As you may or may not know, most of the writing I do for SB Nation is over at Sounder at Heart. As a result, I've attended many Sounders games and even stood and sang with ECS on several occasions. I've come to expect big, loud crowds at which the bulk of the stadium is standing throughout the entire match. Just the other night, I had covered a match that was attended by more than 53,000 people.
I tell you this, because that was where my benchmark was set. My expectation going into Tuesday's United States-Panama match was that it would probably fall somewhere below those previous standards.
Clearly, I was looking at it all wrong.
What I experienced while sitting in the lower part of section 121 -- right in the heart of of the massive south end of CenturyLink Field that American Outlaws was able to fill with about 3,000 fans -- was something entirely different. I say this as someone who would normally never literally wear his patriotism on his lapel (if I actually ever had a lapel), and yet here I was wearing a USA shirt with an American flag bandana wrapped around my head. I have to imagine many of the people in attendance would have fallen into the same boat. And yet, almost every fan in attendance proudly held up a red, white and blue scarf during the introductions, creating a sea of red the likes of which our players had probably never seen.
The sense of unity was only amplified in the supporters' section. While I saw many familiar faces, there were a lot more people who were clearly there for the first time. They wore shirts and scarves announcing their membership in any number of American Outlaw chapters throughout the country. A few sported hats or other emblems declaring their various club allegiances. But all those differences were put aside for at least the past few days.
This was perhaps best illustrated when fans of the Sounders and Timbers literally threw their arms around each other to do an American-themed pogo:
There were smaller examples, too. Although the tifo was officially organized by AO Seattle and most of the heavy lifting was done by members of ECS, there was no question that it was designed entirely with the idea of celebrating the country's soccer history and not Seattle. This was what they produced:
In case you're wondering, that's five main hand-painted banners that show the various crests of the United States throughout the years that read "USSF created," "USA 1-0 ENG," "Host World Cup," "Landon lifts us," and a Banksy-inspired figure painting what appears to be a "W." Might it be the first letter of "World Cup"? No one is saying, but it was a clever element that allowed us to wonder.
Behind it is another series of three text banners that reads "100 years of history/Our time starts now." Behind those are about 1,500 individual colored cards making up the red, white and blue stripes. It was a display that compares favorably with anything ECS has produced for the Sounders.
While those all made for nice visuals, the true goose bump moments came at other times. The first was when the supporters started the "boom, boom clap" that normally welcomes the Sounders to the pitch. It's a cheer that might be a bit lacking in creativity, but it allowed the entire stadium to join in and really showcased the power of the enormous crowd.
As the game entered the 85th minute or so, there was another shining example that I will always remember. Earlier in the match, one of the capos wondered aloud whether or not it was worth trying to start a "United/States" call-and-repeat chant. At the time, it was decided that it might not work. But as the game was winding down, they decided to give it another try.
The supporters screamed out "United" and a few attentive fans elsewhere in the stadium called back "States." That was enough encouragement to continue. "United" rang out again and was this time met by a much louder "States." By the third time, the crowd had picked it up and the chant went on for a solid minute at least.
The fact that the United States was winning the match handily at that point probably helped the festive atmosphere, but it really was an amazing night. Sure, the individuals songs were often recycled versions of ones ECS and Timbers Army normally do, there were a few lulls and there was definitely some grumbling that there weren't more American Outlaw standards being sung, but the level of coordination and activity was still very impressive when you consider many of the people in attendance had probably never participated in AO events before this week. (It should also be noted that the first song of the match was a play on a tune used by Timbers Army, "Onward USA." This was hardly an accident, as TA and ECS worked together to create a "set list" that gave a decidedly Northwest supporters feel to the section.)
And it should be said, there were still some clever situation-specific tunes that made their way in. The "Split your country in two" that was at the beginning of this article stood out for me. There was another taunt of "You couldn't build your own canal" and, of course, the "We are going to Brazil" chant that the ESPN broadcast really seemed to appreciate.
From start to finish, it was an absolutely amazing experience and one that I won't soon forget. Hopefully, there will be more where that came from in the near future.