Local fans hopeful for U.S. soccer despite World Cup loss (w/video)

  • Jimmy Sturla, left, Charles Handy and Ron Sicat react to a missed opportunity late in regulation by the USA soccer team, as they watch the World Cup match between USA and Belgium, at The Toad in the Hole, in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Belgium defeated the USA 2-1 in extra time. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Evidence of soccer's "breakthrough" is not just anecdotal.

The American embassy in Brasilia estimates that nearly 100,000 U.S. citizens traveled to Brazil for the World Cup — three times more than any visiting country's supporters.

The support was strong at home as well.

The U.S. opening match against Ghana? It set a record for most viewers for a soccer game at 16 million. The next game against Portugal? Nearly 25 million tuned in. By comparison, the NBA Finals game 5 between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat pulled in 18 million viewers.

"I always get excited for the World Cup, but I've never seen it this passionate until this year," said Anne Donnegan from Santa Rosa, who took half a day off of work to watch Tuesday's match against the Red Devils of Belgium.

"It was so close. It was just a killer," she said. "It's so sad that it takes another four years."

Ethan Stone of Santa Rosa brought his sons and their friends to watch the game on the big screen. The crew set up a makeshift scrimmage in the parking lot at halftime.

"They love it," Stone said of the kids' enthusiasm for the game and the national team. "I couldn't keep them away."

Katya Robinson of Santa Rosa was inside Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, where the fans Tuesday were about evenly divided between supporters of the U.S., Belgium and Brazil.

"When the crowd roared — you felt it in your chest. It was a soccer player's dream," she said.

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