It is just over an hour before a 6 p.m. kickoff between the United States and Nigeria, and thousands of rowdy Americans—more precisely, rocket-fueled American soccer fans—are marching a half mile into EverBank Field on a muggy Jacksonville, Florida, afternoon.
Three hours later, swarms of those same boisterous fans are heard chanting, "We want Ghana," following U.S. striker Jozy Altidore's second goal of the game, a strike that would prove to be the game-winner.
The match was the final tune-up for the U.S. Men's National Team before heading off to Brazil and the World Cup. As such, it served also as a send-off for the team departing from America's shores southward some 4,000 miles to Natal, Brazil.
However, for many of the fans—the most passionate, the loudest of the drummers, those hardest at the core about their soccer—this is indeed just a stop-off as well. They are also going to Brazil.
The American Outlaws are the unofficial fans of the United States soccer team, a group now nearly 20,000 strong. They appear like modern-day pirates dressed as patriots, storming the stands of every U.S. match with their own brand of organized chaos.
"Going to the game with the American Outlaws is an incredible experience," says Dan Wiersema, who is in charge of communications for the group. "I don't think you will find many experiences like this in professional sports. Think of the Cameron Crazies or the University of Wisconsin. Always standing. Always singing. Always cheering."
The American Outlaws found enough fans willing to chant and sing their way to the spiritual home of soccer that the group has chartered two 767s, bringing 539 members along for the ride to Brazil. Some 40 more will join them in South America for the land-only package.
The idea is to bathe Brazilian stadiums in the same song and spirit that showered down in Jacksonville. In short, as Brian Hexsel, the chapter chairman and travel manager for the American Outlaws, explains, the group intends to "be loud—be loud and make sure the team knows we're there in Brazil."
One of the American Outlaws cofounders, Justin Brunken, echoes those sentiments, saying, "We're hoping to bring a home-field advantage for the team in Brazil. We're also hoping to make it as easy as possible for people to get to Brazil."
The second half of that equation saw the American Outlaws depend on efforts from a travel company in Lincoln, Nebraska, as well as a local group in Brazil. The idea was to put together not just a ticket package to the games as well as transportation, but a full-on World Cup experience.
To that end, each city hosting an American match in Brazil will see a pregame party hosted by the American Outlaws that will largely simulate the experience fans have when the team plays on American soil. The added bonus is that the charter planes that brought the group from Houston to Natal will ferry the American Outlaws from one match site to the next inside the host country.
As soccer fans, a select few in the American Outlaws traveling party will even have their skills put to the test in a friendly against a local side in Natal. It is at that point, though, that the confidence of the group begins to wane. "It's against a Division 2 team, but they're good and we're just fans," Brunken confesses.
The leadership of the American Outlaws is convinced that the strength of the group lies, at least in part, in the local chapters.
Throughout the country, while the traveling supporters will festoon the stands in Brazil with American colors, any of the more than 100 local chapters will be gathering across America in bars and restaurants to band together and support the team. However, not all of the local chapters' leadership could resist the temptation to head to Brazil.
Matt Lawson, president of the chapter in Greensboro, North Carolina, decided to heed the siren song of the samba and head to Brazil, saying, "I've been counting down the days. I feel like we will have the best fan support of all of the teams that will be in Brazil. Just think of a student section on steroids."
As the biggest unofficial supporters group of the United States soccer team, the American Outlaws will also be the largest supporters group in the entire world going to Brazil, and their intent is simple: They plan to be heard.
"This is our opportunity to prove to the rest of the world that American soccer is a quality product on the field," Wiersema explains. "But in the stands, it's also an incredible atmosphere."
Beau Estes is a regular contributor to NBA.com, NBA TV, CBS Atlanta and NCAA.com, and he writes for Inside Carolina Magazine. All quotes obtained firsthand.
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