Downtown San Diego’s Petco Park is typically reserved for baseball but on Tuesday, a mini park within the stadium transformed into a hub for soccer fans anxiously awaiting the USA’s big World Cup match.
The San Diego Padres planned to open the Park at the Park inside the stadium at 12:30 p.m. so fans could gather to watch the USA vs. Belgium game on a giant 17-foot-high by 29-foot-wide LED video display, free of charge.
The viewing party was expected to bring many eager, local soccer fans out to the park to take in the action.
This included Eric Abello, a member of the American Outlaws San Diego Chapter, a local group of fans that supports the U.S. Men’s National team and rallies around major soccer events.
Abello and his fellow fans met at Dublin Square in downtown San Diego and planned to trek down to the viewing party together.
Decked out in a team USA jersey and with a vuvuzela in hand, Abello told NBC 7 he was feeling all sorts of emotions leading up to the big game.
“I’m excited, I’m pumped, I’m anxious. I think this is huge for American soccer. We have a chance to make history here,” he said.
John Hinkle, a local high school photography teacher, showed his support for the USA team in a very patriotic way: he dressed up in a full Captain America costume.
Hinkle told NBC 7 the best part about the World Cup and the U.S. advancing is the sense of unity it brings.
“It’s kind of awesome because it’s one thing that draws the entire country together. We don’t have a world team except for the Olympics; this is the one thing that draws the entire nation together,” he said. “You don’t have to be a huge soccer fan to be part of that vibe and jump on the bandwagon and ‘Go Soccer!’”
Hinkle, who’s been a soccer fan “ever since there have been sliced oranges, Gatorade and soccer moms,” joked that he was missing a late brunch in order to make it to the Park at the Park viewing event.
“I’m usually eating three to four Belgian waffles around this time. But we’re not eating them out of respect for the team, so doing our own part to sacrifice to give that extra wind beneath the wings of our American eagle.”
Kevin King, another avid soccer fan and member of the American Outlaws, was well-prepared for Tuesday’s USA World Cup match.
King said he requested the day off way back in December because he had faith all along that USA would make it this far.
“Belgium is a very good team, but they have some weaknesses that we can take advantage of, so I’m hopeful. I believe that we will win,” he said.
King planned to head to the viewing party as well, and was excited about celebrating with fellow fans.
“It feels like you’re a part of the team. It’s nice to be there with other people who feel as passionately about the team as you do, love the team as much as you do,” he added.
At around 12:30 p.m., hundred of soccer fans entered the Park at the Park and made themselves comfortable in the grass in front of the big screen. Many were dressed in USA jerseys or red, white and blue gear, waving American flags.
NBC 7 spoke to Derek Armstrong, head of NOMADS youth soccer club in La Jolla, who said it seems as though soccer fandom has reached a turning point, with Americans’ interest in the sport at an all-time high.
Armstrong believes this sentiment and support will continue to grow even after the World Cup.
Due to Tuesday’s big match, Armstrong said he postponed NOMADS tryouts by one day so he could watch the World Cup game.
However, not everyone shared in the soccer excitement Tuesday, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll.
According to the poll, six in 10 Americans, or 61 percent, said the weren’t that excited for the USA’s World Cup match against Belgium, saying they had very little interest or no interest at all in the World Cup.
That’s compared with 22 percent who said they had a “great deal” or “quite a bit” of interest in the match, and 17 percent who said they had “just some interest.”
Still, despite interest in the sport, 86 percent of Americans said they’re backing team USA in the World Cup.