PISCATAWAY, N.J. — THE game between the United States soccer team and Colombia is over at Rutgers University, and most of the 36,126 people in attendance are heading for the parking lot after a scoreless match. But there is still a small, boisterous band of red-shirted fans in Section 115 that just will not leave.
They serenade the US soccer players, who eventually come over to thank them for their support throughout US Cup '95, a tournament the team has now won twice in the last three years. America's gregarious fullback, Alexi Lalas, goes so far as to get down on his knees and bow to them in an "I'm not worthy" prostration that would have made Wayne and Garth of "Wayne's World" proud.
These enthusiastic fans have a name and a mission. They are Sam's Army, a devoted and growing group of US soccer fans who banded together to show their support for a young and improving American squad. These hard-core soccer fans say they are tired of being ridiculed by fans from other countries for their unoriginal cheers ("U.S.A.! U.S.A.!") and their passive support.
One member of the army, Peter Burgis of the Chicago Brigade, explains that he was embarrassed by the inert US fans at a pre-World Cup game last summer. "I saw the US team play a match against Mexico at the Rose Bowl and it sounded like we were in Mexico City," says Burgis via the Internet, the primary form of communication for the group. "The Mexicans and other countries' fans know how to cheer, but Americans are used to having their entertainment served to them on a platter."
After all, soccer is more than a sport to many fans of South America and Europe. When Brazil is playing in a match, it is a given that thousands of devoted, screaming fans will turn out in a sea of yellow to support their team, no matter where they are playing.
After the World Cup, John Wright and Mark Spaccone of Buffalo, N.Y., decided that enough was enough. First, they started up a publication called Bookable Offense, an insider's guide to American soccer. Earlier this year, they created Sam's Army.
"We want to show that our team is not a third-rate organization that has no fan support," they wrote in Bookable Offense. "Our mission is clear. Sam's Army wants enthusiastic soccer fans who will stand and sing for the duration of the game, give our team the home-field advantage, and energize the rest of the crowd."
So far, 500 people have enlisted. "It's too bad we did not have the army around during the World Cup," Spaccone says. "The response has been just overwhelming."
US Soccer allotted the army 500 seats at reduced prices for last month's Cup matches. "The cup was our experimental run to get the army off the ground," says Wright. "And now we want to advertise with soccer magazines so we can branch out into the soccer community."
Members of Sam's Army can be spotted by their distinctive red shirts, which sport a red-white-and-blue Uncle Sam's top hat over a soccer ball. Spaccone says they have even been trying to develop some patriotic soccer songs. One of the more promising ones that they sang at the Colombia game, he says, was "When the Yanks Go Marching In."
Spaccone stresses that Sam's Army will stand for good sportsmanship and not hooliganism. "We want to not only change the atmosphere at US games, but we also want to establish a camaraderie among the other fans," he says. "Hopefully, it will become a tradition where people will not only know about us but want to root with us as well."
The army's next mission is to invade the Meadowlands at East Rutherford, N.J., Aug. 4 for the Parmalat Cup, featuring the US team and three top-flight foreign clubs.
*Army members keep in touch through a North American soccer mailing list on the Internet. To receive information, interested parties can type: firstname.lastname@example.org. To join Sam's Army, send a message to: email@example.com.