Following soccer in the United States can be difficult when you’re a relative newcomer, and finding a team to call your own even more so. I’ve wanted to find a time to root for most of my time here. It’s all very well staying aloof to the vagaries of the club season, but supporting a soccer team is fun, and I don’t want to miss out.
My nearest MLS team is New York Red Bulls, and in an effort to at least see some live football, I have trekked down to Red Bull Arena on a few occasions. However, I’ve never really felt that New York was *my* team, and if I’m to continue to follow the game here, I feel I need to firmly find a team to support and stick to it. So what I‘m going to do is use a clever process of elimination to find my new team. This is, of course, hardly a revolutionary idea. Bill Simmons at ESPN did a similar thing a few seasons ago, although his was for the Premier League. He had a list of criteria, items such as history, celebrity fans and, for some reason, the jerseys. I’m not intending to replicate that here. And yes, I am fully aware that there are leagues outside of MLS but if I’m going to be any sort of fan I need to be able to watch at least a few of the matches on television, and the TV coverage for USL/NASL etc is just too patchy to trust. The criteria I’ve chosen have a relevancy for me that I’m sure will help narrow the field down. These are;
- The team must be in the geographical location that it purports to be from.
- The team must play in a soccer-specific stadium, or at the very least have solid plans to do so.
- No Canadian Teams.
- No teams that have ever won MLS Cup.
1. The team must be in the geographical location that it purports to be from.
When Wimbledon F.C. was moved to Milton Keynes in 2002, most of the English football fan community was up in arms. The idea that a team could be arbitrarily moved was anathema to most, and even now the newly-renamed MK Dons are viewed with distrust and anger. While I accept that the potential for a franchise being relocated is much higher in American sports than it would elsewhere, I’d still prefer my new team to be an integral part of the community. It is for that reason that the first criterion on my list is that the team must located in the same place as the name claims to.
New York Red Bulls – This is simple. They are not in New York! Sure, you can see NYC on a clear day, but to call the team New York is at best a clever marketing ploy, and at worst a cynical attempt to gain support from New York residents. They’re out. As much as I’ve railed against some of the actions of the “Cosmos” you can at the very least say that they’re committed to a team located within the five boroughs. Even if the team was located in Albany, you’d have a case to call them a “New York” team.
FC Dallas – It’s not in Dallas, the stadium is in Frisco. Which, according to Google Maps, is 29.8 miles north of Dallas. Ok, so it’s fairly close, but still, 30 miles is a long way. What is more – there’s a toll to get there! The princely sum of $3.57 from I-635 to Cotton Gin Road is more than I’m willing to pay, being a skinflint as I am.
LA Galaxy – There are a whole host of reasons that I’d not want to choose the Galaxy as my team, but for the purposes of this exercise I’m using the fact that it’d take about 45 minutes to drive to Carson City (where the Home Depot Center is located) to the center of Los Angeles. I actually couldn’t tell you if Carson City counts as a suburb of LA, or is a city in an of itself, but 45 minutes is way too long, even before you count the horrific traffic that I’m told is what LA is famous for. I don’t want to get stuck in a 2 hour traffic jam and miss the game, thanks.
Philadelphia Union – despite my first effort with Google Maps informing me that ground is 988 miles away from Philadelphia city center, it turns out that it is still 31 miles from the city to PPL Park. As with LA, it’s too far to go on public transport, so – Goodbye, Philly, and take those ridiculous Bimbo-endorsed shirts with you..
Chivas USA – Technically, I shouldn’t eliminate Chivas, because the team name doesn’t specify a city, state, or region. But it’s well known that they are an offshoot of Chivas Guadelejara, which as everybody knows, isn’t in California. Look, I’ve already I’ve eliminated 25% of MLS teams. This is going to be easy.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled with football matches in England, because all of the teams that I’ve made efforts to go and see on a regular basis have been within walking distance of where I lived and/or worked at a particular time – and admittedly this is a function of having grown up in such a small country – but still, it seems slightly odd for a team’s home to be so far from the city center. Many of the new stadia that have built in Europe also suffer from this, in that the new venues have had to be built on previously unused land.
