"Let them know we're here"

U-S-A! U-S-A! Nicky Bonne for ESPN The Magazine

This article appears in the May 31 issue of ESPN The Magazine; you can find all content from that issue, as populated, by going here.

We're at the bar in the Die Port van Cleve Hotel in Amsterdam -- Monty Rodrigues, Shawn Simao, Shawn's wife, Joy, and me -- priming for the big soccer match. The 18th-ranked U.S. team won't face the third-ranked Netherlands until tomorrow, but when you are diehard fans like Monty & Co., and you've just flown 3,600 miles from New England to the vice capital of Europe, the tailgating begins when the bars open. In this case, 11 a.m.

It's now 5:30. Monty, wearing blue jeans, a 2006 limited edition U.S. jersey and a red-and-white scarf embroidered with "Loyal Supporters of the U.S. National Team," is explaining his intentions for the next night's early-March World Cup tune-up. Actually, after a dozen or so pints of Affligem Blond, he is trying to explain. "I'm leaving the stadium dead," rambles the 35-year-old financial analyst. "No voice. Sing. It's not about the color of your shirt. Let them know we're here. Save my strength for the stadium. Don't make me kick you in the nuts."

So what if Monty isn't speaking with utter clarity? He's speaking with unbridled love. As president of the New England brigade of Sam's Army, a countrywide fan club of the U.S. national team, he is about to attend his 51st game to root on the Yanks-- his 51st cap, as he likes to say. He has flag-waved in Korea and Germany at the past two World Cups, painted his face in France and Canada and sung himself hoarse at stadiums across America. As recently as a decade ago, fans who traveled out of their area code to catch a U.S. soccer game were freaks. Now, Monty and Shawn and Joy are part of a growing group of Americans who need a passport to satisfactorily support the red, white and blue.