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.
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.