SAN JOSE -- Hundreds of soccer fans packed the lawn of a downtown city park on Sunday, waving their arms and shouting their joy when a giant video screen showed the United States scoring what appeared to be a decisive goal in the World Cup.

Minutes later, they released a collective groan as Portugal came back to tie the score and finish the game, which was played nearly 5,000 miles away in tropical Brazil.

For the two hours leading up to that sudden letdown, the crowd eagerly cheered and jeered every twist and turn in the game, while tooting plastic horns and chatting amiably with strangers who became their temporary neighbors on a patch of green at St. James Park, near the old Santa Clara County courthouse.

"I never imagined soccer would become so popular here in the United States. Look at this!" exclaimed Sudeep Roy, a middle-aged Silicon Valley executive who said he's been an avid player and fan of the sport since his boyhood in India.

Moments earlier, he had jumped out of his lawn chair to exchange high-fives with members of another family sitting behind him. "There's so much energy here," he added. "It's fun."

Fun and free

Sunday's event was the latest in a series of outdoor World Cup viewings organized by the San Jose Downtown Association, the San Jose Earthquakes soccer franchise and the city's Office of Economic Development. Earlier games in the tournament were shown live on a big screen at nearby Plaza de Cesar Chavez, but fans said Sunday's event was bigger -- the crowd appeared to number 500 or more -- and noisier.

"It's amazing," said Brandon Lewis, a 27-year-old Cisco Systems employee who stood watching the game with his girlfriend, 27-year-old banker Larissa Nelson. Lewis wore a blanket-sized American flag as a cape over his shoulders. A second U.S. flag waved from a long pole in one hand, while a cold beer nestled comfortably in the other.

"When people start doing the cheers, and you're outside like this, it gives you the feeling that you're at the game," said Lewis. "It almost makes you feel like you're part of the team."

The crowd was mostly a mix of young adults and families, who said they preferred watching the game from a blanket outdoors rather than packing into a restaurant or bar. Admission was free and the atmosphere was friendly, though a few cops and security workers kept a watchful eye.

Diverse fan base

"There's a sense of community here," said Chris Noyes, a 29-year-old accountant from Sunnyvale who had painted red and white stripes on one half of his face, with white stars on a blue background covering the other half.

Flags were everywhere, on shirts, hats and bandannas, although most people didn't paint their faces with anything more than sunblock. And some were happy to admit they're not serious soccer fans.

"I'm more into baseball and football," said Esteban Franco, a San Jose construction worker, who sat in a row of lawn chairs with his wife, Anna, and their two daughters. Franco said he'd noticed a viewing party last week while driving past Plaza de Cesar Chavez, and decided that Sunday's event would be a fun experience for his girls.

"They play softball," Anna Franco said of 8-year-old Malia and her 5-year-old sister, Isabella, "but I think they might go for soccer this year."

The next outdoor World Cup viewings in San Jose are scheduled for July 4 and July 5 at St. James Park. More information can be found at www.sjearthquakes.com/summerofsoccer.

Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022 or follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey.