Soccer — or football as the rest of the world calls it — is considered a religion in many places, but the U.S. has traditionally not been grouped with these countries. However, with soccer becoming increasingly more popular, many eager fans are hopeful that this sport will soon overpower the rest and become dominant in the U.S.
After the 2-1 victory over Ghana last week, many hollering U.S. fans traveled from Natal and gathered in Manaus at the Fan HQ party hosted by the U.S. Soccer Federation in the hopes that the U.S. MNT will beat Portugal on Sunday and survive the so-called “Group of Death.”
With colorful ribbons littering the ceiling and U.S. signs and banners showering the walls and stage, fans enjoyed the evening with food and drinks, getting in the mood to cheer on their favorite U.S. MNT players. The common U.S. chant, “I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN. I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN” is easily heard above all others at the FanHQ party in Manaus on matchday minus-one.
For those unable to attend, GloboTV gave a live spot at the venue that was aired to millions across the world. With high spirits, an optimistic, cheerful tone was set early and spread to the Arena da Amazonia Sunday evening.
Tom Santos, 26, from Recife, Brazil, organized the Fan HQ parties throughout the first round of the World Cup. He believes that the decision to organize the event was simple, in that he wanted to do it to help out U.S. Soccer and its fan base. He was excited to see the event at full capacity with fans enjoying the party in a safe environment.
“You see families of guys and girls that want to play soccer and you see little kids coming to events like today, being on their Dad’s shoulders just screaming and that’s something that you know these kids are going to take away with them,” Santos said. “They are going to take that back to the United States, and they are going to love it. It’s great as a Brazilian and having our number one sport as soccer to see people doing this is really good and I appreciate it.”
For Santos, targeting a young audience today will ensure an invested interest in the future.
The Brazil World Cup is many U.S. fans first time in attendance. Jeff Burk, 41, from Philadelphia, has seen a growth in soccer in more of a personal way. Playing as a kid and having parents that never played, Burk remembers broadcasts of games in 1990 and recalls the TV stations cutting out during a play, as they did not know how to broadcast a game. Now, with his son playing, he sees more of a growth and general knowledge of the sport throughout the country.
“They get it; they understand,” Burk said. “When I first started going to U.S. soccer matches, they didn’t know when the right time was to cheer, they didn’t know how to cheer, they cheered like they were at an American football game or a baseball game. Now, the atmosphere is great, it’s very European. They get it; it’s awesome.”
Burk believes the growth of soccer in America has to do with social media, and the ability for fans to view a more personal side of players.
“I think the U.S. loves events like this and we travel well,” Burk said. “I think there’s a lot of passion for the game too. I think that people actually know who the players are and they’re interested because of Jurgen Klinsmann.”
In fact, the U.S. was ranked second in the standing for the most purchased tickets at the World Cup and the turnout to the event at the U.S. FanHQ party was a clear reflection of this. With over 1,400 fans in attendance, large crowds of patient fans waited to join in the excitement and wrapped around the building.
By 10 p.m., the hall was filled to capacity and chants of pride as well as a choir of blissful fans singing the national anthem could be heard far outside the venue. A massive screen, first showing the Nigeria vs. Bosnia match, displayed highlight clips of all the players while a DJ played such songs as “We Are One” by Pitbull and “Waka Waka” by Shakira, both official FIFA World Cup songs.
One group of fans that helped bring spirit and energy were the American Outlaws, the unofficial U.S. MNT supporters group dedicated to uniting and strengthening the U.S. fan base.
American Outlaw Darrell Balzina has been an avid supporter of the U.S. MNT for years and was one of 50 Outlaws that followed the team to South Africa in 2010. At the time, only 50 people went to the event as part of their group. Just four short years later, when the group traveled to Brazil, their number multiplied to more than 500 animated and enthusiastic fans.“Then, you go to World Cup qualifying matches and you see more and more support as you go into each match so you can see its growing just as far as following your team, following the U.S. just in the States, just in other areas of CONCACAF where their crowds are getting larger too,” Balzina said. “That’s the one big thing from going to South Africa to this, it’s a whole different story.”
Malachi Bussey, 27, has been collecting footage for the “American Fútbol” documentary, which chronicles the growth of American soccer since 2005. He believes that the growth of soccer in American leagues speaks volumes.
“A simple look at the youth leagues that we have right now and the individuals who have both U.S. nationality and German nationality that choose to play for the U.S. teams, Julian Green for instance,” Bussey said. “That is what I would point to as an example of how up and coming the USA teams are. I really see a bright future for us probably within the next five to seven years we’ll be a contender past quarterfinal stages.”
Bussey is definitely not the only U.S. fan to believe that the U.S. MNT is heading in the right direction, gaining supporters all the while. American Outlaw Zach Garza believes the U.S. is moving in the right direction in gaining more notoriety for the game and this is the best American team that has been to a World Cup.
“I think the sport has come back into the foreground for respectable sports. I think people are starting to deviate from the big four that were basketball, hockey, football and baseball. I think that you have seen in the last decade, way more inclusion with the Outlaws,” Garza said. “We are in a very good place right now. We finally beat Ghana. USA is finally staking their claim on the global scale. I think its just going to grow.”