SAN DIEGO -- About 5,000 soccer fans filled up the "Park at the Park" at Petco Park on Tuesday afternoon to watch the U.S. Men's National Team take on Belgium in the World Cup on the stadium's new LED video display, bringing a raucous environment hours before the Padres took the field for their night game against Cincinnati.
Some, like Murrieta, Calif., resident Dave Armstrong, traveled more than an hour with his family to watch the Round of 16 match with hundreds of other U.S. fans.
"We wanted to get in the middle of all the excitement," Armstrong said. "I've been watching World Cup games since '82 in Spain. I remember getting up early in the mornings. The [World Cup] was only on the Spanish channels back then."
The U.S. has certainly come a long way since then, both in the team's success (qualified for seven consecutive World Cups) and the amount of fans across the country actively supporting the team.
"In 1991, the Gold Cup [the North American championship] was held around here -- some of the games were in the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum [in Los Angeles]," Armstrong said. "I remember going to see two games for five bucks in the Coliseum, and there weren't that many people there."
On Tuesday, even Padres players who aren't necessarily soccer fans watched anxiously in the clubhouse as time ran down in Team USA's extra-time defeat.
"When the World Cup comes around, for me, it's less about soccer and [more about] the patriotism getting you, and rooting for USA because you want to support the country," said outfielder Will Venable. "I don't pretend to really know anything about soccer -- I played it as a kid, [but] it's fun to watch the best in the world compete in anything."
Will Laws is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.