Posts Tagged ‘Fans’

The Culture of USA Soccer

Posted: June 25, 2011 in US Soccer
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American Outlaws

A week ago I was able to attend the USA v. Guadeloupe game, and I thought I’d just put down some of my general impressions of where we are as a country and our love of the national team.

First, the venue was Livestrong Park in Kansas City, KS and it was an amazing stadium.  Smaller (18,000 capacity I think), but what a great stadium.  It shows how far we’ve come as a country when one of the oldest teams in the MLS is finally able to join the rest of the league and get on board with a soccer-specific stadium and host an international competition.  We’ve come a long way since the Hunt family built Crew Stadium.

The game was an important one, and we needed to get a result out of it to move on to the quarter finals of the Gold Cup, so I was pretty confident that we were going to get the full first team line up.  Bob Bradley came out in his traditional 1-4-4-2 and the following starters…

GK: Tim Howard
Back Line: Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Eric Lichaj
Midfield: Landon Donovan, Michael  Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey
Strikers: Chris Wondolowski, Jozy Altidore

The stadium was packed with 20,000+ fans that night, and it was more encouraging to see the entire supporters section completely filled with the American Outlaws and Sam’s Army (even the local Sporting KC supporter groups came out with their drums and everything to help provide the atmosphere).  They really helped set the tone of the game and they never stopped singing the entire 90 minutes.  I was also impressed with their pre-game activities.  Organized tailgating prior to the game, a get together advertised for the supporters groups the night before to build up the event, it was very encouraging to see.

The other three sides of the stadium were made up of a lot of casual or first-time fans.  For instance, the group of 48 players and parents that I brought down with me were mainly made up of fans who had never seen a soccer match at the highest level (even on television).  A few of them had, but it might have only been to attend one or two MLS games, and watching the EPL or international soccer through a television.  So they were very reserved, but I felt like each of them left having a great time and developing a love for this beautiful game.

Most of the crowd was relatively quite, and didn’t catch on with the supporters chants, but most MLS games are like this as well in all honesty.  The encouraging thing was to notice some of the conversations I over heard throughout the stadium (I can’t sit still, I have to be on my feet for the game).  There were a lot of new fans that were very impressed with the quality of play and the excitement around a competition they had only vaguely heard of.  It was very encouraging to me about the future of developing a following for USA soccer.  There were a few kids in the stadium, but I would say a majority of the fans were adults who knew something of the game and were educated about the game of soccer and there to watch, not just be entertained.

This is what we need for soccer to take off as a spectator sport in the USA.  More fans who are adults and can be drawn into the game better than only appealing to the little youth soccer demographic.

After the final whistle the supporters groups retreated into the pub and watched highlights of the game as they cheered and had a post-game pint.

I think the culture of USA soccer is growing, and it shows with success they’ve had hosting these events.  Hopefully we can start turning some of these new, first-time fans into consistent USA followers.  It was a great experience, and I’m glad a contingency from South Dakota was willing to drive down and experience it.

On the eve of the 2011 season a lot of my players have been giving me a hard time. I love the MLS! I think it’s a huge privilege to have a professional soccer league in my country. My players on the other hand think we need to be supporters of European clubs to be real fans of this beautiful game.

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching European soccer. I’ve been watching EPL, La Liga, and Serie A matches since I was a little kid. I spent part of my childhood growing up in Europe and Asia, and soccer was much more available on public TV than it was here in the USA. The quality of soccer in these traditional regions is undeniable (along with Latin and South America). But one thing I learned hard and fast growing up as an expatriot was a deep passion to see my country develop and succeed. Any international competition was a matter of pride. As a US citizen I had to rely on the summer Olympics, baseball and basketball to really come through for me. But something happend in 1994 that shaped my love for the US-MNT forever; we didn’t fair too badly! In fact, we out right belonged at the World Cup! I was able to hold my head up high around the neighborhood and not be ashamed of how my country men faired in the greatest competition of the world.

When I moved back to the USA I started supporting the MLS right away. Here was our chance to make an impression and develop the internationals that would challenge for World Cup glory. Sure it wasn’t as sharp and beautiful to watch as some of the soccer I saw growing up, but it’s OURS!

I still love to watch international clubs. Watching Barcelona dominate every match with beautiful team play and amazing ability is something you can’t take your eyes away from. And yet there is something about sitting in the stands of a professional soccer match here in my home country supporting a sport I love, and want to see grow from where it is right now.

We’re starting to make our mark on the world. The 2002 WC was another very exciting time for us, and whether you thought 2010 was a success or a disappointment the fact of the matter is we have higher expectations of our MNT than we did in 1994. We expect to make it out of qualifying as one of the top two teams in CONCACAF. We expect to come away with points out of our group at the WC, and we even expected our team to win the group and press on in the finals of the WC. This shift in our presuppositions has a big part to do with the development of our domestic league.

So what is our obligation to our home league? Do we owe it to the MLS to pick a team and sit through the season pretending to be a fan? WHY NOT? These boys are playing the best soccer our country has to offer (and I’m not one of them even if though I tried my hand at it). I’m coaching young, aspiring athletes and my dream is to see them play at our collegiate or professional ranks. What am I communicating to them if I don’t even watch it?

Why not be a fan of MLS? Doesn’t mean we can’t have our favorite teams in La Liga or EPL! But if we were real fans of the game wouldn’t we want the best in our nation to be better? And how can our league grow and expand if the soccer faithful here don’t even support it?

I really didn’t have a club in the MLS because I grew up moving around so much as a kid. California, Colorado, Georgia, etc. So when I finally landed in Dallas, TX I adopted FC Dallas because it was the first city I had the privilege of living in that had an MLS franchise. I attended as many games as I could, took my players to local SMU and FC Dallas games, and became a fan. Even though I don’t live there anymore I’m committed, and I make that known to my players. I still support PSV and Everton, but I make sure people know my first love is the MLS and our MNT. We need to start developing a national pride and support for our home teams. We need to be passionate when we talk about the USA WNT dominating international competitions. We should be sitting around TV’s on game nights supporting our MLS clubs like the American football and baseball fanatics.

The soccer culture in the USA needs to make this transition to become a real sport culture in our society. If we don’t have national pride and support for our own soccer, we’ll never develop the growth or the players to compete. And I believe it’s happening. Some of the clubs in the USA are really showing how local support is growing (FC Dallas struggles a bit though). Let’s keep it going! If you’re a citizen of the USA and haven’t found an MLS club to support I challenge you to adopt a team that puts even a small fire in you.