The merciless sun is burning down on a sea of red, white and blue-clad US soccer fans outside of this mining town's train station, and Michael Medeiros is looking for a song.
"Let's see, England can sing about World War II. In Portugal, they can sing about Spain," says the Rhode Island resident and diehard US soccer fan. "We can't sing about winning, because we haven't won anything [major] yet."
That, in a nutshell, sums up the predicament of the long-suffering fans of America's fifth most-loved sport behind baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. Lacking the rich tradition of soccer nations in Europe and South America, the United States is not only having to play catch up on the playing field – but in the stands as well. There's no American equivalent to the stirring renditions of "You'll Never Walk Alone" sung by England's fans, or the chant that makes entire stadiums of Germans stand up and clap their hands for the national team.
The fan culture bred in the football stadiums and basketball arenas of America's professional leagues encourages fans to react, not to take initiative, say US soccer fans – something only time will change.
"It's still too young in the States," says Medeiros. "We need some time."
If this World Cup is any measure, the framework is being built. The US Soccer Association sold its 10,000 tickets to watch the team in Germany on the first sales day, according to spokesman Jim Moorehouse. The additional 7,000 tickets allocated to the association by FIFA went away quickly.
On Monday, the city was awash in red, white and blue, with a sizable US contingent countering the thousands of Czech fans who traveled nine hours over the border to get here. As the US team suffered a tough 3-0 loss at the hands of a strong Czech Republic, American fans did their best to make the FIFA Stadium in Gelsenkirchen, which can seat upwards of 50,000, seem like home.
Fans hung US flags from the seating decks, and those with drums and horns provided musical accompaniment to a crowd decked out in stars and stripes and urging the players on with "U-S-A" chants.
The atmosphere would have made Mark Spacone proud. The Buffalo, N.Y., native – with a soccer obsession inherited from his Italian father – was perturbed by the hostile reaction that greeted the US team during the World Cup in 1994, which was played in the US.
"Every time we played at home, it was always an away game," says Mr. Spacone in a telephone interview.
In response, he founded Sam's Army with a friend, drawing on the rich song and fan culture of the English and Italian leagues. During its inaugural season, Sam's Army was pulling in a few hundred people. Stadium security confiscated the drums and drumsticks they brought with them at the entrances to rally their team.
"They're very strict when it comes to soccer fans in this country," says Spacone, who plans to travel to Germany for the game against Italy. "They think soccer means hooligans, and they think all soccer fans are going to cause to trouble."
As the popularity of the sport has grown, so has Sam's Army. Spacone says there are now 10,000 members worldwide. Some 2,000 of them made their presence felt in the stadium Monday night. And though the action on the field left much to be desired, US fans remained confident.
"I think we need to win this World Cup," says Alejandro Ugarte, a Rhode Islander dressed from head to toe in red, white, and blue. "Then, at the next World Cup in South Africa, we'll have a song to sing."