A world-class viewing party for World Cup drama

Fans react to a missed scoring opportunity for Team USA while watching the World Cup match against Belgium at Commerce Square. Some were longtime soccer fans; others were newcomers. And still others just like a party. (Matthew Hall/Staff Photographer)

The commentator called it "another World Cup match absolutely dripping in drama." And at Commerce Square in Philadelphia, the drama was flowing as fans came together to cheer on Team USA.

The stone courtyard at 20th and Market Streets transformed into a stadium Tuesday, filled with fans whose chants echoed off the two buildings nearby.

People in suits having outdoor meetings conveniently during the match, college students, and families packed themselves in for the United States-Belgium showdown, which ended in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss for Team USA.

Keith Barry, 26, of Philadelphia, was shaking from nerves. The accountant was anxious about the important game but happy to see so many fans gathered in one spot.

"I like how it brings everyone together," he said.

World Cup fever quickly became an epidemic in Philadelphia, with outdoor match-watching venues, such as the one in Commerce Square, popping up around the city. Many people who don't normally follow soccer found themselves caught up in the Team USA spirit.

"I love America," said Jeana Augello, 28, of Philadelphia. Augello doesn't watch much soccer, but is stirred to cheer on the United States during events like the World Cup and the Olympics.

Wes Leckrone, 44, of Springfield, Montgomery County, said his family "got hooked" on the World Cup after watching a few games.

"I've never seen people this interested in soccer," he said as he glanced at the sea of fans surrounding him.

Some were just there to have a good time.

"Soccer beats work," said a man who identified himself only as Jim, 26, from Philadelphia, who works in the building next door.

"I came to drink beer and chant 'USA,' " said Joe Favinger, 25, of Delaware County. Belgian beer was on tap at a cash bar in the square, but the fans didn't seem to mind the irony.

Favinger was also proud to be among his fellow fans.

"It's exciting to be a part of this group supporting the same cause," he said.

Adam Gross, 41, of Philadelphia, ordered the U.S. flag-emblazoned shirt he was wearing on Amazon two days ago in preparation for the match.

"It feels like another holiday," said Izzie Armentrout, 22, of Upper Darby.

Others have been soccer fans for years.

"Soccer hasn't been given respect as a sport in America, but now it doesn't feel like a minority," said Joe Treichel of Philadelphia, who grew up playing the sport. Treichel's bald head was painted blue and spotted with stars. His arms bore red and white stripes, and he wore a U.S. flag as a cape.

Soccer is a beautiful sport, he said. "It really brings everyone together. It's unifying."

Isabella Raspa, 18, of Philadelphia, just graduated from high school and will be playing soccer for Franklin and Marshall College in the fall.

"We're pumped. We're excited," she said before the match. "It could go either way."

Marissa Huntsberger just moved from Belgium to Bucks County a week ago. The 37-year-old was cheering for Team USA but had a Belgian flag stuffed in her backpack just in case. She watched the previous games from Belgium and rooted for Belgium, but now that she's in the United States, that's changed.

"I had to make the choice," she said. Huntsberger dragged her 13-year-old niece and sister to Commerce Square to have "someplace fun" to watch the game.

Even though Belgium took a 2-0 lead in the extra time, the legions of fans at Commerce Square stayed for the duration.

A college-age man jumped in Commerce Square's fountain when Team USA scored its first and only goal. Splashing around and waving a U.S. flag, he got the crowd to chant "USA! USA! USA!"

The World Cup is over for Team USA, but for fans in Philadelphia, the soccer spirit might just be here to stay.


RZamzow@phillynews.com 215-854-2587