When the U.S. men's soccer team rallied from a three-goal
deficit on Oct. 8 to beat Saudi Arabia 4-3 at RFK Stadium in
Washington, D.C., no one cheered louder than Sam's Army, a
raucous, red-shirted, banner-waving bunch of fans in section
121, behind the north goal. Members of this booster club make a
point of being as vocal as possible in their support of both the
men's and women's national teams. At the D.C. game they adapted
an English and Irish soccer chant, shouting, Oo-ee Wegerle,
Oo-ee Wegerle, in honor of forward Roy Wegerle, and switching to
Oo-ah, Lassiter, when Roy Lassiter replaced him. They also sang
that universal soccer favorite Ola, Ola in addition to a more
familiar ditty that in their version, went When the Yanks Go
Sure, they looked patriotic, but didn't all that singing and
chanting and standing up during a soccer game seem, well,
un-American? Not according to Steve Sampson, the newly appointed
coach of the men's national team. He says the members of Sam's
Army are "the best fans in the country right now for the game of
Cofounded in February by Mark Spacone, who is pursuing his
teacher's certificate at Buffalo State College, and his friend
John Wright, who's now in the U.S. Air Force in England, Sam's
Army has grown from only 25 members to nearly 1,000, whose
mission is to show the U.S. public how to be soccer fans. "We
want people in our section to be active participants," says
Spacone, "to sing, chant and create a fun atmosphere. We also
want to create a home field advantage for the U.S."
"In other countries everybody knows what's expected of them,"
says Mark Wheeler, a graduate student of computer science at
Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh. "Here it's not that way." Which
is not to say that U.S. soccer fans are apathetic. They're just
not mobilized and still a bit new to this brand of enthusiasm.
Sam's Army, named in honor of Uncle Sam, is not only active but
also interactive. The group does not make a move without the aid
of its cybercleat companion, Wheeler's U.S. Soccer Page on the
World Wide Web (whose address is http://
www.cs.cmu.edu/~mdwheel/us-soccer/). "In the U.S.," says
Spacone, "nothing like this has ever been organized."
Wheeler created the U.S. Soccer Page in April 1994 as a way to
keep track of that summer's World Cup tournament. It was at the
U.S. versus Switzerland match in Detroit that Wright, Spacone
and Wheeler had their first encounter: A friend of Wright and
Spacone accidentally spilled his Coke on Wheeler. But it wasn't
until four months later, when Wheeler saw an article mentioning
the Coke incident in the premier issue of Wright and Spacone's
fanzine, Bookable Offense, that Wheeler made the connection.
Soon Wheeler and Wright were on the Internet, discussing how to
start a fan club for U.S. soccer. When Wright went overseas in
July '95, Spacone stepped in.
"As far as people coming together who share as much passion for
the game, we couldn't have planned it any better," says Spacone,
who played fullback during his senior year at Buffalo State and
whose older brother, Chris, coaches the Niagara University men's
soccer team. When the Spacones were boys, their Italian-born
father took them to Rochester, N.Y., and Toronto whenever those
cities' teams hosted Pela and his New York Cosmos. Wheeler
developed his love for soccer by playing goalie in the youth
leagues of Mississippi's Gulf Coast communities of Bay Saint
Louis and Waveland.
Spacone and Wheeler's goals now are for Sam's Army to have as
much fun as possible and to help the U.S. compete on a level
playing field. Constantly outnumbered by the 20,000 to 30,000
fans who show up to cheer for such opponents of the U.S. as
Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, Sam's Army
nonetheless refuses to be outsung, outchanted or outenthused.
Sam's troops have earned the respect of opponents' fans and the
appreciation of U.S. players. According to Wheeler, when his
group made its debut at the U.S. Cup in June, Mexico's faithful
were "very, very surprised, almost speechless." At the end of
the Cup, the victorious U.S. team went over to Sam's Army to
high-five the fans. Alexi Lalas even threw them his jersey.
"They compare with any fans around the world," says Sampson.
"And as their numbers grow, they'll create an atmosphere our
players have always dreamed of playing in."
Devon Jackson lives in New York City and often writes about pop
COLOR PHOTO: DOUG PENSINGER The troops' cheers were loud and clear when the U.S. rallied to edge Saudi Arabia in D.C. [Soccer fans]