Organizers: We can handle crowd for Thursday's World Cup viewing party

Tribune reporter

Despite problems handling the over-capacity crowd watching Sunday's World Cup game telecast in Chicago, organizers expect no problems handling an even bigger crowd for this Thursday's game.

Drenching rains forced the viewing party for the U.S. soccer match against Portugal Sunday to move from muddy Grant Park onto Balbo Avenue. The smaller area filled up so fast that organizers had to close the gates half an hour before the game, U.S. Soccer spokesman Sinhue Mendoza said.

"You get that kind of concert atmosphere where people start jumping up and down and pushing up toward the front," he said, in explaining the decision to limit the crowd.

Some fans were upset at getting locked out of the party, but many simply watched the giant video screen from outside the wire fence.

Though organizers expect an even bigger crowd for the next U.S. contest Thursday against Germany, Mendoza said, capacity should not be an issue because it will be held rain or shine at Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park. That venue has hosted Chicago Bulls championship parties, Blues Fest and other major events.

The match is scheduled for 11 a.m., and gates will open at 10 a.m., but festivities will continue through the afternoon, with a fan fest featuring a mini-soccer field tournament, inflatable bouncy houses for kids, and food and beverages for sale, including beer. Fans are not permitted to bring their own alcohol.

ESPN, which showed live shots of the Chicago crowd going wild during the first two games, will again be at Grant Park for the game.

Though the event will take place during a work day, Mendoza expects an even bigger crowd, between college and high school students on summer break, and office workers on lunch break.

Television ratings for the U.S. World Cup games exceeded that of the NHL Stanley Cup finals and were comparable with the NBA finals, Mendoza noted.

"Soccer is growing exponentially," he said. "Every time the World Cup happens, it gets bigger. We have a good problem on our hands." | Twitter: @RobertMcCoppin

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