With Eastern Iowa’s outdoor fields covered with snow and ice and most cleats and pads put away for the season, it may not seem like the time of year to talk soccer.
Fans, know, though that the World Cup in Brazil is just six months away. And at least one group of fans in Cedar Rapids is already counting down the days.
In September, a group of USA men’s soccer fans here formed the 94th chapter of the American Outlaws, a group founded in 2007 in Lincoln, Neb.
They wear bandannas — signifying their outlaw status, and cheer and chant in stadiums and bars across the country.
They represent, members say, a chance for sports fans separated by allegiance to a city or state to cheer for one team as a united nation.
“I’m a big Red Sox fan, people have their teams that they support,” said Zach Schladetzky, the vice president of the American Outlaw Cedar Rapids chapter. “But, when talking about international soccer, it’s everyone in the country’s team.
The process to become an official chapter begins once a group has 25 paying members. Those members pay $25 each year to the American Outlaws national organization. Each new chapter must also select a “home base” bar that agrees to host members for each televised match for the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team.
There are 35 members in the Cedar Rapids group, which meets at Jerseys, 200 First Ave. NE.
They’ll be there at 5 p.m. June. 16 when USA takes on Ghana in the World Cup.
“I see soccer as a growing phenomenon,” says Jersey’s manager Tory Thompson. “ Four years ago it had a bit of boom as well. But now, soccer has begun to grow even more. It’s good to be on the ground floor of it.”
In Iowa City a group of about 30 regularly attends American Outlaw events at Donnelly’s Irish Pub. That group is in the process of becoming an official chapter.
Paul Hendricksen, American Outlaws Iowa City chapter member, says the passion of soccer fans is contagious.
“When I was growing up I used to hate it, then when I really took the time to watch my first game in the 2006 World Cup I became hooked,” he said.
The American Outlaws has more than 100 chapters nationwide. Chapters rely heavily on social media — find both Iowa City and Cedar Rapids groups on Facebook and Twitter — to spread the word about events.
Not only is it a chance to cheer on one’s country, the American Outlaws organization provides an opportunity to connect with others who share the same passion for soccer.
The national organization designates sections in stadiums for supporters and group members frequently travel to games.
Chapter President Derek Oja and Schladetzky and more than 20 members of the Cedar Rapids group attended the Kansas City World Cup Qualifier match when the United States played against Jamaica at Kansas City Sporting Park earlier this year.
“The game atmosphere is unlike any other sport,” said Oja. “We don’t sit and just cheer whenever something good happens, we stand from the moment we get to our seats until the final whistle, cheering, chanting and waving your scarf and flag the entire time.”
“To us it’s more about that passion the people bring to games,” said Schladetzky. “It’s as if nothing more could matter in the world because it’s your own country that is playing and has a chance to do something.”