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Soccer has new bunch of 'Outlaws'; Local chapter gives Team USA fans a voice

At first, the group was so much like any other at a bar on a Tuesday evening that it's possible the rec-league softball teams out for a postgame sip didn't even realize it was there.

They even may have been so busy chatting and refilling their pitchers that they didn't notice when all the screens switched to a soccer game.

But when Dale Paradowski, standing over near the bar, turned and screamed "Oh when the Yanks! Go marching in!" at the top of his lungs with a furious intensity, and was answered in kind by about 30 red-, white- and blue-clad patrons, that certainly got their attention.

Soccer had taken over the evening at Gecko's Bar and Grill.

"We could see just by looking at them that they couldn't believe the attitude that we brought in," said Jeff Fabin, who was wearing a red U.S. soccer jersey. "You could just see people looking over at us going, 'This is nothing like you would see for people at a bar watching a Sabres game or a Bills game.' "

The rowdy group was the Buffalo chapter of American Outlaws, a national United States soccer supporters club. The members were out to watch the United States men's national soccer team as it beat Guadelupe, 1-0, for a spot in the next round of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and they brought the noise.

"It's nothing like you've ever seen before," Fabin, the 34-year-old president of the chapter, said. "People could see the passion that we had in how much we support the U.S. soccer team and all the emotion we put behind it, even while just watching it on TV."

American Outlaws began as a small group out of Lincoln, Neb., dedicated to organizing and unifying fans from around the country of the United States national soccer teams. The first official chapter was formed in Kansas City in 2008, and the Outlaws group has swelled to 55 chapters.

The Buffalo chapter was born in the aftermath of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, during which Fabin, Paradowski and a few other friends, including Nick Mendola, spread the word that they would be watching at a local bar.

"Last World Cup, we had over 100 people at Papa Jakes for all the U.S. games," said Mendola, who co-owns FC Buffalo and is a WECK radio talk show host. "We would have had more, but people had to be turned away at the door because of the fire code."

In 2009, Mendola went to a United States soccer game in Washington, D.C., and attended an American Outlaws pregame party.

"It was like a giant Bills tailgate," he remembered. "And I said, 'Yeah, we need this, why can't we have this here?' "

Early this year, Mendola went to the national organization to find out the requirements for a local chapter, and messages were sent out to the Buffalo soccer community.

"The response that we got from people was pretty overwhelming," Fabin said. "Within a month or so, we met the qualifications and we were made official."

Buffalo became the 51st American Outlaws chapter in April, and Fabin was elected president. Since then, it has held viewing parties at Gecko's for every United States match, and the group now has 46 members.

"We're still very much in our infancy," Mendola said. "But we're really looking for people who already exist. We don't have to indoctrinate people to U.S. soccer, we just have to tell U.S. soccer fans who we are to join, and the family grows very quickly."

Those interested in membership can contact Fabin at jeff@aobuffalo.com.

The group isn't just for lifelong soccer fans. Paradowski, often the loudest fan in the group, said he just started getting into the game a year or so ago, just in time for the World Cup. "I totally fell in love with it, and I feel like if everybody got this type of experience, and just tried it once, that they would fall in love with it, too," he said.

Paradowski and fellow member Brandon Chiarmonte traveled to Toronto to watch a professional soccer match in April, leaving an impression on Paradowski.

"You don't really get to love the game unless you actually go to it and experience what it's like to be in a bar like this or to be in an atmosphere like this, where you can see everybody is chanting and having a good time," Paradowski said. "It's a really great camaraderie."

The chapter holds events when the United States isn't playing, too. In May, the Buffalo chapter played a soccer match against the Rochester chapter in the inaugural "Thruway Derby" at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester, which Buffalo won. The idea gained national attention from other American Outlaws groups, Fabin said, and next year he hopes to incorporate chapters in Akron, Albany and Cleveland for a five-team event in Buffalo.

Wednesday night, the chapter hosted an advance screening of "Rise and Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story", at the Town Ballroom. The documentary details DeMerit's path from being a relatively unknown American college player to starting for the national team in the World Cup.

Mendola said that one of his goals for the American Outlaws group is to bring a big-time soccer event to the Buffalo area.

"The American Outlaws are a way to show local businesses, local politicians and local soccer fans that yes, you have a home around here," Mendola said. "We have an opportunity to continue to show people that we're not a fad.

"This is a sport that has a real, devoted following, and we're all-inclusive. American soccer is here, it's here in Buffalo and it's not going anywhere."

e-mail skilb@buffnews.com

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