#AOAway: Panama Pay It Forward

This past week, over 100 American Outlaws joined another 100 U.S. fans from around the country at Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City, Panama, where the USMNT faced off against Panama in World Cup qualifying. The atmosphere in and around the stadium was electric, with Panamanian drumlines and 23,000 Panamanians cheering for their team to rebound from a loss earlier in the weekend to Trinidad and Tobago.

The USMNT took the early 1-0 lead thanks to Christian Pulisic’s incredible strength in fending off several Panamanian defenders to slip the ball to Clint Dempsey for the finish.

Panama’s Gabriel Gomez equalized just four minutes later and that’s how it finished. A few chances in the 2nd half on both ends didn’t yield much and the Yanks secured a crucial point with the 1-1 draw.

After the 6-0 thrashing of Honduras on March 24th and the draw in Panama last Tuesday, the U.S. moved from the bottom of the Hex standings to 4th, with just one point separating them from Panama in 3rd place. Mexico (10 points) and Costa Rica (7) head up the standings with 6 matches remaining.

However, the real story of this #AOAway trip was not the impact we made in the stands, but the impact we had in serving a local neighborhood in Panama City. For two days during the trip, AO had a Pay It Forward event, coordinating with the U.S. Embassy to set up charity events both at the embassy and at a soccer field that is located in the El Chorrillo neighborhood. We worked with the Mundial del Barrio community outreach center, a center located in an extremely impoverished area of El Chorrillo that provides gang intervention and community outreach for neighborhood kids from 3-17 years old. They have 5 centers that service over 550 children, and it was from these centers that 15 children were invited to come out to the U.S. Embassy on the first day for a soccer clinic.
There, the kids participated in soccer drills with AO volunteers and several volunteers from the embassy and received soccer balls (#AOBallDrop) and equipment donated by the American Outlaws. Afterwards, the kids and volunteers split into teams to play a few pickup games. Let me tell you, these kids were phenomenal. Some playing only in socks, others with bare feet and zero equipment, still dominated the muddy pitch in the rain and ran circles around the rest.

The U.S. Ambassador to Panama, John Feeley joined several staff for the event and later on offered his body up to be the target of shots at a dunk tank. Kids and volunteers were able to try and drop the Ambassador into a tank by shooting a soccer ball at the target with donations going to the Mundial del Barrio community center. Several kids (and the Ambassador’s secretary) were successful in sending Feeley into the tub of water. At the end of the event, there was a barbeque where the kids were presented with AO soccer balls to take home with them to commemorate the experience.

On Pay It Forward Day 2, the Outlaws headed to the Cancha de Football Panama soccer field located right across the street from Mundial del Barrio in El Chorrillo. There, they officially made a donation of soccer balls and soccer equipment to the center on behalf of American Outlaws everywhere. After more soccer drills with the dozens of children in attendance, the Outlaws scrimmaged a local youth team and other children who came to witness the event. This time, Ambassador Feeley joined AO on the field and played for a while with the kids. Afterwards, he had a message for U.S. fans everywhere about the work AO did for the local community:

Both Pay It Forward events were the main highlights of a wonderful 5 days in Panama. The people were as warm as the weather, and it was a fun time. We hope to pursue similar events for the final three away trips. We can’t thank enough the AO volunteers who were in attendance, the United States Embassy of Panama and Ambassador John Feeley for their support in our work and their hospitality this week, and for U.S. fans from around the country who traveled to Panama to support the USMNT. As we constantly sing at matches, wherever the U.S. goes, we will follow. And while we are there, we will find an opportunity to leave a lasting impact in the local community.

BIG THANK YOU to those that helped donate Balls and Equipment: