STAMFORD, Conn. -- Soccer fans gathered at a pair of Stamford bars said it was too little, too late as Team USA scored once during extra time in its loss to Belgium, 2-1, in the World Cup match-up Tuesday afternoon.
A disappointed Chris Gargone from Stamford thought it would go to penalty kicks as consoled himself with the never-say-die attitude of the U.S. players.
"It was exciting," he said about the play in extra time. "You can never count out the U.S. in any sport."
But the American fans reacted in stunned disbelief as the team from U.S. was eliminated from the World Cup.
Throughout the close game, the U.S. fans from across Fairfield County watched the game intently Tuesday afternoon at the adjacent Capriccio Café and Tigin Irish Bar on Bedford Street in Stamford.
They cheered as the U.S. came near the net, and clapped and cheered when American goalie Tim Howard made his many saves. They let out a groan of relief after a Belgian effort.
No Belgian fans could be seen in the crowd, unlike a previous match where there were a couple of German fans.
A pair of Argentinian fans stuck around after watching their team beat Switzerland to advance to the quarterfinals.
During half-time, when the game was in a scoreless tie, Stamford resident Robert Wells said he was pleasantly surprised by the growth in the American interest in soccer, especially during the World Cup.
“It is amazing the transition we have seen since the last World Cup and this World Cup,” he said about the broad interest in the sport. “I think each World Cup gains more and more in popularity.”
He believes Stamford may have an extra interest in soccer due to its diversity.
“Stamford has so many different cultures, it is not just the USA," he said. "This place is packed when other countries are playing, like Columbia this place was packed.”
Although the sport isn’t as popular as football, baseball, basketball and hockey - at least at the professional level - Wells said it has a firm foothold in the country. He pointed to the crowds who have gone to bars and restaurants such as Capriccio and Tigin to watch games.
“Friends say it’s never going to be as big as the Super Bowl, well I don’t remember this scene at the Super Bowl,” he said sweeping his arm over the crowd at Caprccio’s. “I don’t remember this scene during the NHL playoffs.”
Part of that interest is the active promotion by Tigin and Capriccio, including setting up multiple televisions with one on the outdoor patio for fans to enjoy the matches, he said.
“Every four years the world is one time zone, and it's World Cup time zone,” Wells said about a line he heard about the World Cup.
At the 73rd minute the more boisterous Tigin contingent of fans started a chant of "I believe we will win," accompanied by a cow bell for the beat.
Later, Olé, Olé, Olé chants went up with some of Tigin's exuberance spilling over into the Capriccio crowd.
The crowd cheered in appreciation of Howard's crucial saves late in the game, but looked on in disbelief as the U.S. ran out of chances.