Connecticut Soccer Fans Staring Down A World Cup Without The United States | Connecticut Public Radio

Connecticut Soccer Fans Staring Down A World Cup Without The United States

Jun 13, 2018

The World Cup begins Thursday. But the United States men’s national soccer team didn’t even qualify, so fans will have to wait another four years to see their team play for international glory.

Some of the biggest supporters of U.S. soccer belong to clubs called the American Outlaws. There are 196 chapters—the latest formed in Danbury last month.

A loss to Trinidad and Tobago last October guaranteed that the United States wouldn’t play in the upcoming World Cup. Myke Furhman, Danbury’s president, was watching the game at the bar where his group watches all the big games.

“Obviously, it was rough when it happened,” Furhman said. “It was a somber night here at the bar. When we’re watching the games, sure, it’s going to hurt. But, at the end of the day, there’s a lot of very strong teams out there and honestly, I think missing the World Cup is going to make us stronger in the long run.”

Fellow Outlaw Alan Lupke said he’s worried that the setback to U.S. Soccer might make it hard to grow this new Danbury chapter.

“Well, obviously we were hoping to build momentum off of the World Cup qualifiers and have this place packed for the World Cup -- it didn’t work out that way,” Lupke said. “But, one thing about soccer -- it truly never ends.”

His group doesn’t support just the national team during international competitions — it also gets together for friendlies and regional events. The Outlaws also watch the U.S. women’s national team as a unit.

Tom Kennedy owns the bar that Danbury’s Outlaws watch the games in. It’s called TK’s. He said his business will be affected but he’s banking on international interest. Danbury has a big Portuguese population and the bar is also a hangout for fans of Germany’s club Bayern Munich.

“It’ll hurt us a little bit—no doubt,” Kennedy said. “It remains to be seen how much. I think we’re still going to do pretty good for the World Cup just because we’re getting well known for being a soccer bar.”

The games will be played in Russia and air live on the east coast at 8:00 am, 11:00 am, and 2:00 pm. Kennedy said he’ll open early for the 11:00 am games and because he’s getting requests, he’ll host a few of the 8:00 am starts too.

Tom Kenney bartends at TK's in Danbury. That's a bar he owns that is frequented by soccer fans in the area.
Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

Meanwhile, at The Tavern Downtown in Connecticut’s capital, Hartford’s chapter has its own spot in the basement where the Outlaws hang and watch the games. And it’s decked out with tons of memorabilia featuring the red, white, and blue.

“When you go to a U.S. game and you meet people from different chapters from different parts of the country, you’re like ‘Hey, I’ve got a Hartford chapter scarf,’” Leary said. “‘Oh, you’re from Austin?’ And you trade them.”

The group used to watch the games at Damon’s in Hartford, but a few years back, it moved onto the tavern. This would’ve been the Hartford chapter’s first year watching the men’s World Cup there.

“I wanted to pack this facility to the brim like we used to do at our old bar at Damon’s,” said Tom Lovkay, who runs the chapter. “I wanted to bring that vibe of waking up on game day, sprinting to the bar, getting here and just going all out -- there’s really nothing like that.”

An American Outlaws scarf featured in the Hartford chapter hangout--The Tavern Downtown.
Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

The U.S. being out not only hurts the bar’s bottom line but it also impacts the number of people who become Outlaws. Membership boosts big time during the World Cups because of the atmosphere at the bars and the high stakes nature of the games on the world stage.

“The 2010 World Cup we went from, what, 25 members to a couple of hundred that summer?” Lovkay said. “And then the next cycle, we jumped up to closed to 500. Those are huge jumps and you don’t see those jumps in the years that we don’t have the World Cup.”

Like Danbury’s chapter, Lovkay said his group will press on by supporting the U.S. women as they attempt to qualify for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. On July 29, the women play in East Hartford against Australia. That’s just four miles away from The Tavern Downtown and the Hartford Outlaws.