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Omaha Parliament boosts Union Omaha support through community involvement

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Here's a look at how Union Omaha won the USL League One championship in the Owls' second season.

Katherine Rzonca didn’t know much about soccer when she moved to Omaha in 2020. She didn’t know many people, either.

But she had a few friends who attended Union Omaha matches, and Rzonca wanted to check out the environment.

Soon, both of those things changed as she joined the Owls' supporter group, Omaha Parliament, last year. Now she is in the group’s drumline and chant director.

Parliament — deriving its name from a group of owls — has grown to an estimated 400 members. Besides rooting for its team, the group is trying to grow the sport in the area. 

Will Patterson, Parliament's social media director, was in a similar situation as Rzonca. He recently moved from Washington, D.C., though he was already a big soccer fan.

Patterson wanted to check out the Fourth of July game last year to see fireworks. He didn’t expect much, considering the Owls play in the third division of U.S. soccer, and he thought his hometown MLS club D.C. United didn’t get much support.

But Patterson was blown away.

There were 4,000 at that game. And by the end of the season, when the Owls won the USL League One title, Patterson estimated there were 5,000 at Werner Park.

“I also knew that if you put sports in front of Nebraskans, they’ll just go to it,” Patterson said. “I couldn’t believe how many people were just wearing all of the gear and so into it and really invested in the team.”

He noticed the drumline, too, which sparked his interest to reach out on Facebook to try out. He got the job, then was elected to his current position last December.

Besides the traditional chants and drumming from the section, the group also hosts a pregame tailgate in the Werner parking lot. That draws nearly 200 people, the group's Vice President (and tailgate director) Chris Johnson said.

For road games, Parliament hosts a watch party at the Corner Kick Cantina near 132nd and Dodge Streets. The group also meets for the men’s and women’s national team matches.

Some even travel to road games.

That was evident for the team’s U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal loss to Sporting KC last month, when about 1,000 went to Kansas City, Kansas. Dressed in volt green, Omaha fans packed into a corner section of Children’s Mercy Park and multiple times that night, started chants of “Union” ... “Omaha.”

Despite a 6-0 loss, the team walked over after the game to the remaining supporters, applauding their support.

“That U.S. Open Cup run, that’s hopefully a catalyst, but we want people to experience this atmosphere here,” Patterson said. “For this club, at this age and for this fan base, even score regardless, that was an incredible moment for this club.”

Said Rzonca, who traveled to St. Paul when Union Omaha upset Minnesota United 2-1 in the tourney: “With the Cinderella run, more fans have become aware of Union Omaha and the team isn’t oblivious to it."

Even Patterson’s friends back in Washington took note. They texted him about the team, not knowing his executive role with Parliament.

But the group has another major mission, too: Fundraising. Through a partnership with Pint Nine Brewing Company and Football for the World Foundation, Parliament has raised money for minipitches in North and South Omaha.

In June, through a partnership with PFLAG Omaha, Parliament hosted a prideraiser that generated over $1,300 for the LGTBQ+ support group. Members also volunteer at local soccer tournaments and COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

“Just to have community outreach — knowing that we’re having fun, we get together, we drink and we have a good time — through what we do in our volunteer efforts, we make a difference,” Rzonca said.

Johnson, Patterson and Rzonca all agreed that their favorite part of the Parliament is the family environment that has evolved over the years. Johnson recalled going to all the games in the COVID-abbreviated inaugural season with her son. She wasn’t a member of Parliament at the time, but was lured in by seeing the group sing, dance and chant.

Patterson said Parliament has been one of the most important parts of his time in Omaha. And for Rzonca, she knows she can text any of her fellow Parliament friends to hang out, even if it doesn’t involve Union Omaha.

“Every one of these people have been here for us in so many different ways and I think that’s a lot of it,” Johnson said. “We all have the same goal to support and grow soccer in Omaha. We do more than just support Union Omaha.”

Owls sign Gil

Union Omaha signed of midfielder Luis Gil on Friday, pending league and federation approval.

Gil spent seven years in the MLS and has two caps for the U.S. senior national team, scoring goals in CONCACAF and World Cup matches.

"Adding an experienced, quality player like Luis will have such a great impact on our team on and off the field for the second half of the season," Owls coach Jay Mims said in a press release. ​"We are excited to welcome Luis to the club and I know the players are eager to have another hard-working, humble person in the locker room.”

Gil also played for Querétaro F.C. in Liga MX, the top tier of the Mexican football system, where he won the Copa MX tournament in 2016 and was on the U.S. Open Cup title team with Houston in 2018.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of a championship team,” Gil said. “Hoping to help bring another to the city of Omaha!”

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