Immigrant Soccer Fans in U.S. Gear Up For World Cup

In Newark, home to tens of thousands of Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants and their descendants, fans say the World Cup is good for the soul.

It's also good for business.

At Pegasus Sporting Goods on Ferry Street, sales have been up 75 percent in the past two months as enthusiasts snap up their national teams' jerseys almost as fast as staffer Michael Marques can put them on hangers.

"People are going crazy," said Marques, standing amid still-unpacked boxes of merchandise as shoppers swarmed the store on Thursday, to purchase the Portuguese team's sleek black Nike-designed jerseys, retail price $70 (€55). "World Cup fever is in full effect."

Photo Essay: World Cup Fever

While professional soccer may hold limited appeal in the wider United States, that's less true in New Jersey, with its million and a half foreign-born residents. According to 2000 Census figures, almost a quarter of that group hail from Europe, 43 percent from Latin America, and 4 percent from Africa — all regions where football is both pastime and passion.

For almost a century Newark's Ironbound neighborhood has drawn immigrants from Portugal. Expatriates from their former colony, Brazil, began elbowing into New Jersey's largest city in the late 1980s. The census estimates their combined population here at about 22,000.

The Reverend Edgar Da Cunha, an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Newark and a native of Bahia, Brazil, said he has already mapped out much of his schedule for the next month. An invitation to celebrate Mass out-of-state on Brazil's Independence Day was rescheduled because it would conflict with the Cup final.

"The World Cup brings people together, friends and family and neighbors to watch the games," Da Cunha said. "There's a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the air."

Ethnic groups across New Jersey will be gathering around TVs in bars, restaurants and social clubs, from Koreans in the north to Mexicans and Ecuadorians in the south, and members of the 125-year-old German American Society in Trenton.

In Newark, even without "futbol" fever, the Ironbound would pulse with national pride for this weekend's Portugal Day festival, which honors 16th century poet Luis de Camoes.

But the soccer tournament has ratcheted up both interest and business. Beer distributor Steve Mosior, stacking cases of Foster's Lager from Australia at a Ferry Street liquor store, said sales typically rise by 10 to 15 percent during a World Cup.

Rebeca Adorno's native Peru did not make it into the 32-team competition, but she was upbeat. Adorno, a street vendor of T-shirts emblazoned with the names of Latin American nations, said sales have picked up in recent days, and the next month should be particularly lucrative.

"Portugal will win. Or Brazil," Adorno theorized. "Either way it doesn't matter. There's lots of money in it."