PORTLAND, Maine — Dozens of enthusiastic soccer fans gathered in Portland’s embattled Congress Square on Monday night to catch the U.S. team’s opening game in the World Cup, displayed on a trio of flat-screen televisions.
Bars around the city showed the game inside as well, but many of the more than 60 people to crowd Congress Square said the outdoor atmosphere was more reflective of how larger cities and overseas communities watch World Cup contests.
“It’s … great,” Morgan Myer, 30, said. “This is exactly what happens in any other country. I’ve watched the World Cup in South Africa, and this is the experience: It’s a cafe experience, a shared community experience.”
The almost entirely pro-U.S. crowd had something to cheer for early on during the match against Ghana, as American Clint Dempsey scored a goal in the first minute to give the Yanks a quick 1-0 advantage on their way to a 2-1 win.
“I think it’s awesome,” Dan Barden, 24, said. “I’m from New York, and we used to come out and watch the games in Central Park during the last World Cup. It’s great to see people come out and support the U.S.”
Quendella Taylor, 30, was the only one in attendance sporting a Ghana team jersey.
“I wish the screens were bigger, but it’s nice to have a place like this where people can watch the game,” she said. “It’s a good atmosphere for families, and it’s nice weather.”
Red, white and blue flags and jerseys were more prevalent in the square in a festive scene appearing less than a week after Portland voters narrowly passed a referendum putting a proposed sale of the public space on ice.
Portland City Council voted 6-3 last September to sell about two-thirds of the 14,500-square-foot space to Rockbridge Capital LLC, the private investment firm that helped finance the $50 million renovation of the former Eastland Park Hotel nearby and wanted to use Congress Square for an add-on event center. The sale price was just less than $524,000.
Supporters of the sale argued that Congress Square had fallen into disrepair, and the project represented a way to add jobs and economic activity to the downtrodden site.
Opponents, including the group Friends of Congress Square Park, claimed the city should have done more to keep the space vibrant. They helped launch a petition drive that ultimately resulted in the June 10 referendum.
With the passage of that measure, Congress Square and 34 other public spaces were added to the city’s land bank commission ordinance. That ordinance was fortified with new language making the sales of any included properties more difficult.
Friends of Congress Square Park pledged to organize more activities to help revitalize the square, including Monday night’s World Cup viewing.
The Portland Soccer Coalition is working with several local community groups to offer free public viewings of World Cup games. For a listing, go to www.parksideneighborhood.org.