More than 20,000 fans — some consumed with passion for soccer, others expressing patriotism or just in search of a good time — swarmed Arlington Tuesday afternoon to watch the U.S. battle Belgium but lose the right to advance to the final eight in the World Cup.
The game was a historic moment for American soccer, so it was fitting that it was shown on one of the world’s biggest video screens, at AT&T Stadium. For some the afternoon was a nail-biting affair, as the U.S. fought heroically to take Belgium to a 0-0 draw at the end of regulation — only to lose 2-1 in extra time.
Several hundred fans wore face paint or funny hats — and at least three men wore full Captain America garb worthy of a Hollywood set.
For many others, the theme of the afternoon was to chant, have fun and show patriotism and a sense of humor.
“We do it for America,” quipped Deborah Chubb, 18, of Southlake, who arrived at the home of the Dallas Cowboys wearing a two-piece bikini with the letters “USA” painted on her abdomen.
The giant video board at the stadium was billed as the largest in the world when it opened in 2009, although it has since been bested by a handful of others, including the “Big Hoss TV” at Texas Motor Speedway in far north Fort Worth.
The video board set-up at the stadium actually has four screens: two 160-foot-wide screens stretch between the 20 yard lines on each sideline and two 53-foot-wide displays face the end zones.
Parking and admission to the soccer-watching party were free, but fans did have to bring money for the $8 cheesesteak sandwiches, $3 bottled waters and other snacks.
“America is finally coming around to the most beautiful sport in the world,” said Nick Wall, 21, of Denton.
But Noah Bishop, 15, of Arlington had a less sports-oriented goal.
“It’s just fun to be out and about,” said Bishop, who wore an Argentina soccer jersey because he has relatives from that country. “It’s adventurous and it’s free.”
The game was broadcast on ESPN, but the audio was occasionally interrupted by thumping, electronic dance mix music provided by a disc jockey. Guy Bellaver, an event presentation coordinator for the Cowboys, served as emcee and repeatedly led the crowd in chants such as “I believe!”
“I’ve never been here before,” said Samuel Eckenroed, 8, of Euless, when asked why he wanted to watch the game in a big stadium instead of at home. He had a white letter ‘A’ painted into his hair, with help from his mom, Rael.
Evan Hurst, 6, wore star-shaped glasses and a flashing-light necklace. His mom, Jennifer Pittman, who lives in the Saginaw area, said the family “wanted to be in a place where we could all support the team together. And this is an awesome facility.”
Xavier Echendu, 27, a Nigerian living in Arlington, was among just a handful of people cheering for Belgium.
Echendu’s favorite soccer club is England’s Chelsea, and Belgian player Eden Hazard plays on that team.
“The first goal I didn’t yell, but the second one I couldn’t help it,” he said.
Alex Lopez, 18, of Cleburne attended with Alison Fuller, 17, of Kaufman. He wore a U.S. White home jersey and she wore red, white and blue face paint.
“I thought we had a chance,” he said after the game. “Right until the end.”