Soccer fans watch a U.S. national team game at Molly Malone's in Covington, Kentucky.
Brent C. Dorsel and his family at a game at Molly Malone's.
A crowd fills the bar at Rhinehaus for the opening game of World Cup 2014.
Food at Molly Malone's.
A crowd gathers for a soccer match at Molly Malone's.
Soccer fans watch a U.S. men's soccer team match during the 2010 World Cup. The party was held at Molly Malone's in Covington.
Thanks in large part to the World Cup in 2010, the Greater Cincinnati area has transformed into an unexpected hot bed for American soccer supporters.
The chanting lingers throughout the venue.
"I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win."
Dozens of men, women and children decked out in their finest red, white and blue.
Some draped in patriotic scarves with "USA" stitched into them. Others wearing team jerseys affixed with a Miss America-type stash across the chest. All donning a hopeful look as the watch the U.S. men's national team battle during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Only they weren't at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. Or anywhere in the Rainbow Nation for that matter.
They sat atop stools and tightly packed booths at pubs across the country as members of the official USMNT support group the American Outlaws, who are known by their trademark star-and-stripes bandanas and over-the-top chants.
“It was packed. They had to shut the door, people were waiting outside – for the bigger games people couldn’t get in,” recalled Brent C. Dorsel, co-founder of the Cincinnati chapter of the Outlaws.
During that Cup, Dorsel, his brother Brad and a handful of other members of the Outlaws gathered on their customary left side of the main bar at Molly Malone’s in Covington to watch the U.S. battle through the group stage to qualify for the round of 16.
Roughly 1,000 people per game watched on nearly 30 televisions as the country made a name for itself on the global soccer stage.
That year the men’s side won its group for the first time since 1930 thanks in large part to Landon Donovan’s stoppage-time goal in a 1-0 win over Algeria.
“I mean, that goal was nothing short of miraculous,” Dorsel said. “Everyone in here, all three floors of people in here, went crazy. The beer was flying everywhere.”
That game, arguably the most memorable in the rocky history of American soccer, was the introduction to the sport, the national team and the Outlaws for many people across the country and particularly in Cincinnati.
"My buddy was working across the street at the courthouse and I was like, 'Dude, you have to get over here for this,' so he came in wearing a suit. It took about, I don't know, two minutes before he was completely covered in beer from all the celebrating," Dorsel recalled.
"His suit was probably ruined but he's been coming to games here ever since."
Even though the U.S. was eliminated in the round of 16 after a loss to Ghana, their opponent in Monday night's opener for the 2014 World Cup, their performance during that tournament left an indelible mark.
And that's not just an allusion to the permanent beer stains left on the walls and ceiling at Molly Malone's, which is one of several bars across Greater Cincinnati expecting to house near-capacity crowds of spectators for the month-long global sporting event.
"I mean, there were obviously a lot of soccer fans in the area before that tournament and Landon's goal, but there's no denying it change some minds about soccer, U.S. soccer especially," Dorsel said.
Next Page: Outlaws To The Rescue
The outpouring of support for the national soccer team was never before seen anywhere in this country.
The United States-Algeria World Cup match in 2010 aired on ESPN. As of Friday morning, it is the highest-rated and most-watched soccer game in the history of ESPN networks, delivering a 4.6 rating (4.0 household U.S. rating), 4,582,000 households and 6,161,000 viewers for the two-hour contest.
Not bad for a game that started at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday.
But the meteoric rise in support in the Greater Cincinnati region was even more astounding. A few years back Dorsel and his friends said they struggled to find a place to even watch a game.
“Me, my brother and a few friends started going to Hap’s in 2002 and 2006 for the World Cup," Dorsel said.
While they say they enjoyed their World Cup experiences, they were looking for a place they could go more often than once every four years.
"At Hap’s, between 2006 and 2008 Olympic qualifying, we’d notice – if we were going for qualifiers – they would have the Xavier games on and we would ask them to put on the matches. They’d say, “No, we’re a Xavier bar… We’re a soccer bar during the World Cup.'”
That didn’t sit well with Dorsel, who also looked to clarify that the World Cup isn’t just a single month of games.
It also includes the qualifying rounds, which determine whether or not a nation will get to play before a global audience in the final rounds of the tournament.
“So we started looking for some places and couldn’t really find a place where soccer fans would gather, because there wasn’t really a centralizing force or a place that really wanted to claim us as fans.”
There were Reds bars, Bengals bars, Xavier bars, UC bars, even Steelers and Browns bars.
But a soccer bar? Was there a fan base for that?
“I knew a bunch of people who loved soccer, wanted to watch it, but we just didn’t have a central place to go. I said, let’s find a way to get the six guys who are going to Claddagh, the guys who are going to Hap’s together.”
That’s where the Outlaws came in.
The American Outlaws were established in Lincoln, Nebraska in 2007 – conveniently around the same time the Dorsels sought to unify the local soccer-watching community.
Their mission is to “support the United States National Soccer Teams through a unified and dedicated group of supporters. Creating a community locally and nationally to Unite & Strengthen U.S. Soccer fans from all parts of this country.”
On the surface, the name of the Outlaws seems to fall in line with other sports-related groups that want to strike fear in the opposing team and fan base.
