- Elmer Wheeler
I heard they were glorious. There were whispers they still existed. Folk songs were born of them. I heard only the bravest of travelers dare. From the Rockies of Colorado, to the hot sands of Arizona, these central valley football fans have trekked. My moment had come, finally. The legendary A.O. Modesto road trip had shown itself to me and I was ready. All I needed was that gentle nudge from one of the elders, and Big Jav did just that.
I have worn a cozy notch in the corner of the Modesto chapter of the American Outlaws. My time donning the apron for pre-cook and tail gates over the years has earned me a seat at the table of regulars. I have become familiar with the club members and watched many U.S. matches with them. But I have never traveled with them. This would be my maiden voyage.
There are many parts of this trip that are noteworthy. From the amazing hospitality of the Ernst brothers, to the undeniably delightful food we devoured. We ate, drank, roamed and repeated across this distant land. The true glory came from the match that we traveled so far to watch. Our Lady Yanks matched up against The Belgian Red Flames. Not only did we get to see our championed women’s team put the finishing touches to their final squad in an attempt to defend their World Cup title, but the women who paved the way were in attendance. The 99er’s were honored that night for the first World Cup star ever earned for the United States national teams. This team has a special place for me. The 99er’s gave me the first taste of pride at the international level on the grandest of stages. I also had a more local connection to this team. Tisha Venturini was a legend on my high school alma mater campus of Grace M. Davis. This Spartan connection kept me exceptionally attuned to her specific performance. ~cough~ 2 games, 95 total minutes, 2 goals. Not bad for the Central Valley Gal!!
A touch over twenty years ago I sat at a restaurant and politely asked the server to change the small television to a soccer match. In that restaurant I watched a team of women launch a sport into orbit. Years of training and competing had culminated to penalty kicks on the biggest stage the world had. The cruelest of contradictory emotions battle for your soul, if you dare gaze. It is by far the most anxiety riddled moment that is a necessary evil. All it needed was that one iconic moment. Who knew it would be a member of that squad that had been previously cut and given another chance.
That iconic shirtless moment had a ripple effect. All of our current National Team ladies not only feel it, but humbly recognize it. It was a touching, well deserved, homage to what they had accomplished. The only thing that would be befitting of the 1999 Queens of the pitch, would be the performance that night.
With Carli Lloyd staring down the last World Cup performance, she makes a rare start. She had been used as a “Super Sub” for all of the 2019 matches. She narrowed her eyes, snared her brace with two headers, and galvanized her spot as a leader going into this world wide competition. Who knew she would set a trend for that eve with the team putting five of six goals in net with their head. Just like this great Nation’s Air Force, we owned the air attack. The Red Flames had no answer.
Not only did I get to set eyes on a magnificent stadium, I also got to engage in 90 minutes of constant cheer. The comradery with the loyal American Outlaws and the small band of 3252 members was a seamless marriage. I cheered, hugged, yelled and chanted with my Modesto Outlaw brethren. I felt free. I felt light. I felt I was where I needed to be.
My days of roaming the lands, engaging in glorious song behind that star spangled crest have just begun. I slipped into the twilight of this adventure with a grin. Fangs dripping with taste of victory. This could only to be satisfied by the hunt of my next trip. Let the planning begin.