CAMBRIDGE — The crooning warble of accordions joined the rhythmic clacking of castanets Sunday on Cambridge Street as Portuguese-Americans paraded in celebration of their heritage.
The annual parade, an exuberant end to the Boston Portuguese Festival, spilled through Inman Square down from Concord Avenue in Somerville and into the courtyard at Saint Anthony Church. Along the way, people said the procession displayed the most important elements of Portuguese culture: music, dance, food — and soccer.
But soccer seemed to be the pillar of cultural heritage that loomed largest on Sunday, the day of the much-anticipated World Cup match between the Portuguese national team and the United States.
“That’s our culture — it’s soccer on top of soccer,” said John Carreiro, 58, of Somerville, who was born in the Azores.
“This is culture. This is tradition,” he said. “This is to tell the people in the neighborhood that we are here, we exist, this is who we are. Come and join us.”
Almost everyone at the parade wore jerseys — green, red, and white, emblazoned with the famous Portuguese Football Federation cross. The only things more popular than Portugal jerseys were probably the malasadas, a fried-dough-like confection served in bags of six or 12 from the church concession stand.
Liliana de Sousa, president of the festival, said the Day of Portugal Parade drew an especially large and excited crowd in its ninth year. Part of it was the weather, she said, but the World Cup also helped pull people in — particularly teens who otherwise would have labeled the parade an event reserved for elder relatives.
“I think what brought them here was the soccer game,” she said, recalling visits to matches in Portugal when she was just 2 years old and sat on her brother’s shoulders.
Vera Duarte, 41, of Woburn, said she saw more children at the parade on Sunday than in years past, and most of them wore jerseys, especially for Portugal’s star, the world-renowned Cristiano Ronaldo.
“The fact that we have such a famous player, I think that plays a role in the new generation that maybe have never been to Portugal, but they all know Cristiano Ronaldo,” said Duarte, who teaches at the Escola Portuguesa de Cambridge e Somerville.
In this way, she said, soccer helps connect youth to the ancestral heritage that events like the Day of Portugal Parade strive to preserve.
Lucas Barbosa, 12, of Revere, said he is usually a little shy at parades because everyone else is very friendly and eager to talk. Sunday, though, he said he was excited as he dribbled a soccer ball on a patch of grass near the parade’s start.
“Because I know right after this, I’m going to watch the game,” Barbosa said.
According to the Modern Language Association, approximately 181,437 people — or 2.97 percent of the speaking population in Massachusetts — spoke Portuguese in 2010. The only languages spoken more commonly were English and Spanish.
The Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers has identified several areas with relatively dense populations of Portuguese people across the state, including Fall River, New Bedford, Cambridge, and Somerville.
As much as soccer served as a connecting force between Portuguese Americans and their ancestral heritage, for many it was also a source of deep inner turmoil: For whom do you root when your two nations play each other?
Most people approached the game with equanimity, saying they just hoped for a fair, well-played match.
“I got the two countries on my shoulder,” said Carlos Pereira, 55, in front of his home in Somerville, where both American and Portuguese flags hang by the front door.
Helio Melo, 61, of Salem, N.H., who was selling soccer jerseys and other Portuguese tchotkes outside of the church, said, “I’m half Portuguese, half American. That’s really tough for me today.”
Emidio Almeida, 52, also of Salem, N.H., drove his black pickup truck in the parade, handing grilled sardines to passersby from a trailer in the back. On one side he hung a Portuguese flag, on the other he tied an American flag. On both sides, there were posters of Ronaldo.
“[The United States] is our country right now. I was born there, but this is my country,” Almeida said.
“I can’t stand it,” said de Sousa, the parade organizer. “It’s really hard because I was born in Portugal, but I’m American.”
A handful of others showed no signs of an identity crisis, however.
Asked whom she was rooting for, Duarte, the teacher from Woburn, said, “Portugal. What kind of question is that?”
The Filarmonica Santo Antonio, a Portuguese cultural association, created a float that looked like a soccer pitch, with one child dressed in a US jersey and several others in Portugal jerseys. There was no scoreboard on the float because they wanted to “keep it friendly,” said Daniela Moreira, 27, of Medford.
“Hopefully the score later is Portugal-2, US-0,” she said.
Despite the earlier hand-wringing, the fan favorite was obvious as people gathered at the association’s hall in Cambridge to watch the game.
They stomped on floors and slapped tables or hands when the Portuguese scored. They were quiet save a smattering of polite applause when the US put shots in.
And when the final whistle blew and the game ended in a tie, some cheered, but more mingled, again unsure quite what to do.Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZackSampson.