Being a fan of your favorite sport is almost inevitable. What you do with your fandom, however, is your choice.
Being a fan or a supporter in the American soccer landscape is much different than if one grew up in, say, one of the big ‘soccer countries’ such as England, Spain, France, Italy, and Germany. Most supporters of a team are fans because it runs in their blood – that specific team has been a constant from birth – and something one could say is almost a ‘family loyalty’ there. Occasionally, there are those chances that people choose their teams because they don’t have any ties to a certain team or area, so they may ambiguously, but lucidly, pick a team (I must say, I am happy with Bill Simmons’ choice of team to support). Obviously there are cases – many can be seen in American football – that families are ‘divided’ by teams, like Iowa and Iowa State, Alabama and Auburn, or Kansas and Missouri. The allegiances to sports teams, though they can ‘divide’ (yes, I’m using that term loosely) a family and/or friends, takes time, money, and passion to develop.
That fan and supporter development has been easy for European football teams as they have more soccer teams in England (including the top three tiers: Premier League, Championship, and League One) with 68 squads than America’s NFL and MLB combined (32 teams and 30 teams, respectively). The reaches of English football clubs range from 11 teams located in greater London and 2 teams in Wales to 4 teams in the greater Manchester area and 2 teams in Liverpool.
Having a handful of squads in centralized areas helps soccer fans, not only because they either have plenty of teams from which they can pick (or – as previously noted – they are ingrained to support because of family and friends), but rather because there is a certain draw to local derbies and matchups. The local derbies most people look forward to (in the Premier League) – even if one is not a fan of either teams – includes the North London Derby (Arsenal vs. Tottenham), the Manchester Derby (Manchester United vs. Manchester City), and the Merseyside Derby (Everton vs. Liverpool).
Major League Soccer, although not nearly as close to the point where its practically an all-out brawl between cities like when MLB’s Chicago White Sox and Cubs play each other, or states, when the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings play the Green Bay Packers, certainly has fans and independent supporters associations that will most likely get to that point.
The Cascadia Cup in the rugged northwest has been a point of contention between the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, and Vancouver Whitecaps since 2004. What’s more, there is a growing – and intense – rivalry between the Seattle fans and the Portland fans.
The Portland Timbers were founded in 1975 as an NASL club, then as a member of the USL (United Soccer Leagues), and finally in 2011, were admitted into Major League Soccer. On the flip side, the Seattle Sounders Football Club were founded in 2007, and similar to the NFL’s Green Bay Packers where fans can buy stock in the team, the Seattle Sounders FC have the Alliance which is a member’s association involved in the decision making of the team. A nearly three-hour drive from Seattle to Portland, the rabid fans are fiercely loyal to their cities and their teams. Major League Soccer’s fans have had a transformation – of sorts – from bandwagon fans and possibly even people not interested in soccer into full-fledged football fanatics, and teams like Seattle, Portland, as well as Kansas City (KC Cauldron) and Philadephia Union (Sons of Ben) showcase the soccer supporter’s culture in America.
Seattle Sounder FC’s group, the Emerald City Supporters, shows off some impressive displays of chants. Here’s an example:
Their arch rivals, the Portland Timbers’ group, Timbers Army – who carry the Timbers Army moniker to Twitter with the hashtag #RCTID (Rose City Til I Die) – are also a bit intimidating, especially when Portland scores:
Not only has the supporters experience been cultivated in Cascadia, but the home – and away – support that teams like Sporting Kansas City and Philadephia Union showcase, particularly in the past few years, has been incredible.
A trailer for the Sons of Ben movie has been making its’ rounds on social media, and Philly’s supporters – the aptly-named Sons of Ben – are to be commended.
Not only does the Kansas City Cauldron sing and yell for Sporting KC (I…I Believe…I Believe That…-finish if you wish) and another example from the SKCvDCU game and the goal by Bieler, but Sporting KC returns the favor to its loyal, and loud, fans:
However great the MLS fans are becoming – and have become – the standard of fan excellence award (if there was an actual trophy) could, without a doubt, be given to Borussia Dortmund supporters in the German Bundesliga. Their passionate fan base makes one (i.e. me) speechless.
