TAMPA — They were visiting from Boston or heading to Los Angeles or in town for a convention or a business meeting. But for one brief moment Tuesday, they were all soccer fans rooting for the United States in the World Cup.
And when the crowd at Tampa International Airport’s soccer watch party saw Tampa-born Julian Green score the team’s only goal, they all screamed as one.
And then, suddenly, it was over. A couple of minutes after Green’s goal brought the crowd to its feet, the referee blew the final whistle. Final score: Belgium 2, United States 1.
“Disappointed,” Mike Connell said. “It just comes down to moments in the game.”
The Tampa area’s most unusual watch party on Tuesday might have been at Tampa International Airport, where airport officials learned during earlier matches that no matter where fliers had come from or were going, they gravitated to any TV showing World Cup soccer, particularly if the U.S. was playing.
At the airport, they just so happen to have some large screens. Some really large screens.
The airport streamed the game on five high-definition 6-by-10-foot screens, instantly attracting large crowds as the U.S. and Belgium played in the knockout — loser goes home — stage of the World Cup.
Connell, a star player with the original Tampa Bay Rowdies, arrived on a flight from Rhode Island during the second half. He, his wife and 16-year-old son were coming back from a vacation, but they stayed at the airport for the rest of the match before heading home to Carrollwood.
Although disappointed by the loss, Connell, 56, was proud of what the team accomplished in Brazil and what they did for soccer in the United States.
“We brought the game back to America with our play,” Connell said. “We had players that showed they could play on the world stage.”
Also proud but not at the airport watch party was Tampa’s Jerry Green, whose son, 19-year-old Julian, scored the United States’ sole goal. Julian Green entered the game in overtime and scored on his first touch of the ball.
“You can’t ask for a better pass,” said Jerry Green, who watched the game at the Press Box pub in South Tampa. “The finish by Julian was spectacular. It gave the team a lift. They were attacking more after that goal. It energized them.”
At the airport, the crowd grew along with the drama of the game.
Edward Garduno, station manager for Spirit Airlines at Tampa International Airport, said it was a brilliant move by the airport to stream the games for employees, travelers and people waiting for family and friends.
“You don’t expect the game at the airport,” Garduno said. “It brings back the USA spirit. When we can, we have to take advantage of bringing people together.”
Tampa International Airport Chief Executive Officer Joe Lopano, a soccer fan, was behind the idea of showing the match at the airport.
“This is the Tampa style,” Lopano said. “We do things for our customers that most people don’t.”
He’s considering streaming Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Buccaneers games.