AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The Women's World Cup is less than two weeks away. The best players in the world will face off in Canada, so it's time for soccer fans to replace their favorite club jerseys with their national colors. The largest U.S. national soccer fan club will be rocking its red, white and blue. NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji hung out with some of the super fans as they prepare to support the women's team.
SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: They call themselves American Outlaws, AO for short.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, when the yanks.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Oh, when the yanks.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Go marching in.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Go marching in. (Singing) Oh, when the yanks go marching in.
MERAJI: About a hundred AO fans marched into the StubHub Stadium in Carson, Calif., to support the U.S. women against Mexico for a recent World Cup Send-Off Series game.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) We are going. We are going. We are going, Canada.
MERAJI: Yes, the AO will have about 700 members in Canada to cheer on the U.S. women at a World Cup for the first time. They've been chanting USA, USA, for the men's team since 2007, due in large part to this guy.
KOREY DONAHOO: My name is Korey Donahoo, and I'm one of the cofounders of American Outlaws.
MERAJI: 32-year-old Donahoo is a diehard soccer fan, and not from a soccer-loving city like D.C. or Portland. He's from Lincoln, Neb., a football town - American football. Nebraska Cornhuskers, anyone? The closest soccer stadium is four hours away, and Donahoo and his friends have been traveling to watch the U.S. play for years.
DONAHOO: We would let the U.S. soccer roster pretty much dictate our vacations.
MERAJI: The guys lamented the lack of organized tailgates, fan sections or meet-ups to watch games at local bars, so in 2007, when the U.S. men played Brazil in Chicago, they brought folks together for the first official American Outlaws event. Today, there's 180 chapters and about 30,000 members. A bit of pain has accompanied that growth. A couple of former Outlaws accuse the AO of being bro-y and handsy with women. People have been put off by the pro-Americanness of the gatherings, saying at the stadiums or bars, it can devolve into a super negative us-versus-them vibe.
JOHN SANTOS: We ask people all the time - you know, you see something, tell us.
MERAJI: John Santos from the Los Angeles chapter helped organize the American Outlaws tailgate at the U.S.-Mexico sendoff series game. He met his girlfriend at a U.S. women's game event sponsored by the group, and Santos says his chapter does its best to keep things positive.
SANTOS: Don't take it too far. You know, it's just a game. But people on all sides know that the passion takes over. And, you know, they want to see their team win like a Yankees fan wants to see their team beat the Red Sox. We try to police ourselves as best we can - you know, make sure everyone's being safe.
I got no tortillas, but we got buns over here.
MERAJI: On this Sunday, the atmosphere is pretty family-friendly, and Santos says it's like this at most U.S. women's games. Grills sizzle while kids play soccer on the grass.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What? Where you going? Where you going? Oh, my God. Oh, oh, and she scored.
MERAJI: There are folks munching on hot dogs in red, white and blue lucha libre masks and sombreros - 65-year-old American Outlaw Linda Pickle is rocking a red shirt that says dos a cero on it with all the dates that the U.S. beat Mexico 2-to-nothing.
LINDA PICKLE: And that's me right there with a German reporter.
MERAJI: She's showing off her 2014 Men's World Cup photo book, but says she especially loves watching the women play - so much so she had her daughter change her wedding date so it wouldn't coincide with the Women's World Cup Final in 1999. And she's glad the AO is paying more attention to them this year.
PICKLE: We are really pushing to get the women more recognized because they used to kind of ignore it and maybe get four or five people at a viewing party.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Leroux, Leroux, Leroux is on fire. Leroux, Leroux...
MERAJI: The American Outlaws are already practicing specific chants for players who will be taking the world stage in a couple of weeks. This one's for forward number two, Sydney Leroux, who scored two goals in the U.S. women's 5-to-1 victory over Mexico. And the players are totally loving the attention, like team Captain Christie Rampone.
CHRISTIE RAMPONE: The Outlaws are absolutely amazing. We couldn't do it without them. You know, it's the fans that get us going, and it's the inspiration to keep going every day and in training and hopefully winning this World Cup for them.
MERAJI: Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.