Fans turn out early for World Cup party in San Jose
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — David Habashy and his friends were set up in their chairs on the lawn at Avaya Stadium well before the crack of dawn.
With his native Egypt set to play its first World Cup game in 28 years about 6,000 miles away in Russia, Habashy and five friends came to watch the game on the big screen at Avaya Stadium, the home of the MLS' San Jose Earthquakes.
Even though the United States didn't qualify for the World Cup and many of the games are played at odd hours on the West Coast because of the time difference from Russia, the Earthquakes are showing all 64 games of the tournament for free on their video screen — even those that start at 5 a.m. local time like the one Friday between Egypt and Uruguay.
"We were expecting a better atmosphere," Habashy said. "That's why we came here. But we're going to make the best of it. We're going to go crazy for every goal."
Egypt didn't end up scoring any in a 1-0 loss but Habashy and his friends were jumping around at every close chance for Egypt, big save and any airing of injured star Mohamed Salah on the screen.
They were among the about two dozen fans on the lawn on a crisp morning at the start of the match. The crowd grew to about 50 later in the first half with more fans coming later in the day for games at times when more people are awake.
There were several hundred fans on hand for the thrilling 11 a.m. game between powerhouses Spain and Portugal and the Earthquakes have already had more than 1,300 RSVPs for Sunday's high-profile matchup between Mexico and defending champion Germany.
"You can't beat the atmosphere of being on a large screen in a big environment," said Portuguese fan Rui Silva, who came out with his wife, two kids and two nieces. "It's kind of cool to have other fans there, too. It kind of gives you the feel that you're at a game."
The expected turnout for less enticing matches that start before the crack of dawn like the Egypt-Uruguay game are much smaller, with most who showed up either natives of one of the countries or die-hard soccer fans.
Rosemarie Pozzobon brought her family of four out to root on her native Uruguay. While her U.S.-born kids were disappointed the Americans didn't qualify, the family was excited for this match.
They try to watch as many big games Uruguay plays in the World Cup, qualifying or Copa America that they can and leaped at the chance to do it in what they hoped would be a more festive environment than their couch at home.
"It's fun to watch it with a crowd," Pozzobon said. "Where is everybody?"
The game did draw a few curious onlookers, including John Fung, who stopped by with a few of his high school friends from Seattle who were on a trip to the Bay Area.
Fung described himself as a casual soccer fan who gets into the World Cup every four years. When he heard about the Earthquakes plans to show the games on a 44 foot by 24 foot video board, he figured it would be fun to come check it out.
"It's a great setup," Fung said. "There were actually more people than I thought there'd be for the 5 a.m. game."
The Earthquakes had free coffee and doughnuts for the early arriving fans, as well as some games. They had more authentic food options later in the day, including Portuguese and Spanish fare, as well as face painting and video game stations.
Fans get passports when they arrive for their first game with stamps each time they show up. Coming for five games will win a Earthquakes merchandise item and fans get a ticket to an upcoming game with 10 stamps. Anyone who shows up for all 64 gets VIP treatment for a game against Seattle, including a postgame meet and greet with Earthquakes players.
One fan each day will also win a prize for being decked out in the most festive and supportive outfit for their team.
The Earthquakes held viewing parties around San Jose for the tournament four years ago but wanted to take advantage of their stadium that opened in 2015 this time around.
Other MLS teams are hosting their own viewing parties, including Real Salt Lake, which is airing some games at its practice facility. But the Earthquakes say they are the only team showing every game at their stadium.
"We wanted to make the World Cup a big event and make it exciting no matter which teams are in it," Earthquakes executive vice president Jed Mettee said. "The Bay Area is so diverse. There are people from so many backgrounds who will come out and support their country. Let's do something for the community and bring people together around the biggest sporting event in the world."