The first reports that something was amiss with the American Outlaws came late on Tuesday night via goal.com who reported that capos from Seattle would be flown in for the United States vs. Mexico World Cup Qualifying match in Columbus on September 10th.
From there the first reactions to the news started to trickle out, but it was this article at our SB Nation sister site, the Massive Report, that really burst open the dam the following morning. Beyond just a takeover from the Columbus chapter of the American Outlaws, Matt Goshert's version seems to show the local supporters, and the culture that they have built, being overridden by the national chapter with support from U.S. Soccer.
The back and forth continued as the folks over at the Massive Report posted two more articles addressing the situation and narrowing down what was at issue for the Columbus supporters. This article, by the site's managing editor Patrick Guldan, clarified that it was not the fact that the "main" capos who would be running the show were not from Columbus that had people up in arms. Rather, it was that Columbus has never used capos, as most supporters groups would define them, and had no intention of doing so for this game, a cultural reality further explored by the Massive Report here.
Looking for some clarification on how the news had come down, we got exchanged emails with Goshert to further explore the issue and what had happened.
Here is some of our exchange:
Q: Can you give a little more info on your involvement with the Hudson Street Hooligans and American Outlaws? Why were you, specifically, on the phone call?
A: With HSH I help with marketing and events. I also sit in on the board meetings and help to make decisions on the direction of the club. With AO, I'm a member, I show up to events, help out if needed and assist any way I can. I don't have an official capacity with AO Columbus.
I was on the conference call, along with another member of HSH, our Nordecke USA tifo group, and a member of Crew Union in order to discuss the tifo we have planned for the event and get any information that needed to get out to our members out to them. (When and where to get banners, flags, etc. into the match; what time AO was planning on entering; when the tifo was going to be displayed; etc.)
Q: Who was on the conference call and how was it different from previous conference calls?
A: Other than the Columbus locals from HSH and Crew Union (Nordecke USA), we had 2 members of our tifo committee and the AO Columbus chapter president. There was also representation from US Soccer, AO National and AO Seattle. This was the first conference call for this match I was asked to participate in.
Q: Can you describe the normal capo situation in previous national team games at Crew Stadium?
A: We have never utilized capos at Crew Stadium for national team matches.
Q: What was your understanding of how that would change after your participation in the conference call?
A: We would have capos, there would be many spread throughout the section, but the "Head Capos" would be from AO Seattle.
Q: Was the fact that Columbus has not previously utilized capos brought up on the conference call? What was the reaction?
A: It was brought up. The Columbus residents on the call stated that we thought the matches that had been played here previously were top notch without the involvement of the capos. The other people on the call stated that they wanted to increase the intensity of the match by utilizing the capos. Columbus members of the call stated that the thing that set this match apart and made it so special was the organic nature of the match that that created an atmosphere which would be squashed by utilizing capos. Columbus members asked after a long discussion if this was even open for debate. The response was no, the decision had already been made.
So, why does this matter to Portland fans? What is so bad about a little consistency in the support for the national team?
There are few organic movements in American soccer that have enjoyed as much growth and success as the Timbers Army. A large part of that growth here in Portland comes from the sense of ownership that comes from standing with the TA and taking part in the chants, the flag waving, and the pure passion of rooting for your team with several thousand other fans, all wearing scarves that are made not for profit but for charity and for fun.
In Columbus that ownership is being taken away from all those who pack in the Nordecke game after game and give their team their own unique brand of support. It does not matter if the capos are from Portland, Seattle, or Des Moines, because Columbus does not do capos.
To take a group that has supported soccer in the United States for as long as and with as much passion as Columbus has and make a change against their will is a decision that will only damage support for the sport. Whether we are talking about US Soccer, the American Outlaws, or even ESPN and Soccer United Marketing, every one of those organizations have benefited from allowing the fans to build their own experience in the stadium.
There had always been a faction here in Portland that embrace the slogan "against modern football". As control is taken away from the fans who built the best home field advantage that the United States Men's National Team has seen in the modern era, we all have to admit that "modern football" is here.