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Gordon: Living and dying with U.S. at World Cup watch parties

As an overflow crowd seeped into Hennessey’s Tavern around 6:50 a.m. Saturday, Brian Aleman addressed his fellow American Outlaws from atop a stage inside the downtown venue.

He indicated he would lead one chant and one chant only while the American national soccer team prepped to play the Netherlands in a Qatar stadium more than 8,000 miles away.

“I believe,” the 32-year-old lifelong soccer enthusiast yelled, triggering in unison a chorus from hundreds of repeating responders.

“I believe that we will. … I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!”

It’s Aleman’s undying belief that prompted him to head the local chapter of American Outlaws, the unofficial supporters group that backs the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams in international play. The bar was packed to the brim for all four of the national team’s World Cup games — including the 3-1 loss to the Dutch in the tournament’s round of 16.

“It’s literally a labor of love,” said Aleman, also an engineer for a gaming company. “You’d have one day where 50 people would show up. And then you’d have other games where one person would show up, and it would be me.”

‘Only going up’

And then there was Saturday, when Aleman was joined by hundreds of his closest friends. Some brought American flags. Most wore American garb. All, it would seem, felt American pain — beginning with the Netherlands’ first goal in the 10th minute and ending with its third in the 81st.

They also shared in joy, in the camaraderie that sport can create. In Aleman’s chant and his undying belief in the Americans and the American Outlaws.

“We care about this very deeply,” he said. “It’s only going to go up from here.”

The local chapter was all but dormant when Aleman got involved in 2018. Blame the national team for failing to qualify for that year’s World Cup and zapping the enthusiasm. But Aleman was undeterred, having previously represented the American Outlaws while living in California.

He assumed presidential responsibilities, inheriting only a Facebook page from the previous cabinet. His quest the next four years would be ensure that Hennessey’s was packed Saturday. So he created Twitter and Instagram handles and began promoting watch parties, working with vice president Andres Madrigal.

“The goal was just to spread the word. Get people to come have a beer, talk about soccer and help out the community,” said Madrigal, 29, a real estate agent and an alumnus of Cimarron-Memorial.

‘New ideas. Bigger events’

But the goals have evolved as the chapter has evolved, and the hope for Aleman and Madrigal is that the next World Cup in 2026 draws even more local American Outlaws from their quarters and to Hennessey’s. The Americans depart Qatar as the second-youngest team in the 32-team draw.

World Cup debutantes and American standouts such as Christian Pulisic (24 years old) and Tim Weah (22) figure then to be in their primes. Along with the rest of their teammates.

Tomorrow’s optimism didn’t ease Saturday’s sting for Aleman, who stood alone during the match’s final minutes before stepping atop the stage sporting midfielder Weston McKennie’s white No. 8 jersey.

“It’s time for me to step down. New cycle. New president. New ideas. Bigger events,” Aleman said into a microphone, removing the red captain’s armband from his left bicep while withholding tears with Madrigal by his side.

His fellow American Outlaws rewarded his presidential tenure with a standing ovation as he stepped off the stage and onto the floor, where he was promptly greeted and thanked by John Duya of the Honolulu chapter.

American Outlaw brotherhood knows no bounds.

“It’s just getting together to celebrate the U.S., you know?” Duya said.

The next four years can’t go by fast enough.

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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