Major Leaguers, fans support U.S. in World Cup

Players glued to clubhouse TVs; Padres host watch party outside Petco

Major Leaguers, fans support U.S. in World Cup

The United States' World Cup journey came to an excruciating end on Tuesday, when the Americans battled Belgium through two tense halves and extra time before succumbing, 2-1, to fall in the round of 16, despite an amazing performance by goaltender Tim Howard, who made a World Cup-record 16 saves.

But once again, as has been the case throughout the U.S. Men's National Team's run out of the "Group of Death" and into the knockout round over the past few weeks, the skill and determination displayed on the pitches of Brazil by an underdog American side has been thrilling, inspiring and almost impossible to ignore.

The drama reverberated throughout Major League Baseball, with a growing excitement for soccer building over the course of the World Cup, and on Tuesday, it was in full glory as the U.S. prepared for one of the biggest matches in its soccer history.

In San Diego, approximately 5,000 people amassed at the "Park at the Park" at the Padres' home of Petco Park to watch the U.S. match a few hours before their favorite baseball team played the Reds. And inside the Padres' clubhouse, the players were glued to the action from Salvador, Brazil, on television.

"When the World Cup comes around, for me, it's less about soccer and [more about] the patriotism getting you and rooting for USA because you want to support the country," Padres outfielder Will Venable said. "I don't pretend to really know anything about soccer -- I played it as a kid, [but] it's fun to watch the best in the world compete in anything."

In New York, the Rays were ready to root on the United States. Seriously ready.

Rays bench coach Dave Martinez got rookies Cole Figueroa, Kirby Yates and Kevin Kiermaier to have their hair painted red, white and blue. The young trio wore it well, and Rays manager Joe Maddon couldn't help but notice.

"From the perspective of pulling for the United States, I'm totally in," Maddon said. "I have noticed a buzz around the clubhouse."

That was the case in Colorado, too, where Rockies reliever Tommy Kahnle donned a red-and-blue jersey before the game, but switched once the Americans came out in white.

"Soccer is awesome," Kahnle said. "It's just fun to watch, keeps you on edge all the time. They don't really score that many goals, usually, so when they do, it's a big thrill."

The United States didn't score a goal until late in extra time and had a few chances turned away in the final minutes as the game played on the large scoreboard screen in center field at Nationals Park, where Colorado and Washington warmed up.

"It's a big national pride thing," Kahnle said. "So it's pretty cool to see all the people like this."

The fans were into it at Fenway Park as well on Tuesday hours before Boston's game against the visiting Cubs. The big screen in right-center field played the match while the players soaked in the action from the clubhouse before they took batting practice.

Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes wore American flag soccer shorts and an American flag tank top while, teammate Shane Victorino donned a Team USA soccer jersey. Pitcher Jake Peavy wore a white Team USA jersey and kicked a soccer ball around the Fenway field with a few pitchers during stretching.

"I gotta do it, man," Peavy said while exiting the locker room with the soccer ball in hand. "For the country."

In Miami, the clubhouse was full of salsa music as Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez prepared for his outing against the Phillies, but fellow pitchers Chris Hatcher and Mike Dunn wore American flag tank tops with pride.

And in Atlanta, third baseman Chris Johnson sported a Clint Dempsey U.S. soccer jersey while the Braves players watched in the clubhouse and Turner Field showed the broadcast on the JumboTron.

"The Latin American guys in here are pretty big soccer fans, so it's really cool to see them get so excited about their football," Johnson said. "I think that's why a lot of us American guys are kind of jumping on and taking part just to make it a team thing.

"It's a lot of fun. Any time you can put 'USA' on something, it doesn't really matter what sport it is. We're all going to jump on and root for them."

The Angels were set to do the same in Chicago before their game against the White Sox, but because Monday's game was rained out at U.S. Cellular Field, a doubleheader was scheduled for Tuesday and the team couldn't watch the Americans play.

"Truthfully, I wasn't a big soccer fan," Angels catcher Hank Conger said. "But seeing everybody in here, being so into all the games, even if it wasn't the U.S. playing or anything like that, is making me kind of watch the game, too, and kind of understand the game more. So this is the most I've ever understood the rules and understood the meaning of the game, and how passionate guys are."

That passion was on display Tuesday. Angels outfielder Mike Trout was wearing his very own customized jersey sent to him Monday. Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who has Mexican roots, had worn his Mexico jersey during that team's elimination match, and video coordinator Diego Lopez thoroughly enjoyed his Argentina team's extra-time victory over Switzerland on Tuesday.

"I think one of the biggest things for us during the season is just trying to keep the clubhouse loose," Conger said. "This is one of those ways where it just kind of keeps us loose, keeps us talking, as a team, everybody in here watching the game."

Back in San Diego, not far from the spectacle of thousands watching the game next to the stadium, Reds reliever Manny Parra got sucked into the unforgettable late moments of the United States' valiant loss.

"It was a lot of fun," Parra said. "Even though I always thought it was boring, I could see how in the process of the game, it's not the score that makes it fun, really. It's the process of the game, all the times they didn't score and the excitement in that.

"I think if they ran around and there were no shots on goal, it'd be boring. There were a lot of shots on goal and our goalie did great."

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.