Phoenix Soccer Fans Keep Fingers Crossed For Another Team USA Gold

By Annika Cline
Published: Thursday, August 11, 2016 - 5:20pm
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
American Outlaws Phoenix hosts watch parties at Tilted Kilt Pub in downtown Phoenix.

Soccer fans are out in force in Phoenix to watch the U.S. women’s team compete in Rio. The team has won gold in the past three Olympics, and fans are hoping for another triumph.   

If you haven’t been keeping up with soccer in the Games, here’s a recap: 

“Our men’s team actually didn’t qualify for the Olympics, so that was kind of a dagger,” explained soccer fan Tison Gill. 

It was tough for fans like Gill to see the U.S. men’s team lose their qualifying games and miss out on Rio. But Gill and other fans gladly cheered on the women’s team at a watch party Tuesday at Tilted Kilt pub in Phoenix.

And though the women are all the way in Rio, there’s a feeling of connection to the players.

“Julie Johnston, she went to Dobson High School, which is here in Arizona,” Gill said. “And I actually went to that school. So it’s cool to cheer her on because I know that she went to my high school.”  

And there are some new players to get to know better. In the second quarter, 18-year-old Mallory Pugh scored a goal to bring the team to a 2-1 lead.  

“They’re winning their games. They’ve won two games and this is their third game in their bracket,” said Nicole Leschack. She’s been watching the team year-round since she was a little girl.

“Rapinoe is my favorite player,” she said, referencing midfielder Megan Rapinoe.

Tuesday they took on Team Colombia in their last game before the quarterfinals. Leschack and her friend Maggie Goldenberger snacked on nachos and fries with their eyes glued to the large screen at the front of the restaurant. Goldenberger said she’s more of a casual fan, but she feels it’s important to support women's teams in general.

“Like in college I played sports and so I’d always support all the other women’s teams,” she said. “It’d always be that the men got a lot more support and I feel like the same thing just continues on.” 

But not so much with this soccer team. Sports Media Watch reports nearly 3.6 million viewers tuned into NBCSN for Tuesday’s game against Colombia, topping all of the team’s 2012 Olympic ratings, except for the final game. The women’s team is entering this Olympics on the heels of a World Cup win last year, making them an even bigger force to cheer for.

“Everyone’s out to get us,” said Ryan Shirah, who runs the Phoenix chapter of American Outlaws, a national movement to drum up a soccer fandom in the U.S. 

“So we’re like the big, 800-pound Gorilla that everyone’s trying to take down. And that’s kind of different for Americans in soccer,” he said.

The American Outlaws are about 500 members strong in Phoenix. They organize watch parties like the one at Tilted Kilt. Shirah said getting together to cheer the national team is a fun way to watch, but it’s also a way to grow the sport at home.

“We have a lot of young daughters who come out and watch, and they’re usually the ones that are heavily involved - they’re playing on club teams, or they’re playing in youth programs. And it’s important for them to see, oh my gosh, look at all the support for a sport that I play, and I think that’s very empowering,” he said. 

A goal by Colombia in the final minutes of the game had fans on the edge of their seats. The 2-2 draw wasn’t what they were hoping for, but it sure made for exciting viewing and it might rally more support on the home front for the team’s quarterfinal match against Sweden Friday. 

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