AL RAYAN, Qatar (AP) — The bald man came dressed from head to toe with full American flair. A red, white and blue bandana, matching socks with stars and stripes, shorts that might have been swimming trunks suitable for a summer barbecue.
Philip Labas wore a shirt bursting with pride for the United States men’s soccer team on Saturday as he took part in the 18th match of his first trip to the World Cup. They were part of the American Outlaws, the team’s official fan group, and gathered under the Aspire Tower to march as a group to their seats inside the Khalifa International Stadium.
It was Labas’s role to incite the crowd. He sang and danced with the friends he’d gathered over his years supporting American soccer, and as the men’s team reached the Round of 16, Labas became their loudest cheerleader.
The now-unemployed Chicagoan was supposed to be looking for cyber security work during his downtime in Doha, but he got a “USA!” Having a lot of fun chanting. And singing “When the Yanks Come Marching In” for all the American fans. Before the Netherlands’ 3-1 victory ended the team’s run at the World Cup, Labas had already extended his stay until next week because he was confident that the US would defeat the Dutch.
American audiences attended America’s first three matches in record numbers. To see the second-youngest team at the World Cup, a group that helped unite a fractured nation for two weeks.
“Their passion, their courage, their intensity, the compassion they show for each other, and in the grand scheme of it, they’re very friendly people,” Labas said. “It’s a single focus, a single goal, they’re all pulling for each other and I think every single one of them will go through the wall for each other.
“And this is America, isn’t it?” Posted by Lebas. “Different backgrounds, different people all come together for one goal, and that’s one of the things that bonds 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 living together in Qatar. We’ve spent the last 2½ weeks together just loving life and loving this team.
Among the crowd marching with Labas at the stadium were off-duty U.S. soldiers from the nearby Al Udayd Air Force Base, a young couple from Texas, two friends from Redwood City, California, and a woman from Uganda who now lives in Qatar. are Not even like football but became fascinated by the American team.
“I got tickets to come to the match and I’m very happy,” said Mastola Kyungu, who wore a bright red tie, an official Team USA shirt and a scarf emblazoned with the American flag on his 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, with its 26-man squad having never before experienced American pride. They received messages from their former hometowns, learned about breaks in classwork so students could watch their matches, and saw social media posts from watch parties around the United States.
“The support has been amazing. The amount of people who have reached out to me leading up to this event, these games,” USA captain Tyler Adams said after the loss to the Netherlands. For those who made the trip, American fans returned home. I hope we’ve given them something to be excited about going forward.”
Heather Holland and Alejandro Szenkier traveled from Dallas to Doha to fulfill Szenkier’s lifelong dream of attending the World Cup. He is originally from Uruguay and the compactness of this World Cup allowed him to travel, watch two matches in one 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 developing into a team that will compete on the world soccer stage.
“He’s probably the best American player in history,” Szenkier said. “This is going to be a very good team four years from now and help build a generation for American soccer.”
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