An evening at Azteca with the American Outlaws

Posted by Bryan McAleer

MEXICO CITY --

"We love you, We love you
And where you go, we'll follow
We'll follow
Because we support the U.S. ..."


The voices of 400 strong rang out in the Azteca night as the final whistle sounded, drowning out their 105,000 counterparts.

-- Watch: U.S. fans gather outside Azteca
--Watch: The final whistle at Azteca

The U.S. men's national team had just recorded a historic point in front of its most ardent traveling support, the American Outlaws. As the beer and projectiles rained down on the group, its members' voices simply grew louder. Nothing was going to dampen their spirits and stop them from saluting their team's efforts. They had followed, and they had conquered the stadium known around U.S. soccer circles as "Thunderdome."

Attending a match at the Estadio Azteca comes with a surgeon general's warning for traveling fans: Cheering for the U.S. could be hazardous to your health. The chain-link fences cage in away fans, riot police flank all sides, and barbed wire serves as a stern reminder of how serious things can get. For the American Outlaws, the warning serves as nothing more than a challenge. These fans provide the soundtrack for their beloved U.S. men's national team, no matter how hostile the environment.

The supporters' group, which started as a 50-person pilgrimage to Chicago in 2007 to take in the USMNT match against Brazil, boasts more than 8,000 members and 79 local chapters.

"We're a huge and growing family," said Justin Brunken, co-founder of the AOs along with Korey Donahoo, both from Lincoln, Neb.

From the pre-match tailgate to the bus ride home, the Outlaws make their presence known. While they are a fixture at every USMNT match leading the charge, the trip to the Azteca is the crown jewel.

"Coming to Azteca is a rite of passage for a U.S. soccer fan," said AO's Brian Hexsel, who made his first pilgrimage to Mexico for the 2009 World Cup qualifier.

The bus ride into the stadium set the tone for things to come. Rocks pelted the windows as the police escort desperately tried to keep the throngs of El Tri fans at bay. Disembarking in the riot pen, with seemingly hundreds of shielded officers, the slow march to the U.S. section high in the corner began.

After weaving through a switchback of concrete ramps, the summit was reached. For the next 90-plus minutes, this cage was to be home. The buzz created by the Mexican fans was constant, ratcheted up on every Brad Guzan goal kick with a singular cry that shook the stadium. But as the match wore on, the familiar "Me-xi-co" was drowned out with "When the Yanks go marching in."

The home support began to chastise its own, even mocking them with the Mexican “wave.” As time dwindled and a precious point was in sight for the Yanks, the hostility toward the Mexican team turned on the U.S. section. As the liquid and cups flew, the Outlaws increased in volume. The point was theirs; a little shower wasn't going to spoil their evening. One last march through the mayhem, down the ramps, through the plaza and onto the buses awaited.

They had done it, no man left behind and memories for a lifetime.

Slumped in his seat, Brunken gazed out at the crowds "saluting" the passing convoy. Asked to describe his first Azteca experience, Brunken, drenched in beer, flashed a wry smile. "Intense." The bus erupted into one last song, the chorus still echoing in the night.

"And where you go, we'll follow ..."

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