Chicago, home of the US Soccer federation, officials moved a game watch event from a public park to Soldier Field to accommodate an expected crowd of 20,000 or more.
Even in 90-degree temperatures, fans still flocked to watch the big game. In Washington, there were misting stations at the block-long Freedom Plaza to keep fans cool. Crowds sang the national anthem together and it was hard to find a seat at game time at Freedom Plaza. Marie Davenport, 76, set up a folding chair outside of the main crowd but with a good view of the big screen.
“I think that after this World Cup Americans are sold on soccer,” said Davenport.
President Barack Obama left the confines of the White House Oval office and joined about 200 staffers in an Executive Office Building auditorium to watch the second half of the game. “I believe!” he exclaimed as he walked in at the front of the hall.