AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) – A bald man wore the American spirit head to toe. A red, white and blue bandana, stars and stripes that don’t match socks, shorts that would be perfect for a summer barbeque.
Philip Labas wore the pride of the United States men’s soccer team on Saturday as he made his 18th appearance in his first trip to the World Cup. They were part of the American Outlaws, the team’s demonstration team, and gathered under the Aspire Tower to walk as a group to their seats inside the Khalifa International Stadium.
It was Labas’ responsibility to chase away the crowd. He sang and danced with the friends he’d gathered over the years supporting US soccer, and when the men’s team advanced to the round of 16, Labas became their cheerleader.
The currently unemployed Chicagoan was supposed to be looking for a job in cyber security during his time in Doha, but he’s been having a lot of fun chanting “USA!” and sing “When the Yanks Come Rolling” to all the American fans. Even before the Netherlands’ 3-1 victory ended the team’s elimination from the World Cup, Labas had already increased his accommodation for next week because he was confident that the United States would beat the Dutch.
American audiences tuned in to the US’s first three matches to watch the second-youngest team at the World Cup, a team that for two weeks helped unite a fractured nation.
“Their spirit, their anger, their toughness, the camaraderie they show each other, and in their grand scheme of things, they’re very friendly guys,” Labas said. “It’s one goal, one goal, they’re all pulling for each other and I think everyone can get through the wall with each other.
“And it’s America, right?” Labas replied. “Different personalities, different people come together with a common goal, and that is one of the things that unites this group. I mean, I have two boys from different parts of Florida, one boy from Minneapolis, I’m from Chicago, and we live together in Qatar. We’ve been together for the last 2½ weeks just loving life and loving this band. “
The crowd that accompanied Labas to the stadium included US soldiers from the nearby Al Udeid Air Force Base, a young family from Texas, two friends from Redwood City, California, and a woman from Uganda who now lives there. in Qatar I don’t like football anymore but I was attracted to the American team.
“I got tickets to the game and I’m very happy,” said Mastula Kyongo, who wore a red tie, an official Team USA shirt and a scarf emblazoned with the American flag draped over his shoulders. “They have a young, beautiful team and I just love everything about them.”
The United States failed to qualify for the World Cup four years ago, so many of its 26 players had never had such American pride. They received messages from their old hometowns, heard about classroom breaks so students could watch their games, and saw TV coverage from viewing parties across the United States.
“The support has been amazing. The amount of people that have come to me to lead this event, to this game, “the captain of the United States Tyler Adams said after the defeat to the Netherlands. “It would not have been possible without the help of the American fans, the American fans who traveled all this way, the American fans back home. I hope we gave them something to enjoy going forward. “
Heather Holland and Alejandro Szenkier traveled to Doha from Dallas to fulfill Szenkier’s lifelong dream of going to the World Cup. They are from Uruguay and this World Cup inclusion allowed them to make the trip, see two matches a day, and cheer for the USA.
Szenkier wore an American flag as a traditional Gulf Arab hat and insisted that with Christian Pulisic, the United States is building a team that can compete in international soccer.
“He’s probably the best US player in history,” Szenkier said. “This will be a great team four years from now and help grow the next generation of American soccer.”
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