World Cup fever has spread to San Francisco.
More than a thousand people packed San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza under a clear blue sky this afternoon to watch the U.S. team take to the field against Ghana in its first World Cup 2014 match.
About 30 seconds into the game, the crowd rose to its feet and cheered and dozens waved American flags and scarves as U.S. national team captain Clint Dempsey scored the first goal of the 3 p.m. game, which ended with the U.S. team’s 2-1 victory.
Attendees at the afternoon viewing party didn’t hesitate to show their Team U.S.A. pride, draping themselves in American flags, team jerseys and red, white and blue face paint.
People sat on lawn chairs and picnic blankets spread out on the gravel in the center of the plaza. Some sipped from beer cans covered in paper bags, others headed to the scattering of food trucks on Larkin Street, next to a “street soccer” court set up for the occasion.
The free outdoor festivities were hosted jointly by San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department and youth soccer and literacy organization America Scores.
“It’s a great day to be out here,” said Luke Ciel, 50, a big soccer fan who said he’s tried to keep up with all of the World Cup 2014 games so far.
He and 34-year-old Loan Ciel, both from San Francisco, wore sequined American flag cowboy hats and American flag T-shirts to showcase their team spirit.
Nearby, 30-year-old San Francisco resident Zachary Walczak kept his eye on the game. Although he requested both today and Sunday off from work in order to watch the American team play, he said he’d be surprised to see them move on to the second round of the competition.
“But, anything can happen,” he added.
Others were even more hopeful, shouting “I believe that we will win!,” a chant that has become the U.S. team’s rallying cry.
Sitting in the middle of the crowd, San Francisco resident and West Africa native Sarah Tucker’s bright green dress and Ghanaian flag scarf stood out.
Tucker and her friend, 27-year-old French exchange student Dalal Adnan, were among a handful of fans today expressing support for Ghana’s team.
“I love the American spirit – you feel that here,” Adnan said, gesturing to the crowd of viewers. “America’s not big on football so it’s beautiful to see.”
Jake Vilaubi, a marketing representative for Major League Soccer team the San Jose Earthquakes at the afternoon viewing party, pointed to the large crowd as proof of soccer’s growing popularity in the U.S.
“The fact that this many people are out here on a Monday afternoon makes me happy,” said Vilaubi.
Vilaubi said he was also reminding attendees to cheer on Earthquakes player and Danville resident Chris Wondolowski, who is one of two Californians on this year’s U.S. team.
The crowd didn’t seem to need a reminder, though, cheering loudly when Wondolowski’s face filled the screen.
A similar World Cup viewing party was also held this afternoon in front of a big screen at Plaza De Cesar Chavez Park in San Jose as part of the Earthquakes’ “Summer of Soccer.”
In Oakland, soccer fans caught the game at the New Parkway Theater, which is screening this year’s World Cup matches.
Those who didn’t get a chance to attend today’s viewing party in Civic Center Plaza can catch a World Cup 2014 screening there on Tuesday, or Sunday, on June 26, or during the semifinal game on July 9 and the final game on Sunday, July 13.
Laura Dixon, Bay City News