(Perhaps the words “march on” are a bit strong; “stroll towards” would be more accurate.)
As my brother alluded to in yesterday’s Benny Feilhaber post, recently, I found myself in Chicago for work. I had a few hours to kill before making the trek out to O’Hare and wondered what I should do. Being of Polish decent, I started thinking of kielbasa and pierogi and looking up Polish restaurants. But then I hopped on TSG and Matt had posted the YouTube clip of the Outlaws march (“march” is the correct term here) on Soccer House and my mind was made up. I would make my own pilgrimage to the seat of soccer power in America.
My walk in the sweltering sun turned into a cab ride and I quickly found myself in a nice, very quiet neighborhood. This was the famed Soccer House? I knew it was a historical building in an historical part of town, but I didn’t think it would be in a deserted residential neighborhood across from a gated park. Thankfully, I didn’t come empty handed because otherwise I would have just walked around the block, tapped on the US Soccer Federation sign and spent another $15 to return to my hotel.
After my Soccer House inspiration, I had emailed Matthew to solicit slogans I could write on signs to hold outside of Soccer House. Much to exactly no ones surprise, Matthew’s email back included 5 versions of sayings all including the words “Benny”. I picked one (which you saw in yesterday’s post), made up two more and had all three signs and a camera with in-front of Soccer House. Only one problem. There sidewalks were barren; no one was around to take a picture.
For the next ten minutes I looked like some creepy guy pacing back and forth along a quaint, but desolate block holding some signs. Five minutes into my lurking, a cop car pulled around the corner and parked 20 feet from Soccer House. I was doing nothing wrong, but actually started to wonder if someone had called me in.
Thankfully, it turned out that the cops were just eating lunch on a quiet street. Soon after, a kind woman walked by and we started snapping some pictures. And as I walked away, I made sure to drop the signs in the trash can across the street with the “Free Benny” sign sticking up for everyone to see as they walked out of the front door from Soccer House.
So, as you can see it really wasn’t much of a “march.” There were no megaphones or flags. But hopping back in the cab, I did wonder what, if anything, it all meant — here was the US Soccer Federation in a house that seemed more fit for a Chicago old-money socialite than the headquarters of an aggressive, burgeoning US sport. Was the USSF trying to look “old world”? Was it symbolic of a disconnect between USSF and its fans? Or, did it just mean that the USSF wanted a nice office and had some cash to spend? (which is just fine with me) Again, maybe it meant nothing at all.
I was reminded of some of these thoughts when I read this article from ESPN.com about the availability of tickets for, and interest in Saturday’s match in Salt Lake City. Among other things, it states that US Soccer isn’t all that focused on filling stadiums for qualifiers.
The author, Steve Davis writes that for USSF, WC qualifier placement is about trying to get a more pro-US crowd than the “short-term cash grab” of filling arenas with foreign supporters. I am all for that, however, I am not sure I buy that for two reasons. 1) The tickets aren’t that cheap and 2) Other qualifiers have been in Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Denver and D.C. (I guess you could make a case for Nashville and Columbus being less “international” cities, though some would disagree with that. Regardless, the USSF then turned around and put a critical match against Honduras in Chicago.)
The Soccertown debate aside and unless I am missing something, it seems like the USSF “selects” locations for qualifiers by picking a region and then throwing a dart. There doesn’t seem to be much forethought beyond that. And it doesn’t seem to always be in the best interests of the team or fans either.
One last example..as mentioned by a commenter in the ESPN.com article, this Saturday’s tilt with El Salvador in Salt Lake City starts one hour after the first BYU football game of the season (versus Oklahoma, no less). Still wondering why there are still tickets available?
Admittedly, I don’t the process for selection, but I don’t think many do. Let’s end the speculation and unnecessary “drama” around placement (and for that matter, time-released training rosters) in favor of transparency and long-term travel planning. If not, we may end up seeing a game from the park across the street from Soccer House.