Not only does the Südtribüne – the area where the most rabid and passionate Dortmund supporters are located – stand during the match (it’s the largest standing room area in a European stadium, with a capacity of 25,000), but they are ever so connected with the game. The south stand fans also display incredible TIFOs that could – and probably do – make supporters from other teams incredibly jealous of the Dortmund fans:
I also give much respect to the players and coaches (like Jürgen Klopp in this next video) for sitting on the pitch and soaking in the love that the supporters have for Dortmund – the city and the team – and just listen and watch the spectacle played out before them in the Südtribüne:
Not to be outdone by the Germans, up in the Scottish Premier League sit two undeterred rivals – Celtic and Rangers – that are located in Glasgow. The derby is known as the Old Firm and supporters come with voices ready to sing…Depeche Mode. Here’s Celtic Football Club’s famous (infamous?) singing of the English bands most well-known song, Just Can’t Get Enough. And to be forewarned, you will most likely have this in your head if you watch the video:
How, then, can MLS play to the hearts and minds of the malleability of young kids with their parents, the 20- and 30-somethings ready to boost the game into the forefront of American sports, or to those of South American/European/African/Asian cultures that have soccer in their blood? It’s no easy answer – or an easy fix – but as long as Major League Soccer continues to make inroads with different communities, and thrives at doing so, then soccer’s impact will increase. Am I saying that supporter groups could be more inclusive to the other spectators – absolutely. By no means am I saying that hooliganism should become associated with Major League Soccer supporter groups, but I think the more passionate people are, the more that will to win would spread to the other spectators who might be are a little more passive in their cheering but over time might show off their support. Hooliganism, for the most part, has been ‘eradicated’ from the social sphere of European’s soccer culture. Recently, however, there have been instances in England – the latest were fan fights at the FA Cup semi between Millwall and Wigan and after the Tyne-Wear derby match between Newcastle and Sunderland – as well as Germany, Greece, and European League games. Because soccer has a long history in Europe only lends credence to the fact that fans and supporters can showcase their exemplary character, or well, not.
However childlike and moody certain soccer supporters groups can be, there is camaraderie of being included in a soccer team’s supporter group. In the light of the recent Boston Marathon bombings, New York Red Bulls showed the New England Revolution the class that rival cities can have in trying times:
Additionally, Major League Soccer has a separate, but affiliated, entity called M.L.S. Works that partners with MLS clubs, and in response, the clubs’ supporter’s groups enlist their members to participate and volunteer in the charitable acts.
Supporter groups, like the KC Cauldron of Sporting Kansas City, also help out their own when in need. In the past six months, the Cauldron family has seen two bouts of mutual necessity: one being a man, a security guard at Sporting Park, losing his home to a fire, and the second being a fan of SKC ending up being badly injured in a car accident. Selfless acts like the two aforementioned instances, along with charitable works, are what MLS clubs supporter groups should be – and most likely want to be – known for.
Regardless of the time spent cheering and sweetly singing the respective chants, keep doing it. Especially for the Major League Soccer fans out there, continue pushing the sport any way possible – through facebook, by updating twitter through a barrage of soccer tweets (guilty) including interaction with the clubs, other fans, and possibly even the players themselves, and maybe most importantly, by inviting and attending MLS games with ‘those’ types of people (‘those’ meaning people who ‘don’t like’ soccer) or with those who just have yet to attend an MLS match – to have more ‘grassroots’ effort of passionate soccer fans.
MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, has said he wants Major League Soccer to be one of the top leagues in the world in the next ten years (technically it already is if you look at certain statistics) and fans and supporters will help, indefinitely.
And now, to where does MLS the embark? Here it is: court the prospective fans that they don’t have…yet, marry the fans that are already engaged with the league (get those season ticket holders in line!), and continue to romance the supporters that are in love with MLS with consistency and loyalty of the league, and with club brands. Now, I’m not saying that will be easy – because it won’t be – but if Major League Soccer can sustain a fan base while growing rapidly with the younger generation, I believe MLS can be a leader in progressive fan support – as an example to other sports in the U.S. – but also a beacon of what supportership should mean in the soccer realm throughout the world.