The Supporter Series: Tony Danza Army

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The Supporter Series on TSG celebrates supporters clubs across the US.

Supporters groups aren’t just for big clubs and national teams. In a tiny, but beautiful corner of Los Angeles, a light blue clad army exists, the Tony Danza Army.

Before you ask if Galaxy or Chivas USA has changed their colors let me introduce you to, arguably, the most successful soccer club in Los Angeles, the Pali Blues. The W-USL is the second division of women’s professional soccer in the United States and the Pali Blues have won two championships in as many seasons behind the support of the Tony Danza Army (TDA).

TSG first learned of the Tony Danza Army following some research (i.e. we clicked on a link) when Max Goldman, founder of TDA, put together this video to pump of USMNT fans after the World Cup draw in December. However, opposing teams and Pali Blues management are well aware of the vocal group of supporters. Said, Pali Blues General Manager Jason Lemire:

[TDA is] one of the best things about our organization. In a league that generally struggles for genuine stadium atmosphere, The Tony Danza Army brings entertainment and credibility to our gameday. They personally motivate me [as General Manager] to match their enthusiasm. The coaches and players love having them at the stadium and say that they are the type of fans any organization would want.

Max Goldman answered some questions for TSG about the Tony Danza Army and Pali Blues and, along with the folks TSG met at the US-HON match, helped inspire The Supporter Series.

TSG: Why did a bunch of dudes take an interest in women’s soccer and, in particular, second division women’s soccer?

I would attribute this to the very nature of the Tony Danza Army, which resonates with people on a variety of levels.  On one level, we’re all good ol’-fashioned sports fans, the guys who love to attend games and be the most enthusiastic fans in the house.

On another level, a lot of us are passionate soccer folks, the types who would watch any game, anywhere, and follow our team to the bitter end.

On a third and equally-important level, we are trying to make a lasting and pioneering effort in soccer culture.  We are bringing passionate support (chants, standing, banners, flares) out of the big leagues and into the grassroots.  True soccer nations are not only judged by their fan presence on the world’s biggest stages, but their passion in the country’s smallest grounds.

When they write that chapter of American soccer history, I hope they have a place for the Tony Danza Army. Here we are, a bunch of guys watching Division 2 women’s soccer, but it still has everything we love about the game.

We feel a real connection to the players, standing for 90 minutes and wearing our light blue as proudly as anyone ever donned their club colors.  We live and die with every game.  That sort of passion knows no gender or tier.

TSG: How and why did the TDA get started? How strong is the army?

I first envisioned the Tony Danza Army while away at college, pitching it to my brother and a few other friends. We eat, sleep, and breathe the beautiful game, wanting to have a real relationship with a real hometown club. The L.A.-based Pali Blues were that team, coupling a supporter-friendly front office with a championship squad that had never lost a game.

My brother then got a lot of his soccer and sports-loving friends hooked on the team and we built from there, largely due to positive word-of-mouth. By the end of last year, we had 30-35 members and that number will hopefully grow in 2010. Between a blog, YouTube channel, and Facebook page, we want to create a vibrant, yet intimate, supporters community.

TSG: How was the name selected?

I’ll come clean here: I’m really just a fan of obscure-sounding names, especially when they go on to attain notoriety.  For all I know, we could have been the “Kevin Bacon Ultras”.  The charm is knowing that there are now a bunch of USL owners, coaches, and players who absolutely fear a group called the “Tony Danza Army”.  After last year’s playoffs, the Colorado Force coach is probably going to sit his players down and tell them to not let “Tony Danza” throw them off their game.  Having that attention and connotation ascribed to a moniker such as ours is very entertaining.

TSG: What is the quality of soccer like in the W-USL?

Higher than a lot of people expect. The league has a couple pro teams, but many of them (including ours) feature the best college players. Many of our players could star in the WPS right now, but stay in the USL so that they can keep their eligibility with amateur sides.

Last year alone, our starting lineup included U.S. national teamers like Tobin Heath, Lauren Cheney, Canadian star Kara Lang, and veteran Mexican playmaker Iris Mora.  We’re convinced that the latter is the female counterpart to Guillermo Barros Schelloto, to the point where the TDA bowed to her during corner kicks and chanted “MOOORAA, MOOORAA”.

TSG: Why should people join the cause?

I could tell you all about the great group of guys, the front office that would break their neck to accommodate us, and the championship team we support, which hasn’t lost a game in its two-year existence. Ultimately though, it comes down to the game-day experience and knowing you are part of something special and unique, not only within American soccer, but in the entire world.

To exemplify this final point, I’ll mention one specific TDA memory. We were in the 2009 Western Conference final and up 1-0 in the second half. Suddenly, the underdog Colorado Force score two well-executed goals. Their three fans go wild and we stand there, ten minutes away from elimination after an undefeated year.

However instead of going mum or turning on the team, we get loud, even belligerent, and chant stronger than we ever have.  The refrain, “We’re gonna win 3-2, We’re gonna win 3-2” echoes around the ground.  The wave of noise continues until a crescendo—Tobin Heath slams a 30-yarder into the upper “V”.  Pandemonium and chaos ensues. The tide turns and Iris “God” Mora puts in the go-ahead soon after.  The floodgates then open up in earnest and we end up scoring four goals in the final 10 minutes to win the West.  We ended up being wrong—we actually won 5-2.

