I bought my tickets the very first moment I could. Instead of just purchasing my typical seats for the match, I decided to treat myself, and my friends who wanted to go, to some special seats. Section 120, front row. We checked out the view after the Orlando City vs. FC Dallas match and knew we made the right call in getting those seats. The next problem was going to be what to wear.
We have all seen the multitude of imaginative characters that make their way to USMNT matches. Folks in full Revolutionary War regalia, tons of spandex and bandannas, Captain America and Wonder Woman, and my personal favorite, Teddy Goalsevelt. We, as in my friends and I, didn’t just want to show up in a USA kit shirt, we wanted to go all out, and represent America as hard and as loud as we could. I think the photo below lets you know, just how ’Murica we were.
This was our first chance to experience a USMNT match. It was a World Cup qualifier. It was in our hometown, in our club’s home stadium, and we wanted to help make sure that we were part of solidifying Orlando City Stadium as a fortress for U.S. Soccer.
I arrived at my prepaid parking lot about 3:30 p.m. The streets were already teeming with fans making their way towards either the Church Street area or towards the stadium.
I hopped out of my car, threw on my jacket and hat, made sure my car was locked, and started walking towards the stadium. Within five steps, I could hear the workers at the construction lot across the street from where I parked yelling at me. A gentleman standing up on a crane even yelled at everyone on the job site to stop what they were doing and look. It was a bit surreal, and the suit was doing its job, but this was just the beginning.
It normally takes me about 10 to 15 minutes to walk from my favorite place to park to the area around the stadium, but not today. I bumped into a very nice guy from New York in his own version of an American party outfit — we didn’t hold the NYCFC patch on his jacket against him on a day like that — and he asked if I knew where the American Outlaw party was. This was, in fact, where I was headed, so we teamed up, started chatting, and attempted to make our way to the AO party up the street.
Remember how I said 10-15 minutes? It took us about 45 minutes to go about five blocks. From every other person wanting to take photos, to film crews, to vendors, to badged photographers, to more interviews, it honestly felt like every five steps we were asked to stop, and it was amazing. Moms, dads, kids, couples, USA fans, Panama fans, random tourists who had no idea what was going on — we took photos with all of them, and loved every one of them!
We said our goodbyes upon reaching the AO party, and I met up with my compatriots to enjoy some snacks, some Liquid Vinyl, and just soak in all of the American Outlaw experience we could. We picked up a bandanna from the AO merchandise area, had a ton more photos taken of our little crew, and met people from about every state in the union.
The most amazing thing was the day was all about the USMNT. Introductions always included which MLS team you followed, usually followed by a couple very quick quips about how any other day this would mean a verbal assault because you like Team X and I am an Orlando City fan, and then it was all about team, and togetherness, and unity. The USMNT needed us, the fans, to be united behind them today, and collectively that was the one ideal that was obvious. Everyone was there to support the men’s team, and rivalries across MLS were not even a consideration on a day like this. This was a day for one massive Red, White & Blue celebration.
We walked around a bit more to find some other friends that were tailgating a few lots away. More pictures, more pictures, and more pictures. We enjoyed a few more tasty adult beverages while discussing any number of subjects, and more pictures. Then we saw the smoke pop, and the low drone of the beginning of chanting could be heard in the same direction. So we locked up vehicles and made a dash to catch up with the American Outlaws as they marched to the match. The excitement was getting hard to contain. The match was almost upon us.
Once in our seats, it became all too real. We made it. We survived the gauntlet of cameras and cell phones, news crews, and microphones, and were finally where we needed to be — front row, staring down on the pitch as the boys warmed up. Just as soon as it had begun, the ref blew the final whistle and the match was over. I don’t think I have ever heard that stadium as loud as I did that night. It took two days for my ears — and vocal cords — to recover. I was sore the next day, all over, and loved it.
The conclusion to all of this is simple: I was hooked on soccer before, but now the addiction is even greater. My outfit has been carefully put away, waiting for the next match. I have already looked into the USMNT schedule moving forward, and when, not if, we punch our ticket to Russia tonight, I will be looking at a family trip for World Cup 2018. It was an experience that I am already looking to be a part of again, however, this time I need to remember to take more photos for myself.
If you were a witness to the majesty that was USMNT vs. Panama, comment! I would love to hear more reaction to the City Beautiful becoming a fortress for U.S. Soccer. I think we showed the USMNT exactly what needed to be shown, considering they walked away with three points after tying Panama the last four times they have faced off. And hats off to the Panama fans! Even in defeat, you stayed strong and enjoyed the moment, and for that, I commend you! Also, if you have a picture of me, please share it. I still cannot believe that these are the only photos I came home with.