Students and passionate soccer fans on USC’s campus are celebrating the return of the world’s most popular sporting event after four years by gathering at the Russell House Theater to watch World Cup matches.
Hosted by Carolina Productions in collaboration with the Residence Hall Association, the watch parties aim to bring students together and gave them an opportunity to support their favorite teams in front of the big screen. The last watch party is Thursday at 2 p.m. for Costa Rica vs. Germany.
“We’re just hoping to provide an opportunity for students that want to enjoy the beautiful game here with the opportunity to do so with other folks, and maybe learn something else about different soccer cultures and different cultures in general throughout the world,” associate director for Russell House events Ryan Gross said.
The two organizations hosted watch parties during the previous World Cup in 2018 and have seen growing interest in the sport amongst students in the years since, according to Gross.
“Soccer becomes more and more popular every single year, but also, there is a sizeable international student population that looks forward to this World Cup every single four years, so it was just an opportunity for us to celebrate the players (and) the countries that are represented in the tournament,” Gross said.
Increased interest in this year’s competition also stems from the United States national team’s participation in the World Cup after an eight-year absence. The Americans failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2018, and many fans have found renewed hope for a deep tournament run in the form of young stars like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKinnie and Tyler Adams.
“I think this is our comeback year, and I think there’s a lot of skepticism on how good we are, because we did make a good impression,” first-year pre-business student Chris Park said. “We did do some impressive things with beating Mexico, so I think this World Cup, we have a shot to at least compete.”
The United States’ group stage matches against Wales and Iran were among the eight games offered for fans to watch in Russell House. Gross said the organizations chose matches featuring some of the World Cup’s top contenders (i.e., Germany and Portugal) and teams representing large populations of the student body (i.e., United States and Iran).
Despite the overwhelming support for the United States, they are not the only country USC students are rooting for in the competition.
“I grew up watching soccer with my family. My family is Senegalese, so soccer, or football, is a really big deal in our country and we have really good players this year,” second-year public health and pre-medical student Abibatou Diop said.
Park said that although he is primarily rooting for the United States, he wants to see South Korea perform well because of his family heritage and admiration for the country’s culture.
This year’s World Cup will also be unique in that it will be played in November and December, as opposed to during the summer months, because of the climate in host country Qatar. Third-year sport and entertainment management student Gabriel Conn said the competition’s new place in the sports calendar will still make it enjoyable for students.
“Having it during the school year makes it special — just being around other students, being able to talk about it with other students and being able to watch it on campus is real special this year,” Conn said.
Second-year sport and entertainment management student Tanner Lewis, who cheered on the United States while on vacation in Germany during the 2014 World Cup, said he also enjoyed the social aspect of watching World Cup matches with other students.
“It’s cool to watch it with a group of people, and even if we’re not all rooting for the U.S., I’d much rather watch it here with a group of people who love the sport than sitting in my room alone,” Lewis said.
Diop, who helped organize these watch parties for the RHA, said she hopes they will unite students of all races and ethnicities and find common ground in their love of soccer.
“I think it’s really important to strive to have a diverse and inclusive atmosphere, so I think the World Cup is something that’s really amazing in it because there are so many countries that come together at once,” Diop said. “There are so many walks of life that come together at once, so I think that having something like this is a great way to boost diversity and inclusion, and show that everyone at this school is loved as well.”