Belgium defeats Team USA 2-1

CHICAGO – Thousands of Chicago soccer fans shortened their workdays Tuesday and packed Soldier Field to watch the U.S. play Belgium in a World Cup elimination game in Brazil.

Although the U.S. lost 2-1, ending the team’s campaign and sending Belgium on to a quarterfinal matchup against Argentina, the game was thrilling until the end, with the Americans coming close to clawing back from a two-goal deficit in overtime.

Fans – many with red, white and blue face paint or draped in American flags – filed into the stadium to watch the 3 p.m. match on its huge screen. Some got to watch from covered sections of the field, where the NFL’s Chicago Bears play that other brand of football in colder months. They stood to observe the national anthem and roared when it was finished. Chants of “I believe we will win” broke out repeatedly throughout the 90-minute game.

Chicago is home of the U.S. Soccer federation, which hosted the event. While other events had been held at Grant Park, officials moved the event to Soldier Field to accommodate a larger crowd that they estimated would number about 20,000, noting the location was easily accessible by public transportation. The actual crowd size figures weren’t immediately available after the game.

The Chicago Transit Agency extended services in the morning and afternoon to accommodate fans traveling to the game. Fans began to trickle out of the stadium after Belgium scored its second overtime goal. Others who stayed placed their hands on top of their heads and groaned in frustration. The U.S. lost 2-1 in overtime.

While many attendees were from Chicago, some traveled quite a ways to attend the party

Tara Jakubik, a 28-year-old youth soccer coach from New Jersey, stopped off to attend the party during cross-country road trip. She said the U.S. team would be buoyed by the energy and support of its fans around the world.

“Chicago is beautiful and why not be here with everybody else?” she asked.

Bruce Valentine, a 53-year-old longtime soccer fan from Oakland, California, watched the game at Soldier Field with his 22-year-old son.

“In all my years, I haven’t seen people get behind the U.S. Soccer Team like this,” Valentine said.

Tuesday’s game was the fourth for the U.S. in Brazil as it tried unsuccessfully to move deeper into the tournament. With every game, the crowds have swelled as die-hard soccer fans joined the newcomers. Suddenly, America looks like a soccer-crazed country, as people skip work and gather in big crowds and watch the game play out on giant screens.

Each game has pulled in more fans: The U.S.-Portugal game drew 24.7 million television viewers overall, and the 18.22 million who watched on ESPN were the most the network has ever attracted for an event not involving American football. The Germany game averaged 10.7 million viewers, making it the third-most watched World Cup game ever on the network.