The Army of Outlaws Supporting AmericaDespite differences, Sam’s Army and the American Outlaws share a harmonious relationship supporting the U.S. National Teams
by Herb Scribner | Wednesday, February 08, 2012
Fans congregate together in the stands, cheering on their country – the United States of America -- with “USA! USA! USA!” chants echoing throughout the stadium. They watch their love and passion, the US Men’s National Team, represent them on the soccer pitch. Every game a colorful passion-infused mixture of battle, spectacle and festival.
And the supporter stands aren’t just filled with the common fan. Some are a part of an Army and others, the generally younger ones, are simply Outlaws.
An outlaw is a rowdy character that contemptuously walks just beyond the line of the law. An army, by contrast, is a united front with camaraderie against, or for, a certain cause.
But for the American Outlaws and Sam’s Army, the two biggest unofficial supporters groups of the US National Teams, such concise definitions don’t exist. Its clear however that they share the same mission: to support the United State Men’s, and sometimes Women’s, National Teams.
Sam’s Army was founded following the successful hosting of the 1994 FIFA World Cup by the USA. According to its dated website, Sam’s Army got its start when two fans from Buffalo, N.Y., began the soccer-fan movement through a fanzine. With time the group built up and it made its debut at the U.S. vs. Nigeria match in Foxboro, Mass. It slowly but surely grew from there and became the largest and most dominant fan group presence at U.S.A matches. Now the supporters group claims to have over 1,000 members at home national team games and a total membership of over 17,000 members.
But about 12 years being the sole big kid on the block, Sam’s Army was joined by another group: the American Outlaws. A young upstart with lots of fresh ideas and youthful optimism.
The Outlaws also began on a very local level of support, though this time more centrally, in the unlikely soccer hotbed of Lincoln, Neb. Local USMNT supporters gathered at bars and journeyed to as many games as they could. Eventually their chapter became plural, the membership became national and its numbers swelled to over 6,000. The rare birth of a national supporters group had happened for a second time in newly soccer fertile America.
With the national team fanscape occupied by one older and one newer body, I wanted to interview both sets of leadership to discuss their similarities and differences and get both of their viewpoints on national team issues. Unfortunately, numerous requests by phone and email to Sam’s Army for an interview were not returned.
Gratefully, I had a chance to speak with American Outlaws’ president Korey Donahoo recently to discuss both of the organizations and American national team support.
“There was nothing for us to do. We felt we had something to offer,” said Donahoo on the Outlaws’ beginnings. In time, and using the new advancements of social media and internet universality, the newly formed non-profit organization decided to spread its reaches far beyond the boundaries of the Cornhusker State. And now, five years from its inception, American Outlaws chapters span the entire nation.
“We do stuff every game no matter what. We’re about consistency where we can be at every game,” said Donahoo.
He discussed American Outlaws’ goals of building a more significant fanbase in the U.S.: “Our motto is to unite and strengthen U.S. fans,” said Donahoo. “[To get them] all on the same page cause there’s strength in numbers. [It’s about] getting all fans on the same pages [and] getting them to be fans of the U.S. team.”
Aside from just adding numbers to the stands, there have been bigger goals set in place by the supporters group that might take a few more years to fully develop.
“One large goal of ours is to have stadiums with everyone standing the whole game. Also to have an entire stadium participate in songs,” said Donahoo.
Donahoo and I talked about how American Outlaws is organized, with various semi-autonomous local chapters in a very American collegiate fraternity-like structure. Although he admitted that the fraternal configuration helped out the non-profit organization, he also said that none of the founding members had participated in fraternities when they attended the University of Nebraska.
When Donahoo and the rest of the upstart American Outlaws started flocking to USMNT games, the elder Sam’s Army was always present. And he said that in the beginning, the Army outnumbered the Outlaws. But now, according to Donahoo, American Outlaws outnumber the Army, having about 1,000 members consistently at each U.S.A. home game.
As I anticipated, Donahoo said that the Outlaws attract a “younger, college-y type.” Reread my opening definition of an outlaw to understand the type of people the group attracts.
He went on to say that both Sam’s Army and American Outlaws work together in the stands and that despite bandanas worn by some of the Outlaws, there isn’t really any way to distinguish one supporters group from the other.
One commonality between Sam’s Army and the American Outlaws is the fact that neither is an official supporters group of the U.S. Soccer Federation, as they already have their own artificially spawned official supporters club.
According to Donahoo, the Outlaws have no intention of ever becoming an official supporters group with the team. “We have no desire to be an official group. We don’t want to be under any guidance,” he said.
And with no guidance, the American Outlaws don’t have to tow the party line of what the USSF does with various signings and decisions that the federation makes.
He also wisely said that the Outlaws don’t have official opinions on matters such as which soccer jersey color the USMNT should wear or other divisive issues that could potentially split the membership or create a rift between the organization and The Fed.
“We have our own personal opinions, regardless even if we’re not into a decision U.S. Soccer makes. We encourage members to communicate better,” said Donahoo.
I do plan on talking to Sam’s Army in the future, as I’d like to get their views as well. But it was intriguing to talk to Donahoo and get a grasp of the newfound spirit the Outlaws bring to each and every Nats game.
It’s certainly special that the U.S.A. can now claim to have two big supporters groups at their matches. One the older, wiser, founding flag-bearer a bit more conservative group clutching its trailblazing past. The other, a hipper, more youthfully daring group who embraces technology and sees no limits for their support or their nation's success.
And with the trajectory that American soccer is on, this patriotic Army of Outlaws just might get more red-white-and-blue siblings in the future.