AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — The bald man arrived dressed head-to-toe in full Americana. Red, white and blue bandana, stars and stripes mismatched socks, shorts that could be swimming trunks suitable for a summer barbecue.
Philippe Labas wore his USA Men’s Soccer team proud on Saturday as he attended his 18th match in his first World Cup. He was part of the American Outlaws, the team’s official fan group, and they had gathered under the Aspire Tower to head as a group to their seats at Khalifa International Stadium.
Laba’s job was to cheer up the crowd. He sang and danced with the friends he’s made in support of U.S. Soccer, and as the men’s team advanced to the Round of 16, Labas became their loudest cheerleader.
The currently unemployed Chicago resident had to look for a cybersecurity job in Doha during his downtime, but he’s having too much fun chanting “USA!” and singing “When the Yanks Come Marching In” for all the American fans. Even before the Netherlands’ 3-1 victory ended the team’s World Cup berth, Labas had already extended his stay to the following week, confident that the USA would defeat the Dutch.
American audiences tuned into the USA’s first three games in record numbers to watch the World Cup’s second-youngest team, a group that helped unite a divided nation for two weeks.
“Their spirit, their wit, their intensity, the camaraderie they show each other, and they’re just generally very friendly guys,” LaBass said. “It’s one goal, one goal, they’re all pulling for each other and I think every single one of them would run through the wall for each other.
“And this is America, isn’t it?” Good posted. “Different experiences, different people coming together for one goal, and that’s one of the things that binds this team together. I mean, I’m with two guys from different parts of Florida, one guy from Minneapolis, I’m from Chicago, and we live together in Qatar. We have spent the last 2½ weeks together just loving life and loving this team.
The crowd that entered the stadium with Labasa included off-duty U.S. servicemen from nearby Al Udeid Air Force Base, a young couple from Texas, two friends from Redwood City, California, and a woman from Uganda who now lives in Qatar and does not. you even liked football, but he was fascinated by the American team.
“I got tickets to come to the match and I’m so happy,” said Mastula Kyongo, who was wearing a bright red tie, an official Team USA shirt and an American flag scarf draped over her shoulders. “They have a young, beautiful team and I just love everything about them.”
The U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup four years ago, so much of its 26-man squad had never experienced such American pride before. They received messages from their former hometowns, learned about school breaks so students could watch their games, and saw social media posts from watch parties across the United States.
“The support has been amazing. The number of people who have reached out to me leading up to this event, these games,” United States captain Tyler Adams said 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 this way and the American fans back home. I hope we gave them something to be excited about moving forward.
Heather Holland and Alejandro Szenkier traveled to Doha from Dallas to fulfill Szenkier’s lifelong dream of attending the World Cup. He’s from Uruguay and the compactness of this World Cup allowed them to travel, see two matches a day and cheer for the USA.
Szenkier wore an American flag as a traditional Gulf Arab headdress and insisted that, with winger Christian Pulisic, the United States is becoming a team that will compete on the world soccer stage.
“He’s probably the best U.S. player in history,” Szenkier said. “Four years from now, this will be a very good team and help develop the next generation of American soccer.”
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