American Outlaws
© Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

AO Ready for First USMNT Visit

Back in 2006, Jason Ridge boarded a flight to Germany to watch the U.S. Men’s National Team at the FIFA World Cup.

Ridge’s trip to see the national team on Sunday afternoon should only take a few minutes.

“It’s amazing,” he said.

When the USMNT visit Cincinnati for the first time to play Venezuela, Ridge and the rest of the American Outlaws Cincinnati chapter will be at Nippert Stadium supporting the team that they traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to see previously.

“As someone who grew up in Cincinnati playing the game, it’s amazing,” Ridges said. “I never thought it would happen in a million years. Thanks to FC Cincinnati, it’s happening now. It’s amazing.”

The American Outlaws are the country’s largest soccer supporter’s section and boast more than 30,000 members throughout 200 chapters scattered around the globe. As for the Cincinnati chapter, it’s based across the Ohio River at Molly Malone’s Irish Pub in Covington.

On Sunday, Molly Malone’s will be the AO HQ ahead of the USMNT’s first visit to Cincinnati. For Ridges, who leads the chapter, the festivities have required hours of planning for 90 minutes of international soccer.

“It’s a process,” he said. “You’ve got to throw a party for everyone and make sure they have a good time and party the night before and day of. It’s a process but it’s fun.”

It’s a process Ridges never expected to happen.

When the national team failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, Ridges said local interest in the men’s team was almost nonexistent.

“To be honest, the chapter kind of died, really,” he said of AO Cincinnati. “Interest was just really low in U.S. soccer. There were just a few of us that were watching games. We didn’t really do much other than show up at Molly Malone’s.

That’s changed, of course.

On Sunday, the U.S. host Venezuela in the final tune-up game before the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup kicks off next week. The tournament is the first major competition for the Americans since the World Cup qualifying disaster. Head Coach Gregg Berhalter has only coached the team five times and needs a positive result at Nippert to boost momentum. Tickets are still available.

In short, Sunday will be special for the USMNT and their first visit to Cincinnati. It’ll be equally as memorable for soccer fans in this city to appreciate, celebrate and even dream.

“I would love to see Cincinnati be a phenomenon where Cincinnati is a fortress and where they come here and expect to win because they know the people are behind them,” Ridges said. “You’ve seen how soccer has taken off in this city.

“If we put on a good show, the team does well and there’s a good vibe in the stadium, who knows what’s in store for us down the road?”