HARRISON, New Jersey - They never sit down. Even after the final whistle and on the bus ride home, they’re still on their feet singing.
They chant until they’re hoarse. They drink until they’re slurry. Their drum is the pulse that beats for the red, white and blue. And their energy and love for the sport has breathed life into the beautiful game, especially in Baltimore.
The American Outlaws Baltimore Brigade is a chapter of the largest soccer support group in the country and with just over a week to go until the kick-off of World Cup interest in the game and the group’s popularity is growing.
“Obviously it spikes a lot during the World Cup, but I think every time the World Cup comes around it draws more people in that stick around,” Josh Ganzermiller, president of the American Outlaws Baltimore Brigade, said.
Six busloads of American Outlaws and Screaming Eagles (D.C. fans), clad in red, white and blue jerseys, t-shirts and bandanas converged on Harrison, New Jersey for the United States men’s national team pre-World Cup friendly against Turkey Sunday at Red Bull Arena. The USMNT went on to a convincing 2-1 win .
The brigade, along with the Screaming Eagles, organize road trips for all of the United States matches – friendlies and qualifiers. When the games are too far away to reach by bus, they host watch parties at soccer bars in Baltimore.
They are the wild group that buys out the stands directly behind the goal line and start the chant “I believe… I believe that we… I believe that we will win… I believe that we will win…” that echoes throughout the stadium.
At 300 solid members and a following of over a thousand, the Brigade represents the most devoted fans to the sport in a city that is routinely ranked among the top five regions for television viewership.
The 2014 World Cup draw drew a record audience back in December 2013. Baltimore was ranked the second largest viewing audience behind Las Vegas and beating out Miami, Cincinnati and Orlando, according to WorldSoccerTalk.com .
In June 2013, Baltimore ranked third in the country for more viewers of the United States’ World Cup qualifier against Panama, according to SounderAtHeart.com .
That’s not bad for a city that doesn’t have a professional team in Major League Soccer.
“There is just something about it that captures me,” Ganzermiller said. “There is something beautiful about the game. There’s no stoppage. There is no commercial timeouts. It’s very free flowing. There is just something beautiful about it.”
ABC2 News rode along with the Outlaws on their way to the United States World Cup warm-up against Turkey, a team that finished third of 32 teams in the 2002 World Cup. A lot however has changed in the 12 years since the tournament in South Korea and Japan.
The U.S. comfortably controlled the tempo of the game with goals from Fabian Johnson and Clint Dempsey. The team gave up a late goal from a handball in the box that drew a penalty kick in the 90th minute.
But the Outlaws were heartened by the display after the Yanks struggled against a stingy Azerbaijani side that only gave up two late goals.
“They can make it out of the group. The first match against Ghana is everything,” Ganzermiller said. “I don’t think the quarterfinals are out of the realm of possibility.”
Ghana has infamously knocked the United States out of the last two tournaments. The United States will face them again for the team’s Cup opener on June 16 in the Estadio das Dunas in Natal, Brazil. Here's the USMNT full World Cup schedule .
Aboard the bus with the Outlaws
A sizeable contingent of the Baltimore Brigade is heading to the game, undeterred by recent unrest in Brazil over the cost of the World Cup and speculation that with just over a week to go, a number of stadiums won’t be ready to fill capacity seating .
“Most of the protests have been fairly peaceful. … They’re not targeting the people that are coming there,” Ganzermiller said. “They just want to get the message out.”
Ganzermiller sat toward the back of the bus en route to Harrison, New Jersey for the game against Turkey. A rowdy group of diehards stocked the bus with two community coolers full of beer.
“I want to make a donation,” said Tim Cosgrove, a South Baltimore resident who brought his wife Jessica Cosgrove to her first soccer match.
“What kind of beer is it?” questioned Mike Pellegrini.
Tim made the mistake of offering Corona, a Mexican beer.
“Fat chance that’s getting in here!” Pellegrini playfully screamed.
The apparent hatred for the United States’ North American rivals overshadowed the love of cold beer on a hot Sunday. Let that sink in. The last hour of the four-hour bus ride was scored by the all-American chanting and partying in the aisles. The first beer was cracked at about 7 a.m. Another bus in the convoy came prepared with a keg.
A composed Tim Cosgrove shrugged off the slight and started a chant of his own: “Let’s beat butter ball! … Let’s beat butter ball.”
Tim, a season ticket holder for the Baltimore Ravens, said he preferred
soccer matches because NFL games “tend to be more hostile.” His assertion would later be put to the test when the couple’s intoxicated friend spilled beer down his wife’s back on the bus ride home.
“I saw the email that said smoke bombs and I got a little worried,” Jessica said.
The club took the extra step of sending a “CYA” email with expectations and warnings to anyone who would get too drunk. The message warned that cleaning costs aboard the brand new bus (at about 20,000 miles) would range between $250 and $500.
At about the halfway point of the trip north, Mike Starks would start sharing the mini-bar he packed in his bag.
“Has anyone reached a point in their life where they need a little vodka?” the Baltimore resident, by way of Oakland, California, said.
Starks passed around a handle of Smirnoff and mixers. He too wasn’t worried about the protests in Brazil .
“It’s a little murdery,” Starks acknowledged. “[But] what better to place to watch the World Cup? You know, aside from the civil unrest. I’m from Oakland. There’s a lot of civil unrest there. It’s worse than Baltimore.”
“I’ve got my wits about me,” he continued. “I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Tijuana.”
He offered the following words of wisdom for wary travelers.
“If you’re going somewhere and you start to see less women and less restaurants. Typically, you’re headed to a bad area.”
By the time the bus reached New Jersey traffic, Andrew Murphy, of Frederick, was leading the charge, leading the bus through all of the Outlaws' chants:
I believe that…
I believe that we…
I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!
Murphy would later go on to take command of the Outlaws’ stadium section with his drum. (See video above)
We love ya… We love ya…
And where you go we’ll follow… We’ll follow… We’ll follow
‘Cuz we support the U.S… The U.S. … The U.S. …
And that’s the way we like it! We like it! We like it!
Aboard the bus, one of Murphy’s friends suggested he should moon the police officers outside. He didn’t .
The drinking didn’t end when the final whistle was blown and neither did the chanting. The words however had changed.
I believe that…
I believe that we…
I believe that we have won! I believe that we have won! I believe that we have won.
“This is the norm with the outlaws,” Ganzermiller said. “This is how it is every game, whether we’re playing Norway in January or Turkey right before the World Cup. It’s pretty much the same.”
The United States men’s national team next plays Nigeria at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida at 6 p.m. on June 7 for the final warm-up match before the World Cup.
The Outlaws will be hosting a watch party at Slainte Irish Pub in Fells Point, Baltimore.
“And it’s going to be packed,” Ganzermiller said.