But while that’s part of the reason, it doesn’t tell the whole story for this collective of sporting castoffs.
“In a sea of American football, baseball, and NASCAR fans we felt we were 'outlaws' of the sports world; supporting a sport that most people didn’t know much about or cared little about,” according to Outlaw reps.
“We decided to take the moniker of the “outlaw" and be proud of it. By sporting the bandanna of the old American Wild West we signified our “outlaw” status while also creating a symbol other outlaws could identify, connect with, and let know they were not alone.”
In just six short years the group swelled to more than 100 chapters, including Cincinnati. The group now has well over 130 national chapters, including one in Dayton, Ohio, and more than 20,000 paid members ($29 per year).
Cincinnati was formally named a branch in 2008.
“As the ranks of ‘outlaws’ swells we’re no longer the outcasts of sporting society, but the drivers of what it means to be a fan in the United States,” according to the group.
But while the “Wild West had been won” there was still work to do in Greater Cincinnati.
Next Page: Good Golly Miss Molly
The Cincinnati Outlaws originally began meeting during Goettafest 2008 at Cock & Bull in Covington.
While promoting itself as an English pub, it wasn’t always the most open to showing European-style football matches. At least not all the time.
“We could only get the soccer game on one TV and the guy was kind of uncertain if he wanted to change the channel (to the game) so we started calling around,” Dorsel said.
Dorsel said because of a bias in the United States toward the sport, it was difficult for people to get behind it.
“I think there’s a bias against the sport because some people played it when they’re 8 and didn’t like it. Now, they come for a match, see everything that goes into it, and they’re hooked.”
But where would they go to get that chance to prove them wrong?
Soccer-centric Rhinehaus in Over-the-Rhine was still years away from even being thought up and most of the other venues didn’t quite pan out the way the group had envisioned.
“I called over here (Molly Malone’s), I’d never been here before, but they said, ‘we have 30 TVs and we’ll put it on whatever you want.’ I was sold,” Dorsel said.
Molly Malone’s had established itself as a favorite among English soccer fans – despite the fact its owner and two main bartenders are both Irish – before the creation of Outlaws.
The massive Irish public house has long been a draw for those who want to watch some of the top international clubs – Liverpool, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Bayern Munich.
Celtic, a Scottish club, draws a surprisingly large contingent of fans as well.
"The bartenders, the staff, the people who come here really know about soccer and love the game,” said owner Paul Shanley. “They’ll talk about soccer all day long – it just adds to it.”
Even though he's a lifelong soccer fan with family members who live in England, Dorsel had never been there before.
“I just walked in and knew this was the place, it was perfect,” he recalled. “The number of TVs, the space, it was all great. And I knew the people here really loved, cared about soccer.”
The first official meeting of the Cincinnati chapter of the American Outlaws at Molly's was June 8, 2008 for a friendly against Argentina. It was played at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, 662 miles from Covington, Kentucky.
The distance didn't feel nearly that far to Dorsel and the handful of members who were at Molly's for the match.
“We only had five or six guys here but they took a picture of us,” said Dorsel.
That photo and an Outlaws scarf still hang at Molly Malone’s.
The numbers have fluctuated for the two years since then – up into the dozens for some matches, down at times into the single digits.
They even had giveaways to attempt to lure in fans.
"Budweiser gave us $100 to draw in fans. We decided to spread the dollars as best we could and bought 50 PBRs," he said before chuckling.
It all changed in 2010 with World Cup.
“There was a story about the American Outlaws on Fox Soccer that picked up the speed. And the main American Outlaws chapter was hinting, “Hey, did you know Cincinnati has a chapter?
“And all of the sudden they were tagging us – we had a game that day – and I was telling people to come on down,” he said. “People kept coming through the door, I could see them – it was awesome.”
All three floors of Molly Malone’s were at capacity during the World Cup. And it wasn’t just for the U.S. matches, either.
Fans of Japan, Argentina, France, England and even the Greeks showed up for the daytime and early afternoon matches. The Dutch supporter wore stereotypical blonde pigtail wigs.
“That was amazing to me. My wife doesn’t like soccer but said to me, ‘this is what you always lived for. This is what you always wanted.’ And that’s what this place (Molly Malone’s) has done. It’s such a great place for soccer.”
This year, the USMNT is playing in a so-called “Group of Death,” with group stage matches against Ghana (U.S. won 2-1), and powerhouses Portugal (June 22) and Germany (June 26). The odds are not in the U.S.'s favor.
But that's not slowing down interest in the team or the Outlaws.
“I had about 40 texts asking, ‘what time are we getting together for the Ghana game?’ It ranged from, ‘I have a meeting at 3 p.m. to you won’t be able to get in here if you try to get here then.’ So the one guy decided to cancel his meeting.’ That’s the World Cup in the Cincinnati.”
There are a handful of locals in Brazil for the U.S. matches and hundreds of others will be at Fountain Square, Hap’s or Rhinehaus for viewing parties.
Dorsel thinks that's a good thing, even if it means Molly's will be a little less packed.
“I just want to see hundreds of people in red, white and blue, I don’t care where they area,” he said. “It’s awesome having this place packed, but I just want to see us do well.”
You should still probably show up at Molly's well before game time.