Having been to multiple World Cups, USMNT games, Premier League matches, and MLS fixtures, I can honestly say that few experiences compare to that magical night on Temescal Road.  Supporters typically cheer for (and against) highly-paid, highly-trained athletes. We spurred on a group of national team players who were playing in relative anonymity, chanting their names like the heroes they are. The type of heroes you get to chat with after a game, who thank you personally for the unwavering support.

Meanwhile, we were also cheering against 18-22 year old girls playing for Colorado. Something tells me that encountering fans like they’re never seen before aided in their spectacular implosion, surrendering 4 goals in 10 minutes during the most important game of their lives.  Few times, if ever, do supporters truly know if they tangibly influenced the outcome of their team’s game. I know the Tony Danza Army did, but doing it with class men and for a class club made it the experience it was.

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Wonderful article. Genuine support from passionate fans is what raises American soccer’s profile in this country. I think a lot of people who agree with Max here that their fandom is far superior to others because they’ve made so much out of so little rather than jump on any bandwagon or major sports franchise.

    I think that a lot of people forget that, unlike some other sports, soccer provides more than just the action on the field, but a lot of action in the crowd. Compare that to the manufactured fandom of “dun dun dun da CHARGE!” of football stadiums and other sports, soccer can claim to have a much more authentic fan experience. That alone should be a great selling point of the sport for those leery.

    I just posted a similar story on my site this morning about a soccer newbie who went to a Chicago Fire game and sat in Section 8 and had the time of his life.

    It’s a whole other world and, as Max wrote, its a create time to be a soccer fan to be a part of it’s crucial developmental history.

    Reply

  2. I agree with the quote “True soccer nations are not only judged by their fan presence on the world’s biggest stages, but their passion in the country’s smallest grounds.” which is why I will try to get something similar for the new Division II team in Minnesota (the Thunder went bust) taking part in the USL/NASL league. Like Max alludes to in his comments, it’s more fun being the rowdy group of 10-50 people in a stadium with only 60-75 people in it.

    Reply

  3. Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/02 at 7:21 AM

    Take that Inter-City Jibbers….love the piece

    Classic:

    “Having been to multiple World Cups, USMNT games, Premier League matches, and MLS fixtures, I can honestly say that few experiences compare to that magical night on Temescal Road…”

    Reply

  4. Just a quick thank you to Mark T and everyone at TSG for a great article. I said it in the article and I will say it again, The Tony Danza Army is one of the best things about our organization.

    I want to relay my favorite Tony Danza Army story, from the same play-off game Max mentioned.

    It is a few minutes before kick off and the guys (and girls…the Army does have girls too) call me over. One of them has a saxophone mind you. Three of them are wearing sunglasses (it is 7PM). They have already tried to break into the press box to play a mixtape they created for the occassion. But now, all they want to know is after we win can they “storm the field.”

    Now we have 400 – 500 fans in the stands. My stadium security consists of me, one of our host family moms (because we are an amateur team our visiting players stay with local families) and our assistant coach’s eight year old son. So if these 20+ TDA soldiers wanted to rush the field they could have. From my perspective there are three great parts to this story.

    1. That a W-League team has fans who want to rush the field
    2. That we have such a good working relationship with our supporters club (and they are so respectful and protective of our name) that they would ask me first.
    3. That before the game even started they assumed we would win and have something to rush the field about.

    Of course the answer was yes (just no messing with the Colorado team as they are a great franchise and they had travelled a long way to get here…”can’t we mess with them a little bit?”…no…”what about just their coach?”…NO!…”Okay, but we can rush the field.”…Yes)

    The Blues won in dramatic fashion and the TDA did storm the field, flags flying, saxophone blaring, sunglasses firmly in place. The soldiers were soon followed by the rest of our fans, mostly families with kids who line up after every game to sign autographs and talk with our players.
    This is the magic of the Pali Blues. We are not going to teach an All-American how to kick a ball. She already knows how to do that. What we do strive to teach her is how to stay the extra ten minutes and sign an autograph or talk with that little girl about the goal she scored in AYSO last week.

    With the help of the Tony Danza Army, we also hope to show the future stars of the women’s game that our soccer nation is behind them 100%.

    Reply

  5. I may just be speaking from jealousy since I’m a Washington Freedom fan (both W-League and WPS), but just how much credit should people get for rooting for a team packed with ringers that never loses?

    Reply

  6. Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/02 at 9:03 PM

    I think that’s a fair question StarCityFan and I would say….”a ton.”

    They still get out there and they still get out there and cheer.

    It’s always makes it easy and less arduous when your team wins, but it’s still a commitment.

    Reply

  7. [...] by Mark T in The Beautiful Game. Tagged: Pali Blues. Leave a Comment Two weeks ago, TSG ran the first part of our Supporter Series about the Tony Danza Army, a group of guys who support the Pali Blues of the [...]

    Reply

  8. [...] TSG launched our Supporter Series with a look-in on the Pali Blues and their supporter group, the Tony Danza Army, we learned something very [...]

    Reply

  9. [...] You played for the Pali Blues. We did a supporter series on the Tony Danza Army. Can you describe your experience playing with the team and the supporters who followed [...]

    Reply

  10. [...] Well, meet Max and Zack Goldman, brothers and the new Directors of Operations for The Pali Blues. For those unfamiliar, the Pali Blues are a top semi-pro women’s soccer team and the two-time defending Champions of the USL W-League. They also have perhaps the best supporter’s group unknown to many (that should be known), the Tony Danza Army. [...]

    Reply

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