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SOCCER

These Outlaws do good - in the name of soccer

By - Jul 22, 2017

By Simran Dave/For The Sporting Nation

The booming drums. The bellowing voices. The boisterous crowd. For seven years, the American Outlaws of Phoenix, Arizona have rallied behind U.S. soccer.
From small beginnings, the group has grown to become one of the largest chapters in the nation. It has created a soccer family and a culture of support from the ground up. Now, the Phoenix Outlaws have goals of becoming a community presence and growing the sport of soccer itself.
Kickoff
The Phoenix chapter launched on June 10, 2010 by soccer fans Odeen Domingo and Tony Hernandez. Domingo said Hernandez started the group in preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted by Germany.
He wanted to mobilize U.S. soccer fans before the world's biggest event to cheer on the U.S. Men's National Team,” Domingo said. “I jumped on board on the first day of that World Cup tournament and pretty much ran the chapter for the first four years.”
Initially, Domingo said that the Phoenix chapter had 36 members.
At the time, Phoenix was the fastest city to become an American Outlaws chapter,” Domingo said. “Phoenix was the 26th chapter of the American Outlaws.”
In the early days, Domingo said the small band of supporters gathered at a sports bar on 16th Street to sing and cheer during their watch parties.  The group also made an effort to go out to as many games as they could.
However, Domingo said that the visibility of soccer culture wasn’t in the valley seven years ago, which made it hard for the group to grow quickly. Since then, awareness has increased thanks to the media.
The supporters culture was new in Phoenix and media visibility for soccer, U.S. national soccer teams, soccer supporters culture and what the American Outlaws were doing wasn't as prevalent as they are today,” Domingo said. “With more media visibility for all of those things came more members and more people attending watch parties.”
Social media proved to be one method that the Phoenix chapter could use to attract more members. But Domingo said that the increased attention on soccer by the media was what really drove up interest.
“We did as much social media as we could and tried to be friendly and welcome to everyone who showed up at watch parties,” Domingo said. “It was a slow growth until soccer's visibility in American media dramatically increased before the 2014 World Cup and social media became more widely used.”
A Change of Pace
The chapter had one of its biggest years in 2014 with the combined effects of increased media attention on soccer and buzz from the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. But before the World Cup hit, a spark was ignited in the spring.
In April, a few months just before the World Cup, Mexico came to play a friendly match against the U.S. at University of Phoenix Stadium in nearby Glendale. Domingo said that event was the turning point for the chapter.
It's the biggest rivalry in our region of the world and one of the world's biggest rivalries, period,” Domingo said. “So, having that match being played in our home state helped us gain even more members.”
Supporters didn’t just come to watch soccer, though. Domingo said members came out and wanted to drum, sing and chant for 90 minutes straight. They were passionate about creating a culture of support in Arizona.
When the World Cup came around later that summer, Domingo said the support grew even larger.
“That snowballed toward the 2014 World Cup when media visibility increased 20-fold and we had the largest crowds we've ever had at watch parties,” Domingo said. “We gained more members and we set a watch party atmosphere that is second to none.”
Current Standings 
The passion has never subsided, and since 2014, the chapter has gained hundreds of new members. But the vice president of the chapter, Jon Deal, said he doesn’t measure support through numbers.
It’s one thing to be a paid member and a statistic, but it’s another thing to be passionate about the group,” Deal said. “I can tell you that we are seeing tremendous growth in the passion that is being shown in this chapter.”
Deal said that for the 2014 World Cup that spiked fan interest, the Phoenix Outlaws needed a second bar for their watch party because their home base at the Tilted Kilt in downtown Phoenix hit capacity.
In years past, that kind of raucous support during World Cup wasn’t on the same level for numerous other international tournaments. Deal said that’s changing quickly.
“You are seeing the landscape of support changing,” Deal said. “Prior to the last three years, most fans would tell you that they love the World Cup, and now, they will say that they love watching U.S. soccer.”
With a larger group comes a lot more support. At almost any U.S. game anywhere, there’s always an Outlaw from the Phoenix chapter in attendance, according to Deal. The chapter’s president, Ryan Shirah, said he makes it out to almost every game.
For one match at the Rose Bowl against Mexico, Deal said that the chapter sent a full bus of people to Los Angeles. The goal for Phoenix is to make their presence seen or felt, and the group has invented a few methods to accomplish that.
Currently, in our chapter we have people who dress up as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Captain America, Betsy Ross, and John Paul Jones,” Deal said. “It's basically a soccer convention in our chapter and we love it!”
The patriotic costumes have garnered fame for members of the Phoenix Outlaws, who also arrive to stadiums banging drums. Domingo said both Deal and Shirah are famous among the American Outlaws organization and are frequently shown on television.
The chapter has also created a unique culture within itself by helping bring members together, according to Deal.
We have a small soccer team, kickball team and other events such as beer crawls and holiday parties to make sure that we provide and inclusive feeling of community,” Deal said.
Deal said that his goal is for members to feel like they’re part of a family when they’re with the American Outlaws.
“We want people to talk about how fun the events are, bring their friends to experience it and wear our logo but most importantly, we want people to brag about how amazing this community is and be willing to support.”
Two Teams, One Goal
In seven years, Phoenix has transformed itself from a passionate base of 36 Outlaws to a coalition of costumed patriots. The chapter has created a tight-knit family for U.S. soccer fans, but now aims to become a larger presence in the valley.
Deal said that Phoenix’s goal is to help foster the growth of soccer in the valley and become more involved in the community.
We feel like we do a great job at game day events and within our own promotions, but as we have become a larger chapter we feel like we are under utilizing our influence that we can have in the community,” Deal said. “The next steps for this chapter are to become more of a community presence, such as helping out with the Rising In America project or doing toy drives during our events.”
The American Outlaws aren’t the only ones trying to become more active in the community. Pancho Villa’s Army, the Mexico supporters group, has similar plans.  
Richard Guel, one of the leaders within the Phoenix chapter of Pancho Villa’s Army, said both supporter groups essentially have the same goals.
“Pancho Villa’s Army and the American Outlaws both share the same goals to grow interest in soccer in Phoenix,” Guel said. “There is already a large community, but we believe we can help to bring an MLS team with youth programs to Phoenix.”
Despite the heated rivalry on the pitch, Shirah said the members from both the American Outlaws and Pancho Villa’s Army are very friendly toward each other.
“Certainly, the rivalry is heated, but we have a fantastic relationship with our counterparts at Pancho Villa's Army,” Shirah said.
Deal said that both groups need to work together to accomplish their goals.
 “I will always root for the U.S., but you can't also ignore how their fans impact the growth of soccer in the Phoenix area as well,” Deal said. “When it comes to the growth of soccer, we have to work together to make sure that we support great causes and great organizations that are growing the sport.”
The two organizations have already worked together to support various events in the valley, according to Guel.
“Both entities have supported Phoenix soccer events, from toy, food and clothing drives to tournaments and charity events,” Guel said.  
In the near future, Guel said that both sides are working on an event for Mexico and U.S. supporters to bring the community even closer.
“We are currently planning on a community event for soccer fans in Phoenix,” Guel said. “Although we support different sides, we are all Phoenicians and we want to help grow our communities not only in sport but in education, health and unity.”
Deal shared Guel’s thoughts and has a few plans of his own for the future, including a charity soccer event that includes all of the teams coming together for a common cause.
 “If we can organize something like that and get all the local soccer teams to have some sort of presence, that is where we can really make a difference,” Deal said.
For the Phoenix Outlaws, it’s not just about growing their chapter anymore. Deal says that growing the game of soccer is what’s on the forefront of everyone’s minds now. 

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