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From Cult To Religion: Meet Soccer’s American Outlaws

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“C’mon ya yanks! C’mon ya yanks!” the fans sing. “C’monyayanks c’monyayanks c’monyayanks!”

It’s a Wednesday afternoon in midtown Manhattan, and a small group of fans are watching a soccer game. Their side, the U.S. men’s national team, is playing against (and losing to) the Netherlands.

All the while, two cameramen quietly move about the bar filming them.

The fans, who call themselves the American Outlaws, are not accustomed to being on camera. In fact, in this country, it’s a surprise if soccer fans get any attention at all. The singing is genuine — it’s what they do—and not a stunt for the cameras. But the film crew’s presence still signals that things are changing — thanks, in no small part, to the fans themselves.

The U.S. soccer fan is a special kind of sports fan. Supporting teams anchored on two, three, or even more continents at once, ignored by the major media, and yet utterly, madly passionate about their sport, American soccer fans form deeply knit communities. These go beyond the bar or the simple camaraderie that comes from a shared pastime.

And no group typifies this more than the American Outlaws.

The AOs, which formed in 2007 as the brainchild of two brothers in Nebraska, is now a nationwide organization with chapters in 22 cities. At national team games, the AOs dress up in red, white, and blue (sometimes with an American flag bandana over their mouth), sit in the same section, sing songs (Over there! Over there! Send the word, send the word over there!), and taunt the opponent.

The camaraderie continues off the field, as well. The AOs’ New York City chapter regularly meets for pick-up soccer games on the weekend. But they also have barbecues and other outings (especially of the bar variety), forming a sense of community that goes beyond just being a fan.

“It’s nothing like almost every other sport that we have, that becomes this cool thing that everyone does together,” says Phil Camp, one of the AOs at the bar. “So people who follow have to throw up a flag. And they throw it up online.”

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