FIFA World Cup SoccerFest and Viewing Party!

Curt Mosel was in Germany for the 2006 World Cup.

Greg Ramos attended the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

Together, they're part of a group trying to bring the passion they found there to the Lehigh Valley for this summer's soccer tournament.

ArtsQuest announced today it will be hosting a FIFA World Cup SoccerFest and Viewing Party at SteelStacks in Bethlehem on June 12-16 and 19-22.

The free event, officially approved by FIFA last week, will feature 26 games displayed on a 17-by-27-foot outdoor LED screen at Air Products Town Square, highlighted by the U.S. vs. Ghana on June 16 and U.S. vs. Portugal on June 22.

"Soccer is the world's game," said Mosel, the vice president of marketing and public relations for ArtsQuest. "For decades, South Bethlehem has been a cultural melting pot."

Through a partnership between Discover Lehigh Valley, the Philadelphia Union, the Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Association, Lehigh Valley United, Lehigh Valley Youth Soccer League, PBS39, Spark and ArtsQuest, the event has been in the works for about two years.

Mosel and another member of the planning committee had both been to the World Cup and viewing parties in Germany, and wanted to bring that excitement to the Lehigh Valley.

"The fan fests (in Germany) had tens of thousands of people watching the games, a lot of what we're trying to replicate here," Mosel said, adding that they are hoping to draw more than 30,000 fans over the nine days. "The unique part about this will be for the kids. There are so many kids that play soccer in the United States but they don't understand really what it is as far as the world's game. So with such a great ethnic population here, I think it's going to be eye-opening for the youth to catch that part of it."

Ramos, the executive director of the Lehigh Valley United soccer development program, agreed. He said he had a "life-changing experience" at the World Cup in 1994 when the world converged in the United States for the tournament.

"It's something that's once-in-a-lifetime," Ramos said. "But if you couldn't do it again, the next best thing is to experience and be a part of what's going to happen here on this campus in June when the people, the games, the matches, the sponsors, the friends, the families, the kids get to come out and enjoy the experience. It's going to be a fantastic one. It'll be a world-class event."

In addition to games being aired, there will also be a youth soccer clinic hosted by the Philadelphia Union June 14, an interactive Kids' Fun Zone during the first weekend, and two youth soccer clinics for children with disabilities June 20 presented by Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Lehigh Valley United.

The second weekend of the event will coincide with Sabor!, the free Latin festival at SteelStacks.

"Soccer has the largest demographic out of any sport in the world," said Kim Lilly, the executive vice president of Discover Lehigh Valley. "(SoccerFest) is going to bring international attention to Lehigh Valley and has the potential to create a huge tourism, economic impact for the area's $1.9 billion industry."

On June 14-15, soccer historian Daniel Paul Morrison will give presentations on the Bethlehem Steel Football Club. The team was "one of the winningest soccer teams in U.S. history," Mosel said, adding that it made the city "one of the focal points of the soccer world."

For Ramos, the event is one close to his heart. His family first came to the city because of Bethlehem Steel and he grew up watching his dad referee Portuguese League games in the area.

The World Cup that he attended in 1994 allowed him to experience different cultures and see their love for the game, which was ultimately a deciding factor in dedicating his life to the sport, he said.

"It's unique to see countries and economies shut down during two-hour blocks when their country plays," Ramos said. "The World Cup is a conduit to allow young people that I'm working with to tap into that passion."

Now, Ramos is hoping that even more people in the Lehigh Valley will be able to experience that excitement for the game during June's SoccerFest.

"FIFA says we matter here in the Lehigh Valley," he said. "That's an incredible thing. June here at ArtsQuest and SteelStacks will change people's lives forever."

-Article by Greg Joyce,

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