TAMPA — They’ll be cheering, chanting, singing and waving red, white and blue scarves.
It’s going to be a patriotic party Tuesday night as hundreds of people are expected to gather outside the Forum in downtown Tampa to watch the U.S. men’s soccer team play Mexico in a qualification match for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
While the game will be in Columbus, Ohio, local fans will be able to get a good view here - the contest will be projected on a three-story wall outside the Forum.
“We’ve got such a strong, passionate soccer community here,” said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. “It’s another opportunity to make a statement about the strength of soccer in our community.”
The event was the brainchild of three local hard-core soccer friends: Kevin Thurman, Michael Tully and Kent Glisson. All are members of the Tampa chapter of the American Outlaws, a national organization of rabid fans of the U.S. men’s soccer team.
A few months ago the three discussed holding an event to attract a larger audience. They spoke to the Tampa Downtown Partnership, who took the idea to the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. The commission is responsible for recruiting events and sports to the area, including youth sports, the Super Bowl and U.S. soccer matches.
The sports commission got behind the idea,along with the Forum, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the University of South Florida soccer.
“The whole soccer community came together around this whole idea pretty quick,” said Thurman, 33, of Tampa.
“If we win that match, there’s a very high likelihood we qualify for the World Cup,” Thurman said. “It will turn the viewing party into a bigger party if we qualify for Brazil that night.”
Watching the games with serious fans, like members of the American Outlaws, is a unique and charged experience, Thurman said. They’ll chant and sing the entire game. Before the match starts, they’ll march from Hattricks Tavern, 107 S. Franklin St., banging on drums, singing songs and waving U.S. flags and scarves as they head to the Forum’s west plaza where the game will be screened.
It’ll be a rush for many fans in attendance, said Glisson, 36, of Tampa.
“I think a lot of people when they experience it, they come away hooked,” Glisson said. “You become a part of it. It grabs ahold of you. It’s hard not to come away with pride in your country.”
The free event starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday on the west plaza of Forum with a question-and-answer session with members of the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the USF soccer team.
The commission is asking people to R.S.V.P. on its website at tampabaysports.org. As of Thursday, more than 400 people had already reserved a spot.
People planning to attend are asked to bring chairs and blankets. There will be a cash bar and concession stand. There will also be fan giveaways, Higgins said.
The game is scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m.
If the event is popular, the plan is to host future soccer watch parties, especially because the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is next summer.
Organizers also hope the event will encourage the U.S. men’s soccer team to schedule future matches, such as warm ups for the 2014 World Cup, in Tampa.
“The strength of the soccer community is amazing,” Higgins said. “We want to take any opportunity to celebrate the game.”