The Women's World Cup soccer semifinal pitting the United States against England is winding down and Captain Jack's Bar, near 12th and P streets, is hopping on a Tuesday afternoon.

Packed wall-to-wall with their eyes glued to the dozen TVs showing the match, the American fans are decked out in their red, white and blue shirts, jerseys and flag bandanas. Most are members of the American Outlaws, a fan club dedicated to supporting both of the United States' national soccer teams.

And they're incensed.

They want a penalty after England defender Millie Bright slides into USA star forward Alex Morgan for what feels like the umpteenth time.

And someone in the crowd is chanting one word: England.

Angry eyes set upon a man in the center of the bar with a blue scarf decked out with England's three lions.

"Just kidding ... U.S. citizen," says Martin Banyard in his natural English accent, smiling as he points to his American Outlaws T-shirt underneath the scarf.

Later he'll cheer with arm around his friend Jon Terry after Bright gets sent off the field with a red card for crashing into Morgan one too many times.

He'll chant "U-S-A" with the rest of the crowd.

Banyard's expression will also falter for just a moment when Steph Houghton's penalty kick skips into the arms of U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher in the 83rd minute, essentially signaling England's 2-1 defeat at the end of a hard-fought match.

But for Banyard, the time he spends at Captain Jack's represents his love of the game.

"Whoever wins today I'll be happy for," he said before the penalty kick. "This is probably one of the best games in women's soccer I've ever seen."

It's high praise coming from the Englishman living in Lincoln. The 63-year-old London native has spent a lifetime as a Chelsea fan, and 39 of those years have been in the United States.

He moved to Seattle in 1980. The city was still decades from the Sounders coming into existence. Heck, Major League Soccer wouldn't play its first game until 1996.

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It was rough existence for a soccer fan like Banyard.

The U.S. women have been on a roll this summer and now are one victory from defending their World Cup crown.

"It still gives me goosebumps to see how far the sport here has come," Banyard said. "There's so much more credibility given to the American scene now."

Banyard supports his home country while simultaneously rooting for the USA. That's not hard, he said, because he falls in easily with the U.S. team's fan base.

He was one of the original members of the first American Outlaws chapter in Lincoln in 2007, and sees its success in growing the local soccer scene as a point of pride.

"This right here is a wonderful moment. It's a melting pot in here," Banyard said,  gesturing to the families and men and women of several ethnicities. "It's a microcosm of what this country represents. You can go to any place in America right now and you can find people who share that same passion."

American Outlaws member Matt Anderson agreed. He said the multiple appearances by the U.S. women on the world stage have made the growth unstoppable.

"The atmosphere is unparalleled. Nebraska football is like a religion to me, but a Nebraska football game and a U.S. (soccer) game are totally different," Anderson said. "Here's 60 to 70 people dialed-in for 90 minutes. When it comes down to it, you're all supporting your country and it creates an electric environment."

Blaine Kahle, the Outlaws' secretary, said the women's team provides heroes for kids to emulate.

"A lot of parents want to encourage their young children to participate in youth soccer leagues," Kahle said. "Those women are strong role models."

Banyard said he hopes children attending the American Outlaws watch parties will be inspired by the players and hopes soccer-playing parents will encourage their children to play as well.

"We're at a point where all the players have children now and they're looking up to them," he said. "And America is going to stay good. These women prove that when Americans put their mind to something, they'll do what it takes to make it happen."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or eclopton@journalstar.com.


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