As soccer continues to grow in popularity in the United States, so has the support for the country’s national team, which begins play today in the 2014 World Cup against Ghana in Natal, Brazil.

A group of local fans has joined that movement and is looking for expansion as the globe’s biggest soccer tournament plays out over the next month. The Bowling Green chapter of the American Outlaws will host a viewing party at 5 p.m. today at Hilligans in Bowling Green to watch the U.S. begin its quest for the World Cup.

“Basically, it started last March when qualifying for the World Cup started,” said Jonathan White, one of the group’s main organizers. “Me and a couple of friends that I’ve known from school got together and watched some games. We all knew about the Outlaws and decided that there’s no reason that Bowling Green shouldn’t have a chapter.

“So I started a Twitter (account) for it, started spreading the word around, got some people involved that way and started growing from that. Last summer, we ended up getting the 25 members that we needed to be official and it’s basically just been all word of mouth.”

The American Outlaws is a national group founded in 2007 which has grown to more than 18,000 members in 137 cities, including Bowling Green, Nashville, Louisville and Lexington. The organization’s mission statement describes itself as a group of fans “dedicated to uniting and strengthening this country’s fans – creating a loud, dedicated and passionate atmosphere at all games.

“Our mission is to support the United States National Teams through a unified and dedicated group of supporters.”

White, a youth pastor at Adairville Baptist Church, said the Bowling Green chapter has grown to 40 paid members and a crowd of 35 arrived at Hilligans on June 7 to watch the U.S face Nigeria in a friendly match – the team’s last before beginning World Cup play.

He also hopes that the excitement created by the World Cup will help his local chapter expand in the coming weeks.

“Soccer has always been a passion of mine,” he said. “I grew up playing since I was 4 years old and all through high school and played intramurals in college. When you get something that’s a national team kind of thing, there’s a little more pride there in your country and you want to see your country do well.”

White said the watch parties at Hilligans are open to Outlaws members and nonmembers alike and that the Bowling Green chapter will be present for all three U.S group stage matches. The Americans are also scheduled to play against Portugal at 5 p.m. Sunday and against Germany at 11 a.m. June 26.

The quarterfinals of the tournament are scheduled for July 4-5, the semifinals are scheduled for July 8-9 and the final is scheduled for July 13.

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