By Daniel Wallis
(Reuters) - American soccer fans decked out in red, white and blue flocked to stadiums and giant TV screens on Tuesday to see their team knocked out of the World Cup by Belgium in a heart-breaking game.
Strong performances by the U.S. team in Brazil had ignited passions in a country not known for its love of soccer, and free viewing parties were held from coast to coast while fans crammed into sports bars and restaurants.
The Belgians scored twice in extra time and looked to have the game put away when the underdog Americans scored a late goal. But time ran out the U.S. squad and the team lost 2-1.
Showing the spread of World Cup fever in areas obsessed with a different sort of football, some 2,000 fans had lined up an hour early at the home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys - the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas - to watch on one of the biggest video screens in the world.
"We need a big screen for a big game," said Evan Grant, 23, who had an American flag over his shoulders and a blue Mohawk with red and white stripes painted on the side of his head.
A massive crowd, decked in red, white and blue, chanted "U-S-A! U-S-A!" throughout the game, but to no avail.
More than 10,000 also attended at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, and many of them warmed up for the game at tailgate parties in the stadium's parking lot.
Karl Epson, 25, and his girlfriend, Becky Oliver, 23, drove a couple of hours from the Bloomington, Illinois, area because they said they wanted to be part of history.
"I've waited my whole life for this moment, it's so awesome to finally be here," said Epson, wearing a U.S team jersey.
U.S. captain Clint Dempsey's major league soccer team, the Seattle Sounders, had also called supporters to a viewing party at the city's CenturyLink field, and President Barack Obama had led a Team USA cheer squad that included America's biggest sports stars and celebrities.
Hundreds gathered in New York's Bryant Park, where 17-year-old Elliot Hollander, a high school soccer player from Weston, Connecticut, wore an American flag headband. "Being able to watch my country do well in the World Cup is not something you get to see all the time, so it's really something to cheer about," Hollander said during the game.
Tuesday's winners Belgium now advance to face Argentina in the quarter-finals.
The official U.S. soccer Twitter account, @ussoccer, had advised fans to drink tea so their vocal chords would be "100 percent gameday ready," and to practice chants in the mirror.
At the packed Campus Lounge bar in Denver, everyone in the bar stood up for the U.S. national anthem before kick-off.
"I've seen a lot of sports events in a lot of places, and I've never seen anything like that," said owner and former Chicago Blackhawks ice hockey player Jim Wiste. "It's good for the community."
(Reporting by Daniel Wallis in Denver; Additional reporting by Lisa Maria Garza in Arlington, Texas; Curtis Skinner in New York; and Nick Carey in Chicago; Editing by Bill Trott, Sandra Maler and Eric Beech)