Passion, pain as U.S. soccer fans party in Center City

After Silvestre Varela's goal secured a 2-2 tie in the final seconds for Portugal, deflated U.S. fans outside a Center City pub try to come to grips with the result.
After Silvestre Varela's goal secured a 2-2 tie in the final seconds for Portugal, deflated U.S. fans outside a Center City pub try to come to grips with the result. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 24, 2014

Their pain poured for blocks down Broad Street. Their elation echoed north toward City Hall.

As the United States men's soccer team battled Portugal to a 2-2 draw at the World Cup in Brazil on Sunday, Philadelphia soccer enthusiasts proved that at least for one night, on one Center City block, they could rival the world's most fervent sports fans.

Neither rain nor a sluggish start for the Americans dampened the enthusiasm of the hundreds crowded in front of a big screen set up at the intersection 15th and Locust Streets, outside Fadó Irish Pub.

Draped in red, white, and blue, they cheered, groaned, and drank in equal measure.

And Jason Perkins, 24, did all three more than most.

Perched precariously atop the rails of an open PATCO station stairwell for a better view of the screen, he hung his head low and grabbed angrily for a cigarette from a pack of Newports duct-taped to his bare arm when Portugal led off with the first goal, by Nani in the fifth minute.

But when a Clint Dempsey goal eked out a short-held lead for the U.S. in the 81st minute, Perkins' frenetic screaming sent him toppling over the railing face-first into the sidewalk.

"Sports injury," he proclaimed, after pulling himself to his feet, drawing cheers from the crowd nearby.

Avid soccer die-hard or fair-weather fan?

For Fadó regular and longtime soccer watcher Amanda Swanson, 30, it hardly mattered.

The showing at Sunday's block party - sponsored by the local Major League Soccer club, the Union; its booster group, the Sons of Ben; and the Philadelphia chapter of the American Outlaws, a fan club for the national team - surpassed even her highest expectations.

Since last week, she had watched the Fadó crowd grow with each match. During Monday's 2-1 U.S. win over Ghana, the pub was packed to its fire-code maximum.

This time, the crowd spilled out onto the street, with some climbing lampposts or hanging from awnings, hoping for a clear view of the screen.

The U.S. goals prompted fits of flag-waving, beer-can chucking, and isolated bouts of crowd surfing. Any play by Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo drew a united middle-finger salute from fans wedged closest to the screen.

"Listen to that cheering," Swanson said. "I've got goose-bumps. That passion - that's for soccer."

And at the front of the pack stood Julian Brown, vice president of the American Outlaws chapter, leading the crowd in chants of, "I believe that we will win."

The last-second tie denied the Americans an easy path to the second round, but kept Portugal alive in the tournament. Now the Americans will face Germany on Thursday in Recife, while Ghana meets Portugal in Brasilia in the last matches in group play. The Americans, who had been an underdog in the so-called Group of Death, can advance with a win or tie against Germany.

Cristina Sánchez, 23, who acknowledged she had come this time more for the party than the game, shrugged and told her friends now they had an excuse to come back.

"What do you care?" her brother, Tony, teased. "This morning, you thought the World Cup was cricket."


jroebuck@phillynews.com

215-925-2649 @jeremyrroebuck

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