American fans captivated by US team’s World Cup run

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) – The bald man came dressed head to toe and full of American spirit. Red, white and blue bandanas, mismatched stars and stripes socks, trousers that could be swimming socks perfect for a summer barbecue.

Philip Labas proudly wore a United States men’s soccer team jersey Saturday as he attended the 18th game of his first trip to the World Cup. He was part of the American Outlaws, the team’s official fan group, and they had gathered under the Aspire Tower to march as a group to their seats inside the Khalifa International Stadium.

Labas’ role was to scare the crowd. He sang and danced with the friends he’s gathered during his years of supporting USA soccer, and as the men’s team advanced to the round of 16, Labas was their loudest cheerleader.

The currently unemployed Chicago resident was supposed to be looking for cyber security work during his downtime in Doha, but he was having way too much fun chanting “USA!” and singing “When the Yanks Come Marching In” to all the American fans. Even before the 3-1 win by the Netherlands ended the team’s run at the World Cup, Labas had already extended his arrangements into next week because he was certain the United States would beat the Dutch.

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American viewers watched the first three games in record numbers in the United States to watch the second-youngest team at the World Cup, a group that helped unite a fractured nation for two weeks.

“Their spirit, their grit, their intensity, the friendship they show each other, and in the grand scheme of things, they’re really friendly people,” Labas said. “There is one focus, one purpose, they are all pulling for each other and I think each of them would run through each other’s walls.

“And that’s America, right?” Labas located. “Different backgrounds, different people come together for one purpose, and that’s one of the things that connects this team. I mean, I’m with two guys from different parts of Florida, one guy from Minneapolis, I’m from Chicago, and we’re rooming together in Qatar. We’ve spent the last 2½ weeks together just loving life and this team in love.”

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Among the crowd that marched with Labas into the stadium were US servicemen from nearby Al Udeid Air Force Base, a young couple from Texas, two friends from Redwood City, California, and a Ugandan woman who now lives in Qatar and was … not. He even likes soccer but he got really upset by the American team.

“​​​​I got the tickets to come to the game and I’m very happy,” said Mastula Kyongo, who wore a bright red tie, an official Team USA shirt and a scarf decorated with the American flag over her shoulders. “They have a young, beautiful team and I love everything about them.”

The United States failed to qualify for the World Cup four years ago, and few of its 26-man squad had ever experienced such American pride. They received messages from their former hometowns, learned about breaks in class work so students could watch their games, and saw social media posts from watch parties across the United States.

“The support has been amazing. The amount of people who have reached out to me before this event, to these games,” said US captain Tyler Adams after the loss to the Netherlands. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our American fans, the American fans who traveled all the way, the American fans back home. Hopefully we gave them something to be excited about moving forward.”

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Heather Holland and Alejandro Szenkier made the trip to Doha from Dallas to fulfill Szenkier’s lifelong dream of attending the World Cup. He is originally from Uruguay and the closeness of this World Cup allowed them to make the trip, see two games a day, and get away from the United States of America.

Szenkier wore the American flag as the traditional headgear of the Arab Gulf and insisted that the United States, together with winger Christian Pulisic, is developing as a team that will solve the world soccer stage.

“He’s probably the best US player in history,” Szenkier said. “This will be a very good team four years from now and will help develop a generation for American soccer.”


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