As soon as Fabian Johnson and Michael Bradley linked up for a bit of first-half magic, the 25 spectators at The Partisan broke into a round of high-fives and song.
The singing and chanting didnt subside until the final whistle blew on the U.S. mens national teams 2-1 World Cup tuneup victory over Turkey on June 1.
While the experience didnt quite compare with being there live, the colorful jerseys, bandanas, scarves and characters involved made it the next-best thing. The afternoon of merriment was hosted by the Merced chapter of the American Outlaws, an official fan group dedicated to the U.S. mens soccer team.
The turnout was a solid showing for an early Sunday afternoon, but AO Merced president and founder Brian Gresham believes the party was just an appetizer for the World Cup, which begins June 12. The group will get together for one final friendly as the U.S. takes on Nigeria at 3 p.m. today, and then gather for every U.S. World Cup match during the next month with The Partisan serving as the home base.
Anyone that wants to watch a game and have a good time is welcome to come. You dont have to be a member, but we bet youll want to be after experiencing one of the games, Gresham said. Weve existed for about a year and a half and became an official chapter in January. To become an official chapter, you need 40 paid members and a bar thats dedicated to show the national team every time they play.
Ive been playing soccer in Merced for the last 35 years, so I know how deep that culture runs in this area. Getting 40 members wasnt going to be a problem. Finding a bar willing to commit to showing soccer every time the U.S. plays was definitely the trickier part.
Gresham, a former coffee shop owner and current CrossFit Merced coach, called upon former business acquaintances to make it happen.
R.C. Essig was a contact I had from back in the day, Gresham said. Hes one of the co-owners of The Partisan and the 17th Street Public House bars. I called him up right away. Anyone who does business downtown knows what a class guy he is, and he got on board right away.
Merced became the American Outlaws 116th chapter, and as Gresham predicted, their ranks have quickly swelled to more than 50. He believes it will be closer to 75 members by the time the World Cup is over. Hes quick to point out, however, that the groups mission wont end with the tournament.
Be it friendlies, Copa America, World Cup qualifying or the Cup itself, Merceds American Outlaws are in it for the long haul, supporting the team whenever they take the pitch.
The group took advantage of a rare West Coast swing by the national team when it took on Azerbaijan in San Francisco on May 27. The bulk of the chapter made it to Candlestick Park for the match, merging with other Northern California American Outlaw groups to form a red, white and blue undulating mass of humanity in the South end zone. They sang, chanted and danced the team to a 2-0 victory, only using their seats ever so briefly during halftime.
For Gresham, the experience was a dream come true.
Back when I really became a supporter of the national team in the 90s, all we had was Sams Army. It was fun to be a part of, but all they really did was dress goofy, Gresham said.
True soccer fans knew we could do a little more, so Id been looking to start something here in Merced. One of the guys at CrossFit Merced turned me on to the American Outlaws. He was a member of the Modesto chapter, which is a pretty established group. It was exactly what Id been looking for, and I ran with it. Im excited for whats happening now, and I know how much Merced enjoys its soccer, so Im excited for the future.
Im looking forward to the day that The Partisan has to turn people away because weve got it so packed.
Sun-Star staff writer Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.