In America, football has always been a game that requires a helmet, shoulder pads and a pigskin.
But in recent days, the kind of football the rest of the world treats as a religion has taken hold of the United States as the country gets swept up in the exquisite nationalistic battles of the World Cup.
On Thursday afternoon, New York City was for two hours a fútbol town. Cheers and disgusted sighs could be heard in the streets as people across the city hunkered down in bars, theaters and cubicles to watch the American team face off against the Germans. There was a sense of camaraderie among Americans that is exceedingly rare in a sports landscape dominated by almost tribal-level local alliances.
The game ended in a loss, but Portugal beat Ghana, allowing the U.S. to squeak out of the so-called “Group of Death.” The underdog squad's advancement has both new and long-time fans buzzing with excitement ahead of its July 1 showdown against Belgium.
But the exuberance doesn't hide the lingering questions about soccer's place in American sport. Will interest fade once a champion is crowned -- or as soon as the U.S. team is eliminated?
Some revelers said Thursday that this moment is fleeting, that it's more about national pride than any real commitment to soccer in the long term.
“I'm more of an America fan than a soccer fan,” Jesse Goldstein, who works in ad sales, said at The Royal bar near Manhattan's Union Square on Thursday.
Dave Infante, a senior writer at the website Thrillist who also watched the game at The Royal, is a bit of a fair-weather U.S. national team fan as well.
“I don't follow a lot of soccer; I figure now is the time to bandwagon, right in time to get my heart broken,” he said. “Mostly I'm just here to support my country."
But Thursday also brought out many long-time fans of the sport who see this as a major moment in America's relationship with soccer.
“We came out to support our country. These guys are doing really well, and this is a time when Americans are really paying attention to soccer,” said Hussain Nasir, a 19-year-old Brooklyn college student on summer break who watched the Thursday match at the Gramercy Theatre in Manhattan's Flatiron District.
“Being of African descent, I've always watched soccer, and now that other Americans are, too, it's great. This is a turning point in our history and we will win a World Cup. But not this one.”
Robert Penn, a 66-year-old writer and filmmaker, also watched the match at the Gramercy Theatre. The Manhattanite said he only got into soccer while spending time in Ghana in 2009. Penn said he was moved by the equalizing nature of soccer, the way anyone with a couple dozen yards of flat ground and a friend or three can play a pickup match anywhere from Accra to Recife.
“I saw kids in small villages make balls from scratch. It's just such an accessible sport,” he said. “For me it's very dynamic and that's why I love it. I watch it year-round; I find it very relaxing.”
And sometimes an American soccer lover is someone who is just very dedicated to seeing his country play.
Marshall Weinstein, owner of DJ and artist booking company SET Artist Management, said during halftime at The Royal that he never misses a U.S. match. “I'm ethnocentric, I only care about the USA. We take care of business. In order to beat the best, you've got to be the best.”
But for some of the Americans who've fallen in love with soccer, this may become a lifelong affair, with all the attendant happiness and heartbreak.
“The other night, I was watching one of the other group games and I was inspired to get online and look up season tickets for the New York Football Club," Infante said. "And I was like, 'Damn, they totally got me.'”