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It took months of conceptualizing and weathering a literal storm to get it done. But when Natalie Lazo got the news last month that Cloud 9’s tifo had earned the Independent Supporter’s Council Tifo of the Year award for the 2021 season, it was clear it had all been worth it.
“To hear that straight from Jen (Muller) and hear that we had won was a very emotional moment. I definitely started crying into my phone,” said Lazo, who led the creation of the tifo.
The Gotham FC supporter group began making plans for the tifo as soon as the 2021 NWSL schedule dropped.
“When we found out that our final game was going to be played on Halloween, that’s really when we decided, it’s our regular season closer, and it’s on Halloween, so we have to go big, and we have to do something very special for this,” said Lazo, who graduated from Ithaca College with a BFA in art, and works professionally as a graphic designer. “The concept and the design have been in the works since the springtime of last season.”
Lazo, along with Jen Muller and Melissa Correa, members of Cloud 9’s leadership group, turned to a running list of local references for inspiration. From there, they paired up imagery from New York native Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow with messaging from Wu-Tang Clan’s debut single, Protect Ya Neck.
“We found that the idea of taking the headless horsewoman and tying in the Wu Tang reference made it all a little more intimidating,” said Lazo. “After the original sketch, and some refinement, we put it into the digital space. I went into Illustrator. Jen and I kind of fit everything in to make the proportions right and get the measurements to scale.”
After that, they began the process of putting the actual tifo together. “We have a one hundred foot roll of plastic that we have to cut in half and glue together, and then trace out the design by hand with all of the measurements,” Lazo said.
When it came time to paint, the group was in a race against both time and the weather, as what would become known as Tropical Storm Wanda, rolled up the East Coast.
“We were really working against the weather. We had constraints with Red Bull Arena, because they had other events that week as well. So it was really just a mad time crunch to get this one done,” said Lazo.
“It all came together in about a week to ten days,” Lazo said. “We probably had anywhere from 12 to 15 people on the last few days who came in to help. They had hair dryers and heat guns to dry the paint after I put it down. We had to do it in sections because it was the night of the nor’Easter. So we were painting it on the Red Bull Arena concourse in sections. We’d have to roll it up, dry it, just do it section by section until it was done.”
“But at the time we were saying to each other, ‘It doesn’t matter how much time we have to spend out there, if we have to pull an all-nighter, it’s gonna get done.’”
They got it done, and as the tifo was being unveiled before Gotham’s October 31st match against Racing Louisville, Lazo wasn’t stationed in the perfect vantage point to admire the work. Instead, Lazo was crouched down in the capo perch to guide the tifo into place, and stay out of the way as fans snapped photos.
“You’re in front of it, and you can’t really see it, until people give you pictures afterwards,” Lazo said.
But almost immediately, Lazo knew that the tifo had made an impact.
“The reaction around the stadium was incredible. Even the players were looking at it. It was overwhelming to be honest.”
Carli Lloyd, who was playing her last home match, gave the tifo a shout out on her Instagram and in a speech after the match.
“We didn’t expect that from her, but to hear Carli Lloyd tell you that your tifo was awesome is pretty incredible.”
The tifo garnered so much positive recognition that Cloud 9 submitted it for the Tifo Of The Year award at the ISC annual conference. Past Tifo of the Year winners include LAFC supporters’ Freddie Mercury tribute and the Rose City Riveters’ “Shields Up/Protect This Place” tifo from 2017. Cloud 9 also won in 2019.
When the winner was announced, Muller, Cloud 9’s rep at the conference, immediately sent a picture to Lazo.
“As soon as she heard Cloud 9 had won, she sent me a message, sent me a photo of the slide on the screen.”
“To have that work validated from everyone who showed up at ISC, and to be able to say that it was a complete group effort just to get it done and across the finish line is something very special,” said Lazo. “I have a lot of gratitude to the people who showed up, to the people in leadership who trusted my design and my vision. While there were a couple compromises to be made with time constraints, it turned out amazing.”
Lazo believes this will help Cloud 9 achieve even more as a supporter group, especially in the tifo department.
“Jen sent me the message on the day of the ISC conference, and then she said, ‘Next week we’re going to have to chat because I already have some ideas for the season.’ We’re already thinking about how to continue to elevate and evolve our tifo game. We have the audience on the East Coast, we have all eyes on us now, and it’s our time to show that we have what it takes to continue raising the bar and being this force of independent supporter culture.”
“It created a really amazing benchmark for Cloud 9, to put us on the map and show people that we can get this done. We were able to pull this off in a week’s time, with not much to our names. So, whatever we do in the future, with the exposure we now have and the support we now have, it’s just going to be up from here.”