TSG is starting (yet another) new series today entitled: “The Fan In You.” Consider it a brother series to the Supporter Series.
TFIY will explore how you, yes you reading this column, became a fan of the USMNT, or your favorite club team. Were you always a soccer fan? What drew you to the national team or what characteristic or geography pushed you to support your local squad?
Without starting the series, TSG communicated some of our reasons back in our first Thanksgiving piece entitled, “USMNT: What We’re Thankful For.”
Connor Walsh, a frequent commenter and guest writer on TSG, contributes the first in this series this morning. We couldn’t think of a better guy to get this series a rollin’. Thanks Connor. (Connor writes over at his blog, Ninety-Plus.)
If you want to add your unique take on fandom, drop us a line.
In 2006, I attended my first ever US Men’s National Team match.
It was in the send off series of the 2006 World Cup, against Morocco at LP Field in Nashville. The US lost that match 0-1, but I’d never had so much fun in my entire life. My friends and I were given tickets amongst the hundreds of Morocco supporters who were there. Now, I had heard chanting and singing from the fans on TV, but never had I been thrust into the middle of such a ruckus.
It was controlled pandemonium, it was intimidating, and it was fun. Over in the end zone of the stadium I see a group of red clad US supporters, sporting a massive US flag and trying their hearts out to will their team to victory. I told myself then and there, I want to be a part of that passion.
Three years later, and that passion had only grown, through a spawning domestic league, a national program on the rise, and true love of the sport. In January 2009, I joined the American Outlaws, a family of thousands of fervent and staunch US Supporters, from across the nation.
Founded in 2007 in Lincoln, Nebraska, the Outlaws mission statement is “To support the United States National Team through a unified and dedicated group of supporters.” With 25 local chapters in major cities across the country, the Outlaws have officially taken over as the most visible of the US supporters groups.
Its elder cousin, Sam’s Army, which once claimed to have over 15,000 members, has diminished in its prominence and now many former Sam’s Army members are now Outlaws. The Outlaws have made their presence known around the world, following the Yanks wherever they go. Outlaws have been sighted in the Netherlands, Mexico, throughout the Caribbean, and Central America.
Growth of soccer in the United States has not gone unchecked by its fans, who for the longest of times had to watch their Yanks flounder in the melting pot that is international football. The birth of Major League Soccer in 1993 combined with the United States hosting the World Cup in 1994 sky-rocketed the growth of the sport. Today the growth of MLS has led to the formation of local “firms”.
True to the sport’s European identity, a firm is a group of fervent supporters, who like the Outlaws, stand and chant for the entirety of the game and often engage in tifo. Section 8 in Chicago, the Screaming Eagles and La Barra Brava in DC, the Nordecke in Columbus, the Empire Supporters Club in New York, the Sons of Ben in Philadelphia, and the Emerald City Supporters in Seattle are among the more vocal and well known supporters groups in MLS.
In 2002 the sport was suddenly thrust to the forefront of nationwide headlines, when the USA made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup, and would’ve possibly made it farther had it not been for the infamous hand of Torsten Frings. This was the US’ best finish in the World Cup since 1930 and it contributed to a rapid growth of interest, coverage, and fandom in the United States.
It was in 2006 though when I really started following the US team and watched as much soccer as I could on TV. One thing I always heard when watching a big European match was the fans, entire stadiums singing and chanting and carrying on until their lungs turn themselves inside out. I envied the soccer culture of Europe and really wished the US could pack a stadium full of only red clad, screaming fans.
When I went to the US- Trinidad & Tobago match in April 2009, I had finally become satisfied with how far the US fan had come. 28,000 US fans filled the lower bowl of LP Field and it was the loudest I’d ever heard a stadium of exclusively US fans. Ever since then, you can hear the fans for all 90 minutes, see them standing, holding signs, etc.
In October the fans around the country made the miraculous happen. In the lone good thing to come out of the Charlie Davies accident, the fans used modern technology to unite and the culmination would be forever known as “The Ninth Minute Salute”. Not only the fans in DC that night, but fans and players at the MLS matches in Seattle, Salt Lake City, and other locales around the country followed suit, uniting under one banner, it was truly moving.
Television coverage of the national team and Major League Soccer has grown exponentially over the last several years. Most notably being in MLS, where all teams’ matches are shown in the local markets at the very least.
In 2005 MLS implemented its Direct Kick package, and today it allows its subscribers to watch over 130 MLS regular season and playoff matches at a cost of only $79, a fraction of what other comparable packages cost for other sports, making it very fan friendly. ESPN is also slowly becoming a major contributor to the growth of soccer as it airs at least one high profile MLS game per week and even purchased broadcasting rights to show MLS matches around the globe. ESPN also covers in some facet nearly every US National Team match. The matches it chooses not to cover are then picked up by one of Fox Soccer Channel, GOL TV, and/or its Spanish broadcasters Univision, Galavision, or Telefutura. It is estimated that MLS will make $30 million over the next 8 years in television revenue alone.
With the World Cup just two months away, even my baseball and basketball loving roommates are becoming fans. Its games like the World Cup produces that turn fair-weather and casual fans in to die-hards. That’s how I got hooked, so let June come and let the trend continue.