The Yanks were playing their first World Cup qualifier in 2.5 months. They were trying to keep momentum from a 4-3 win over what was essentially a German “B” team that was missing 15 first team players and featured several young Germans earning their first cap. The friendly against Germany served as the second tune up for June’s world cup qualifiers with the first being back in Cleveland over a week and a half ago.
That night over a week and a half ago 27,000 sports fans flocked to downtown Cleveland to take in a world class sporting event. They weren’t headed to Progressive Field to watch the Tribe take on the Reds in “The Battle of Ohio”. Instead it was a rowdy group of soccer fans who packed the lower bowl and the open club sections of First Energy field to watch U.S. Men’s National Team take on the visitors of Belgium in an international friendly.The boys representing the stars and stripes got smoked by the new darlings of Europe, as the Belgians freely ran passed U.S. defenders in route to a 4-2 victory. While the team looked horrid against the talented Belgians, there was however, a group of Americans who shined bright on the warm May night. It wasn’t Dempsey, Altidore, or Howard who earned high praise against Belgium, instead it was Cleveland soccer fans.
Led by the support of the local chapter of The American Outlaws, Cleveland packed in to the available seats of First Energy stadium draped in American flags, bandanas, jerseys, and Captain America costumes. It was more than a game, it was a spectacle of national pride. It was a party.
The party started several hours before kickoff at the official pregame party of The American Outlaws at West 6th’s The Blind Pig. Herds of die hards, casual fans, and those there just for a few (or many) beverages filled the place from wall to wall, dancing and singing to the Americana laced jams such as “Shook Me All Night Long” and “Party in the USA”.
Leaders from the The American Outlaws Cleveland chapter as well as nationals led the crowd in chants that ranged from “When the States go marching in…” to a personal favorite of mine, “USA aint nothing to F*** with”. It was a colorful crowd both literally and figuratively and with the crowd at a fever pitch, the announcement was made that Cleveland had sold its American Outlaws tickets allotted to them by U.S. soccer faster than tickets sold in Seattle, the city considered the soccer Mecca of the United States. If you aren’t impressed by that statement consider that Seattle has sold 50,000 plus tickets for Saturday’s Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps rivalry game.
Four days after our boys took a beating against Belgium, the US took on Germany in our nation’s capital. It was the first time U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s faced the team for which he starred for as a player and coached to the 2006 World Cup Final. This U.S. team looked like a completely different group with the insertion of Michael Bradley back in the midfield after he was unavailable for the match in Cleveland. Bradley controlled the midfield against a young, overconfident German team and led the Yanks to a 4-3 win over the world’s number 2 ranked team. While this was far from Germany’s “A” team, a win against a powerhouse like Germany is always something to be proud of. Not only did the win against Germany give Klinsmann bragging rights over his home country, it drove the German media mad, and gave the Yanks some momentum heading into three very important world cup qualifiers in June.
After defeating Costa Rica in the snow, and drawing Mexico in Azteca in their previous two qualifiers, the US entered Friday in a three way tie for thrid in the final round of World Cup qualifying known affectionately as “The Hex”. The top three finishers in the 6 team group automatically qualify for Brazil 2014 while the fourth place finisher has a home and home playoff against New Zealand who won the Oceania qualifying region.
With 7 games remaining and 3 in the next two weeks, the time for friendlies was over. It was time for our boys to get back to work, and what better place to do so than Jamaica’s national stadium in Kingston, known as “The Office”.
And what better place to watch the game, than at the home bar of the Cleveland chapter of The American Outlaws, Mavis Winkle’s in Independence.
I made the quick trip down I-77 to meet some friends at an Irish Pub filled with rowdy Americans. You see, everyone who watched Friday’s game at a participating American Outlaws bar received free beer for showing their support. What better way to attract new fans than offer up some free booze?
A cold, wet evening in June quickly morphed into The 4th of July as we entered the bar. From the moment we walked in we were greeted by the friendliest group of sports fans you’ll ever meet. Members of the American Outlaws went out of their way to welcome my friends and me. Instead of looking down upon a group that featured mostly casual fans, the Outlaws opened up their arms and said the more the merrier.
“Miller high life until it runs out guys, enjoy!” Our host instructed us as he tracked back to his place at the front of the bar. This crowd was not as large nor as wild as the group that gathered before the Belgium match at Blind Pig, but two dozen USA fans dressed in their Outlaws’ t’s, jerseys, and flag bandannas created an atmosphere that made you proud to be an American.
Before the game the crowd took part in the popular call and response, “I believe that we will win“. And whether you were there as a die hard or just someone looking for some free booze it was almost impossible not join in with the positive energy provided by the crowd.
After the US opened the scoring in the 30th minute on a Jozy Altiodre header from a Graham Zusi cross, the place erupted. College kids, parents, grandparents, everyone in the bar joined in on what has become known as “The Miracle Chant”.
“U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”
It’s a special feeling knowing everyone in the place, whether they’re an American Outlaw, a casual fan, or just an old dude meeting buddies for a 50th high school reunion took pride in the US goal.
The game slowed down for the next hour as neither team could muster many great chances, luckily though the keg kept flowing. A night which seemed sure to end in a 1-0 USA victory got flipped upside down when Jamaica scored off a free kick in 87th minute, sucking the life out of everyone in the bar. It was set pieces that had plagued the US in their last trip to Jamaica when the Reggae Boyz beat the United States 2-1 in the previous round of World Cup qualifying.
But the Yanks wouldn’t settle for the draw and the subsequent 1 point earned from a tie, they wanted all 3 points earned from a victory.
The US pressed forward and in the 92nd minute, Michael Bradley whipped in a low cross to midfielder Brad Evans. Evans possessed the ball with his back to goal, turned and fired with his right foot into the upper corner of the net securing the win in the finals seconds, and giving the Cleveland American Outlaws all the more reason to keep the party going. The man known for his left foot set the crowd on fire with right. Evans ecstatically pulled his shirt over his head and sprinted to the corner flag as he teammates mobbed him.
“U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”
The goal gave the US a 2-1 victory and more importantly moved the team into first place in The Hex standings with 6 games to play. The loss virtually eliminates Jamaica, leaving just 5 teams with a real shot at finishing in the top 3.
The American Outlaws mantra is “Unite and Strengthen” as they try to organize and grow the fan base of US soccer. With free beer, USA chants, and the team winning in the last minute, the Cleveland chapter of the American Outlaws no doubt succeeded in gaining some new support on Friday night.
The Yanks resume World Cup qualifying Tuesday on ESPN against Panama in front of what should be a special crowd in Seattle, but right here in Cleveland on Rockside Road off of I-77, the Cleveland chapter of The American Outlaws will be drinking, singing, and cheering on our boys in style.