You Want to Support Soccer in America, You Just Don’t Know It Yet

Four Reasons Why It’s The Perfect Moment To Support Your Area Professional Soccer Team.

-Written by Bryan Rice

So. I like soccer. Like, I *like like* soccer. We've secretly passed each other love notes in math class, so you can say It's serious. I've been watching professional soccer on my TV for years - literally just about every weekend since the old Fox Sports World channel started beaming Manchester United games across the Atlantic. And I've had the great fortune to visit, attend, and storm the pitch (twice!) at matches in some great soccer atmospheres in the UK and Europe.

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I started playing soccer when I was just a lad. Like any quintessential suburban white kid, my parents enrolled me in the local Pee Wee soccer program at age 4, but I swear by it that my first memories of playing soccer were still a year or so earlier -- on the sidelines of my older brother's first soccer games. (This is the time where we are reminded that even fully formed minds are pretty terrible at remembering things, let alone brains in the preoperational stage. But, I stand by the fact that this memory is 100% true. Period!

Suffice it to say I was a regular with the ⚽  long after Pee Wee days. Through some bad hairstyles.

And Even Worse Hairstyles.

And Even Worse Hairstyles.

I played soccer nearly 12 months for almost my entire my life. That is, until September 17th, 2014, the fall of my Senior year of college, when my playing career ended very abruptly as a result of a head-to-head collision near the end of regulation in NESCAC Men's Soccer action up at Tufts University. The resulting concussion (and failed recovery) forced me to take leave that spring, and the after-effects of the injury continue to ripple more than two and half years after the initial impact. And while the intervening time has been tougher than anyone actually cares to hear…

…in that time I reconnected with the sport I love, no longer as a player, but as a supporter in the stands, pulling for my local club the New York Red Bulls. Yes, something, something Energy Drink joke! Ha. Ha. Super original. The opportunity to attend matches has been a real bright spot for me, and a genuine aspect of my recovery process. I want you to share in that brightness, and allow a little Major League Soccer (or your local professional soccer team) into your life. It won’t hurt, and you’ll love it. Trust me.

With the 2017 season having kicked off this past weekend, I want to make a thorough case that this is the perfect time to support your local team.

Exhibit A: Tifos

Derived from an Italian word meaning “fans”, tifo is more commonly defined as any choreographed display from fans in a sports stadium. One part show of support, one part intimidation factor, and one part insane performance-art piece (definitely give this a minute of your time), tifo displays at the beginning of a match are akin to a peacock flashing his feathers or whatever this crazy alien-lizard thing is doing.

The wilder the better. I mean, where else could you get what is essentially a stadium-wide mural of legendary internet meme and landscape painter Bob Ross that ties in perfectly with your team name and logo?

OR an Eastbound & Down inspired tifo.

OR the Night King from Game of Thrones sending shivers down the spines of opponents!?

Perhaps in Dortmund, BUT YOU GET MY POINT. It's art, it's sports, it's art and sports all in one; it's cool and unique and one reason why you should support your local team.

Exhibit B: Supporters

DISCLAIMER: This seems like a proper place for a special shout-out for the old "Hooligans" of Manalapan High School, pioneers in the field of soccer fandom -- it was truly an honor to play before you.

Now, I didn't go to a big college, and therefore didn't spend my Saturday afternoons in college in massive, rabid student sections at college football and basketball games. But, the best thing about college sports is undoubtedly the fans. The chants, the signs, the creativity, the ruthlessness with which they treat opponents. The NBA, NFL, and MLB have never managed to replicate that kind of electricity on a regular basis. Soccer knows how to fill the gap. Just take a look at this opening weekend.

Atlanta United FC, a new expansion team, packed 55,000 people into Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium for their inaugural match, and they already have 30,000+ season ticket holders; for perspective, average MLB attendance in 2016 was about 30,000.

Wild times, indeed.

Orlando City SC opened their brand new 25,500-seat stadium with a 1-0 victory over New York City FC. The two Orlando Cirty supporters’ groups, the Ruckus and the Iron Lion Firm, had flags waving as purple smoke wafted up from designated smoke-bomb sections.

Of course, supporters’ groups are best known for their chants, and Orlando City supporters did not disappoint in that department. Watch this blistering Ludacris-inspired taunt when an NYCFC player went down injured. (NSFW)

GET OFF THE PITCH, BITCH

Some supporters’ groups are not above a good self-own. Here is The Third Rail, a supporter’s group from New York City FC, letting the team know what they think as they take a 7-0 smack down at the hands of the New York Red Bulls (NSFW).

Is the verse below about killing your enemies by firing squad sung by MLS supporters’ groups or an East London punk band named Cock Sparrer?

Take 'em all, take 'em all

Put 'em up against a wall and shoot 'em

Short and tall, watch 'em fall

Come on boys take 'em all

Trick question. It’s both, lol.

Other groups have their own unique traditions.  The lovable hipsters out in Portland have lumberjack Timber Joey slice off some tree trunk and present it to the fans after each goal. Portlandia is definitely a documentary. Keep those college glory days alive, and support your local soccer team.

Exhibit C: The Time

Look. We are all busy people. We have place to go and things to see. We have Twitters to check. And Facebook’s to check. And Instagrams to check. And Snapchats to check. And Tinders to check. And Bumbles to check. You get it, APPS. Which is precisely why soccer is perfect. Games are only once or twice a week and last only 90 minutes (plus halftime). So, you don't need to pay attention every day to stay on top of it – like baseball – and games don't take forever to finish – also like baseball (and football). Not too little attention, not too much, but…

Exhibit D: The Players

 You could only ever interact with a World Cup winner like David Villa in FIFA, or you could get off your butt and watch him play in the Bronx week in and week out.  You could only witness the exploits of US Men’s National Team players like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard every four years at the World Cup, or you could stop staring at your navel and get out and see these impressive displays of skill on a regular basis with your own eyes.

But, the coolest aspect is getting to see the Homegrown players, the stars of the future, and the connection they forge with local communities. For instance, every time I go to a Red Bulls game I can say I used to play against both Sean Davis and Dan Metzger – who are now both New York Red Bulls first-teamers, but were teammates on the Holmdel travel team I used to play against back in the elementary school days. They, of course, ended up being much better than me at this whole soccer thing. But, because MLS teams get the first right to sign players that played in their academies, in what other sport can you root on the same guys you used to play against in club and high school? Imagine if all the local baseball products signed up with Mets and Yankees, or if the best New York area football players ended up with Jets and Giants. It would make the fandom just that much more intense because you’re not just repping your team, but your community. It’s a feature of soccer in America that no professional sport here can rival, SO SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL TEAM! Just not like these NYCFC fans, or NYCFC fans in general…

Anyways, soccer has helped me march on in trying times and I want you to experience what you’re missing. I’ll continue to chronicle life and soccer in 2017, join me!