The American Outlaws and the 2015 Women’s World Cup
When John Brooks scored the game-winning goal for the U.S. during its summer World Cup match against Ghana, fans in packed bars across the country tossed hats and waved flags. America, it seemed, was finally embracing soccer.
To the American Outlaws, however, the sport reached the States years ago.
Formed in Lincoln, Neb., in 2007, the Outlaws are an unofficial supporters group of the U.S. national soccer teams. The group has grown from less than one hundred members to around 20,000 in its seven-year existence.
When the country’s World Cup fever died down with America’s defeat to Belgium in July, Outlaw members prepared to shift their energy to supporting the U.S. women’s national team. The team began playing qualifying matches for the 2015 Women’s World Cup this month.
Though the media primarily associates the Outlaws with the men’s national team, the group’s mission is to support all U.S. national teams, according to its website.
“We try to have…a pregame party and a supporter section for every home game, men’s or women’s,” Korey Donahoo, president and co-founder of the Outlaws, confirmed in an email, adding that support from each chapter varies.
Nonetheless, the women’s national team has struggled to attract the same buzz as the men’s since it won the 1999 Women’s World Cup on home soil.
U.S. women’s national team
Former women’s national team star Mia Hamm said she believes the sport took off during the ’99 tournament. “[It] was like nothing we ever imagined,” Hamm said in a March interview. “It just grew into this amazing spectacle.”
The women’s national team drew over 400,000 fans to its seven matches during the tournament, including 90,000 to the final against China, according to FIFA’s website.
According to Hamm, the current women’s national team is just exciting as the ’99 squad, which was the last to win a Women’s World Cup for America.
The retired forward particularly praised Abby Wambach, who recently surpassed Hamm as the team’s all-time leading goal scorer. “What she’s doing right now is tremendous,” Hamm said. “She’s a warrior out there.”
Former women’s national team midfielder Julie Foudy agreed. “This team has more depth than I have ever seen,” she said in an email.
Fan support for the women’s national team dwindled in the years succeeding the ’99 tournament as the squad’s recognizable stars began to retire. The team hasn’t seen the same level of support in the 15 years since.
The women’s national team drew just over 30,000 fans to its last five matches on U.S. soil combined, according to U.S. Soccer’s official website. The men’s national team, however, drew more than 150,000 fans to its five most recent home fixtures.
Foudy covered this summer’s World Cup from Brazil for ESPN and saw firsthand the impact the Outlaws had on American fans.
She said she believes the group has the ability to rekindle some of the same excitement and support she experienced in Brazil for next years Women’s World Cup.
American Outlaws in Phoenix
The Outlaws’ recognition grew steadily leading up to this year’s World Cup. The group, which boasted 100 chapters at the end of last year, grew to include more than 160.
Ryan Shirah, director of marketing for the Outlaws’ Phoenix chapter, said fan support in the Valley also increased leading up to the summer tournament.
According to Shirah, The Tilted Kilt in Phoenix, where the chapter meets to watch matches, passed its 450-person capacity by the first half of the U.S. match against Ghana.
Foudy said she believes it is the group’s energy and passion that inspires fans to watch matches. “It is vital to have that component and bring the game to people,” she said. “I am a big, big fan of what [the Outlaws] have done to help grow the game here in the U.S.”
To bring the same excitement to the women’s national team, Shirah said the Phoenix chapter plans to offer giveaways and other incentives for fans to come watch matches.
“[Our chapter’s goal] is to make sure people know that all the fun they had during the men’s World Cup…being with all your friends, the Outlaws…that continues,” he said. “The drums, the chanting and getting to watch high quality soccer.”
The women’s national team has four Olympic gold medals and four Women’s World Cup titles. It has never finished any lower than 3rd place in either tournament.
“The great thing about the Women’s World Cup that we have over the men’s is that we are a world power,” Shirah said. “There’s a better chance that we’re going to win and that we’re going to dominate.”
Kyle Stubblefield, 22, a former soccer player, believes the greater hype surrounding the men’s national team results from the greater hype surrounding the men’s World Cup.
“It’s easier to get excited about something when the whole world is excited,” he said.
American fans purchased more tickets to this year’s World Cup than any country but host Brazil, snagging almost 200,000. Argentines, who got the third most of any country, bought just over 60,000, according to FIFA.
Shirah said the high American presence in Brazil and great home support for the men’s national team resulted from the fairly similar time zones between the two countries.
Foudy, however, said the Outlaws deserve a lot of the credit.
“I think the American Outlaw chapters can set soccer apart from all other sports here in the US,” she said. “I hope we will be talking…about how passionate and wonderful [the Outlaws] are in Canada.”