Social media organizers in Washington have brought World Cup soccer mania to their neighborhood, by screening Saturday's matches on two big screens at a local public park. While a tradition in many cities around the world, it was a first for the U.S. capital, and was celebrated accordingly.
Fans came out in droves for all three first-round matches of the day, and had loud chants for each team, including the United States.
One of the organizers, Michael Lipin (disclosure: Lippin is a VOA employee), explained some of the process which led to the neighborhood event he dubbed "Dupont Festival, Soccer in the Circle." "One of the first things I did as soon as I came up with this idea and the neighborhood commissioners liked it, was to create a Facebook group to encourage my own personal friends to join it and beyond that we started pitching our idea to other members of the community and we had to think about logistics and how we could actually raise money," he said.
Half the money was donated by the Brazilian sugar cane industry association, UNICA.
Other help came from U.S. soccer supporter groups the "Screaming Eagles" and "American Outlaws."
Watch an audio slideshow of the festivities in the DC park during the game:
One volunteer from the American Outlaws, Chris Pavlakos, said he felt soccer was finally becoming important in the United States. "It is a slow change, but it is a steady change. I really think that if we had tried this five, 10 years ago, it would not have worked," he said.
But he said there was still a long way to go before soccer was embraced as the world's most popular sport. "This is the only country in the world that I can think of that a team of volunteers has to get together and raise $20,000 to get a public screening of the World Cup in the nation's capital," he said.
A 21-year-old Nigerian who came to the United States as a student, Rotimi Iziduh, enjoyed the experience, even though Nigeria lost to Argentina. "When you see the passion, how the players are enjoying the game, how the fans are enjoying the game, how everyone is getting into it, even if you do not really understand all the rules and things like that, it is just so infectious," he said.
A waitress from Bolivia, Amalia Molina, came for the United States-England match, and explained the universal appeal of the sport. "Soccer is a game where nobody can see the color of skin or something like that. People can be happy just for a goal," she said.
D.C. local chess legend Thomas Murphy sat at his usual every Saturday spot behind a chessboard in Dupont Circle. While he enjoyed the commotion over soccer, he said he hoped organizers would also have a public screening for the current NBA basketball championships between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. Basketball, unlike soccer, is one of the major sports in the United States, with American football and baseball.
"Tomorrow night, when Boston plays the Lakers I want to see that on the big screen TV. You know what I am saying, that would be justice. You all get to see your soccer which I enjoy, but I want to see the NBA finals," he said.
That will not be happening. But organizers said they wanted to raise more money to repeat the event for the World Cup soccer finals on July 11th, whether or not the United States team makes it to that match.