If it wasn’t already clear that soccer has struck a deeper chord in the nation’s psyche, an often raucous viewing party for the World Cup final in Washington on Sunday drove that reality home.
The venue: a Smithsonian museum courtyard, where about 1,300 fans cheered and groaned as Germany went on to a 1-0 victory over Argentina near the seemingly stunned images of such iconic American figures as poet Henry David Thoreau, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and showman Phineas T. Barnum.
“The whole world is watching this, and it feels like you need to be part of it,” said Steve Ruder, who, instead of watching the match at home, chose to attend the viewing party, where a 21-foot-high video screen had been set up between the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum.
“It’s kind of hard not be enthralled by the spectacle,” he said. “It’s almost like a magnet that pulls you in.”
The Smithsonian event was among the dozens of public viewing parties held around the country during the past few weeks for a World Cup tournament that captured the country’s spirit, even after the U.S. team’s chances of taking the title sputtered in the round of 16.
Locally, new and veteran soccer fans also gathered Sunday before large video screens on a street in Fairfax, a park in Silver Spring and in scores of pubs and restaurants — their often loud reactions as Germany beat Argentina echoing through the sunny streets.
The Smithsonian courtyard event was co-hosted by the Argentine and German embassies. Its regal, air-conditioned setting called for an air of civility between fans who showed up dressed in either the black, red and yellow colors of Germany or the baby blue and white stripes of Argentina.
And for the most part, it was that way. Some families made a picnic out of the event, while children kicked back in their strollers or played on the courtyard grounds with Legos and stuffed animals.
Others showed up with their youth groups, bar buddies and dates — the men leaning into women after a play to show off how much they know about the world’s most popular game.
“In a way, it’s sad to be here,” said Marina Davidson, 27, explaining that she’d rather be watching the match in her home town near Frankfurt, Germany. “But, there’s definitely a lot more excitement over soccer here than before.”
Event organizers said more people than expected showed up to watch the match, which forced security guards to turn people away.
Juan Ronderos dropped off his wife and family at the museum while he searched for a spot to park the car, only to discover that he was not allowed into the event because of the capacity crowd.
“If they can’t fit us all in, then don’t hold the event,” he fumed. “I can’t reach my family.”
Eventually, passions for each team took hold of the crowd, and their chants of “Deutschland!” and “Argentina!” echoed off the museum’s gray stone walls.
Angela Vargas and her friends arrived early and had a good spot. All were dressed in Argentine jerseys and, even before the game started, were chanting and singing for their team.
“The Germans are nice, very polite,” she said, smiling. “A German fan came up to me and extended a hand. I took it and said: ‘Argentina is better.’ ”
“We have the passion; we have the heart to win,” her friend Virginia Gonzalez chimed in.
Vladimir Gvozd was rooting for Germany.
That made it hard for him to listen to the Argentine fans cheering behind him, he said.
“I thought coming here was a cool thing to do,” Gvozd said about the Smithsonian viewing party. “It’s sort of like a holiday.”
Intentionally raising his voice and looking back, he added: “But it’s very frustrating because you have some Argentinians who are very rude. They’re just looking for a fight.”
That drew shouts of protests from the Argentines, with some name-calling.
But as the match intensified in what was a mostly defensive battle, all eyes were on the screen until Germany scored its goal in overtime.
That led to a deafening roar, with Germans hugging and Argentines packing up to leave.
“There were too many people here,” said Lena Sartor, who for most of the match couldn’t see over people in front of her to see what was happening.
But, she said, it didn’t matter because her team won.
“It’s still great to have something like this,” she said, beaming as a family wearing blue-and-white Argentine jerseys listened in with defeated looks on their faces.