The celebration started a half-hour before the United States men’s soccer team kicked off its World Cup rematch against Ghana as a sea of red, white and blue flowed in unison to the rhythm of Brazilian drums.
The group of U.S. fans at WakeMed Soccer Park, home of the Carolina RailHawks, obviously didn’t travel to Brazil, but their support did.
Mark Menezes, 38, an area director at N2 Publishing in Cary, sported a blue T-shirt as his group of young boys wore alternating shirt colors in support of the U.S. team.
“Obviously the best place to be is Brazil to be watching the game live, but we figured this was kind of the next best thing, to be watching it at a stadium with a bunch of other people,” Menezes said.
A minute or two after the crowd sat at the conclusion of the national anthem, the celebration continued as fans erupted with cheers and chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” following Clint Dempsey’s score during the first minute of the game.
“The score was incredible,” said Dick Bailey, 65, a park planter from Raleigh sporting a blue shirt and a white USA visor. “Forty seconds in, what can you say about that? It was unbelievable.”
Adil Elhaimeur, 34, a Wal-Mart employee in Raleigh who is from Morocco, was the anomaly in the crowd. He didn’t let the first goal get him too excited because he knows the Ghana team very well, he said, although his blue shirt read “U.S.A.”
“They depend on the team more than they depend on the skills, which means they play for 90 minutes,” he said, putting his calm demeanor in perspective. “At the same time, USA is very organized, very physical and very tactical. I see the way the USA team is playing. It’s a good sign that they might win the game.”
As play advanced the crowd continued to echo the highs and lows of the match. Fists were raised, eyes were locked onto the screen and chants got louder as the U.S. made runs at a goal. But as loud as the “ooh’s” were, so were the “aww’s,” such as the crowd’s painful shared reaction in response to the replay showing Dempsey getting kicked in the nose by Ghana’s John Boye during the first half.
“It’s just soccer,” Bailey said. Boye “went up, he lost his balance and his foot came up trying to get his balance. I’m sure Dempsey doesn’t feel too good right now, but I think’s he’s gonna be all right.”
Dempsey was, and so was the U.S. team, despite only having possession for 43 percent of the game.
More than 80 minutes into the match, fans cringed as their hands immediately went atop their heads in disbelief of Ghana’s tying goal. But the fear of losing was transformed into jubilation within five minutes.
A thunderous roar vibrated the stands as chants of “I believe that we will win” complemented the rapid foot-stomping as the U.S. team threatened to score. Once John Brooks headed a corner kick for what soon would become a U.S. victory, the celebration continued.
“We won,” shouted Steven McClernon, 40, a restaurant manager in Fayetteville wearing a red U.S. soccer shirt, U.S. flag-inspired hat and red, white and blue beads.
Rachel McClernon, 36, a teacher in Fayetteville, was relieved with her prediction that the U.S. team was “Ghana win” Monday to avenge its past two World Cup losses to the African country.
“Third time’s a charm,” she said.
RailHawks President Curt Johnson said the watch party was a lot of fun and the game was incredible.
“It played out exactly the way, I think, the U.S. would have wanted and all of us who are fans of the United States would have wanted as well,” Johnson said. “It was dramatic, it was hard-fought and Ghana is an incredible team.
“It played out the way we hoped: Three points and we move on to Portugal.”