COLUMBUS, Ohio — U.S. Soccer fandom is going next level ahead of Tuesday’s huge U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier here (8 p.m. ET, ESPN, Unimas). There will be more than 9,000 members of hardcore U.S. supporters groups in the stands tonight, an all-time record, and one of the big historical take-aways from this game will be the pro-U.S. passion in the stands.
Most of those 9,000 will be members of the American Outlaws, the fast-growing supporters group that hosts a night-before party in advance of every U.S. home game. On Monday night, I made a stop at the AO party at the Fourth Street Bar & Grill near the Ohio State campus, and it was the biggest single AO event I have ever seen.
Out front it looked like an overflowing bar crowd. Out back, where a giant American flag had been unfurled from the balcony, it looked like a good old no-holds-barred college house party. Alexi Lalas and Rob Stone spoke to the masses from the balcony, Evita-style, and the DJ-led music got people thumping on the dance floor.
As usual, everyone was extremely friendly, and as one person said to me, “It’s not all dudes this time!”
What’s clear to me is this: U.S. soccer fandom is starting to reach a critical mass, and it now includes a lot of young professionals and college students who like to have a good time, have the time and money to travel and enjoy making a lot of noise and support their national team. Already the American Outlaws have three charter airplanes full of members (with a long waiting list) that will travel to Brazil for next year’s World Cup. It sounds like the trip of a lifetime.
And on Tuesday night, if the U.S. can beat Mexico and Honduras can get a result at home against Panama, that trip to Brazil will be guaranteed.