- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

The sounds of cheering and drums filled Robert F. Kennedy Stadium yesterday at 7 a.m., as more than 4,000 soccer fans showed up to watch the U.S. team's quarterfinal World Cup match against Germany in a free Jumbotron telecast sponsored by the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.
The crowd's size surprised organizers and police, who had been expecting 1,000 to 2,000 to attend at such an early hour and on such late notice. The event had not been announced until Tuesday.
But the World Cup frenzy, which had been the buzz of the nation as the Americans advanced through the tournament's first and second rounds, was strong enough to lure a mix of ages and ethnicities.
Local fans were wildly enthusiastic in support of the U.S. team, which lost to Germany, 1-0.
At 6:30 a.m., fans driving to the stadium honked at other fans on the sidewalks; inside the stadium, the excitement was palpable an hour before the game.
Fans waved American flags and chanted "USA, USA" to the beat of drums, while others sipped coffee and blinked at their surroundings.
By game time, the crowd had swelled to 4,189. The fans yelled and booed as they watched the 33-by-24-foot screen at the east end of the stadium that carried the broadcast live from Ulsan, South Korea.
"This is gigantic beyond all types of proportions," said Ray Hudson, head coach of D.C. United, the Major League Soccer team that plays at RFK. "This is what soccer's all about."
Though the Americans lost the match and were eliminated from the World Cup, many fans said the day was bigger than one game. The sizable crowd had made a statement about soccer in America and American culture, they said.
"It's a great feeling to watch America start focusing on a sport that has united other nations in the past," said Russell Sears, 43, who grew up in Lima, Peru, and immigrated to the United States at age 13.
"You see faces here from all over the world, rooting for the USA," said Pablo Sanchez, a producer for the Univision television network.
"It shows the changing nature of the U.S. population and culture," Mr. Sanchez said. "The old story repeats itself: Immigration changes the face of America."
Anthony Hogan, 32, and wife Monica Flores, 23, of Fairfax, demonstrated Mr. Sanchez's point. Mr. Hogan was born in Maryland but spent his middle-school years in Germany, where his mother was stationed in the U.S. Army.
Mrs. Flores grew up in Bolivia and still roots for her national team, but "times are changing," she said. "After September 11, there's a stronger loyalty to the USA. It's just a no-brainer now."
For most of the first half, the crowd was excited but exasperated as the Americans failed to capitalize on several scoring chances.
In the 39th minute, German midfielder Michael Ballack scored on a header that silenced the crowd. The fans maintained their enthusiasm throughout the match and applauded the efforts of the U.S. team, which reached the quarterfinals for the first time.
At the Stadium-Armory Metro Station, Patrick McCarthy, 22, and three friends prepared to return to Richmond, having just driven up that morning to watch the game at RFK.
"The team played very well," said Mr. McCarthy, his face painted red, white and blue. "I'm proud that we got here. It took us 70 years, but it was worth it."

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide