The gatherings of red-white-and-blue clad fans in parking lots, restaurants and sports bars–almost anywhere a huge television could fit–were the indicators of the phenomenon of World Cup soccer in the United States.
It became an occasion to celebrate, to drink and socialize and cheer, even if you had no idea what soccer was all about. Team USA brought people together for one cause, which made defeat even more heartbreaking than the actual 2-1 loss in an extra period to Belgium on Tuesday.
As the World Cup goes on, with eight teams remaining, the parties stop in the U.S.
The defeat was not without fight. Goaltender Tim Howard made a heroic, historic effort with a Cup-record 16 saves, many of them when it appeared a certain score for Belgium.
But America’s defense was not as stout as it needed to be, and Belgium’s constant pressure eventually created two goals in the extra period.
“(Howard) had an absolutely amazing match,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.
But Howard added that with the constant pressure he felt: “The levee is going to break at some point.”
When it did, it also broke a nation’s collective heart.
Meanwhile, the tense competition was not easy on Belgium, either.
“For my heart, please don’t give me too many games like this,” said Belgium coach Marc Wilmots, whose team now faces Argentina in Brasilia on Saturday.
Three periods produced a scoreless tie. But Belgium controlled the action, attacking constantly. It seemed to be a quicker and more talented team, and were it not for Howard’s heroics, it could have been ugly for the U.S.
Kevin De Bruyne and substitute Romelu Lukaku gave Belgium a comfortable lead before Julian Green of America closed the gap with a brilliant goal just inside, right with 12 minutes to go, sparking a wild celebration across the country. The United States was back in it.
“It was a game that just went to the extreme,” Klinsmann said.
But Team USA could not muster another goal before the extra period expired, although there were a few shots on-goal that were blocked.
“We just needed a little bit more luck,” Klinsmann said.