Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In Vegas, It's All About The Fans: American Outlaws Rally Coverage

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on The Shin Guardian and was written by Free Beer Movement founder, Dan Wiersema, an attendee and speaker at the event. More coverage of the FBM's speech and presence at the event coming tomorrow.

The old adage “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” shouldn’t hold true when one is talking about the first-ever American Outlaws Soccer Supporters Rally which took place this past weekend. From prime presentations by former USMNT defender Alexi Lalas and FIFA Presidential candidate/Sports Illustrated soccer writer Grant Wahl to the simple act of hanging out with 100 of your closest AO friends, an event like this needs to be talked about from sea to shining sea.

AO's Fearless Leaders: Justin Brunken (VP, left)
and Korey Donahoo (President)
For Outlaws President Korey Donahoo and Vice President Justin Brunken this weekend’s events were the culmination of months and months of leg work finding a location for the rally, nailing down speakers, filling gift bags, and getting sponsorship commitments from companies like Golazo Energy Drinks, Pepsi Max, Parlaid Clothing Co. and Fox Soccer Channel. After all was said and done, a visibly exhausted Brunken acknowledge that every late night was worth it.

“We didn’t really know what to expect,” he said of the rally which was attended by over 80 members of the American Outlaws. “It was surprisingly smooth. It was awesome.”

Brunken said that the Rally’s main goal was to energize their members, network, exchange ideas, and talk about what works (and doesn’t work) for AO without the pressure and hectic schedule that would have accompanied a weekend tied to a National Team game.

“Everyone I talked to had an amazing time,” Brunken added.

The American Outlaws Rally featured speeches and Q & As with the Outlaws leadership, Lalas, Wahl, Little Feet, Free Beer Movement, and a sneak preview of One Goal’s new South Africa film “Laduma”.

Alexi Lalas, duh.
It was Lalas, member of the 1994 and 1998 USMNT World Cup squad and current ESPN commentator that got the festivities rolling in the morning. For as enamored as AO members were with Lalas (especially as the real Ginger Prince partied with fans both nights in Vegas), he was just as impressed by the organization. Lalas called his speech “a love letter from me to you”.

“From the bottom of my heart… thank you,” Lalas told the assembled audience, both hung over and wide-eyed. “We’re all a part of this soccer family.”

The former Serie A and Major League Soccer player recalled his days playing for the national team, from his youth days to his days as general manager of the Los Angeles Galaxy less a world-wind tour of his own exploits, but how the fans have shaped him and how they’ve grown since his early days from “pockets and pockets” of U.S fans to crowds “that were getting bigger and bigger” each time the USMNT stepped on the field.

“I feed off of you. You have passion from the bottom of your soul,” Lalas said.

He continued, “The people who have done the work off the field have done just as much as we have on the field” to grow the sport.

In the afternoon AO members saw a moving presentation and appeal from Little Feet founder Trevor Slavik, whose program donates one LF soccer ball to kids in need across the United States and the developing world every time someone purchases one on their own. Slavik spoke of the power that a soccer ball could have for good in the world and challenged AO members to go back to their chapters and become a part of his “Little Feet Army”.

Sports Illustrated head soccer writer and FIFA Presidential candidate headlined the afternoon (although had a tough act to follow, the Free Beer Movement’s Dan Wiersema!) Wahl’s arrival on stage was met by a Golazo-fueled crowd. The soccer-specific energy drink company out of Seattle made a real meal of Wahl’s candidacy printing posters and handling out American flags to AO members; and all of a sudden a simple speech became a political rally (and an impromptu march outside became another Wahl campaign video).

Grant Wahl, duh.
But like Lalas, Wahl’s speech wasn’t really about him, but about the incredible growth of U.S. soccer, and more specifically, the fans’ role in that growth. Catering to his audience he singled out American Outlaws for a lot the sport’s recent strides. He pointed specifically to the Outlaws’ show of support for USMNT forward Charlie Davies during the 2009 World Cup qualifying game against Costa Rica in Washington DC. AO (along with help of this soccer publication) was able to organize and mobilize the “9th Minute Tribute” for Davies at this game that took place less than 48 hours after his career-threatening car crash.

Through the smoke bombs and “number nine” signs emerged the fact that the American Outlaws had landed on the nation’s soccer radar (and did not go unnoticed by Davies, who indicated to Wahl, in an interview coming out in this week’s SI, that the gesture was incredible motivation for his recovery).

“You guys have something going on here and I can’t wait to see what’s next,” he said.

He pointed out that American soccer fans were a part of an extraordinary time in the sport’s history here.
“We’re all creating this American soccer history. Not many countries get to do that.”

That’s what made this weekend’s American Outlaws Rally so crucial because it gave members of this supporters group and opportunity to work and talk and play with other member that are writing the next chapter of this country’s history in terms of soccer. The Outlaws are a shining example of the strides that it has made.

AO was founded in Lincoln, Nebraska, as President Korey Donahoo joked, a “soccer hotbed” in 2007, to “unite and strengthen” American soccer supporters. Sam’s Army paved the way, but AO has taken the baton and pulled around the bend. Today, less than four years later, the organization has nearly 4,000 members in 46 official chapters and every state in the nation.

Through strong brand identification, passionate support in the stands, and, like every growing movement in world today, a great grasp of social media, the American Outlaws has become THE United States soccer supporters group, eclipsing Sam’s Army and even U.S. Soccer’s own “Supporters Club”.

Wahl accurately pointed out that with membership like AO’s “any city in America can now be a soccer hot bed” because of the Outlaws’ work.

For one weekend in March it was Las Vegas, Nevada.

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