2. The team must play in a soccer-specific stadium, or at the very least have solid plans to do so.
There’s nothing worse than watching soccer in an American Football ground (by which, I mean stadium designed for the other football). The sightlines are all wrong, you’re usually miles away from the pitch (it’s not all that dissimilar to a european-style stadium with a running track on the outside, actually) and having the lines on the turf just looks silly. What’s more, I believe that it’s important for the long-term health of the league that teams play in facilities that are built and/or designed for soccer only. Obviously, budgetary and planning concerns mean that some teams are stuck in non-soccer stadia for the time being, but this is fine as long as the organization has made plans to find something more to the needs of a modern soccer team.
We wave bye-bye to:
New England Revolution: They will never be the Patriots, and it does seem to me that the Kraft family look upon the Revs as the red-headed stepchild. I’ll leave the question as to whether New England has a soul up to you.
DC United: Honestly, this is a relief. DC United were horrible last season and having RFK Stadium collapse around my ears during a game does not appeal. I know that RFK Stadium has a long and storied soccer history, but the place as it exists now is horribly unfit for purpose.
3. No Canadian Teams.
This is probably controversial but assuming I’m going to go at least one game per season, I don’t want to have to deal with changing currency and going to a different country. So that’s Vancouver,Toronto and Montreal out. This is actually a bit of a shame because Montreal is only a few hours drive from me, but they’re not joining the league for another year, anyway. Yes, this horribly unfair but when I was coming up with the list of criteria I imagined myself explaining my “American” team to people back home.
“So, Chris, what’s your American team?”
“Actually, it’s Toronto”
“So…wait, your American team is in Canada?!”
Yeah, that would sound a bit silly.
4. No teams that have ever won an MLS Cup.
I’m not used to supporting a winning team. Torquay United aren’t exactly threatening Real Madrid for Champions League glory, and the less said about England, the better. And knowing fans of clubs who have had to wait decades to finally win something, I can see that it means more. Of the 9 teams that have won MLS cup I’ve already eliminated 2. The other 7 – San Jose, Columbus, Real Salt Lake, Chicago, Kansas City, Houston and Colorado – are considered ineligible by the Committee (er, that’s me).
So….(looks at notes)…That means I am down to two teams: Seattle and Portland. I hadn’t expected there to be two teams remaining, to be honest. I almost kicked out Seattle at point 2 because I didn’t think Qwest Field was a ‘soccer’ stadium but upon closer examination it had been designed with soccer as well as football in mind, so I guess that is close enough.
To decide between these two teams, I decided I needed some sort of tiebreaker. My first thought was music – which city has had the best bands – but that came out as a tie. (sure, Seattle had all those grunge bands but Portland has The Kingsmen, of “Louie, Louie” fame, so pretty even)
In the end I figured that it’d make sense to choose the place that was cheapest to visit, and it turned out that I can get from NYC to Portland for $24 less than it costs to go to Seattle.
I’m officially a Portland Timbers fan. My initial reaction to this bombshell was “Oh, really? Maybe I should change my criteria”, but I’ve since done some research, and I think this actually works well.
I hate Starbucks coffee, and I own a PS3 rather than an XBOX360, so wanting to beat Seattle won’t be a problem. What is more, I’ve checked out Portland (the city) and it seems really nice. Definitely a place I won’t mind visiting at least once this forthcoming MLS season. There are even 2 Englishmen on the roster; Ex-Arsenal player Kerrea Gilbert, as well as the other Eddie Johnson. Even better than this though, is the opportunity to sing a variant of a song that I’ve yelled many times in the past 20 years. The Cascadian rivals to my (soon-to-be-beloved) Timbers will not be spared:
Build a bonfire, build a bonfire,
Put Seattle on the top,
Put Vancouver in the middle,
And then burn the [chuffing] lot!
In the forthcoming MLS season I shall write about my experiences in following Portland as a new franchise. I shall endeavor to get to at least one home game, as well any matches they play locally (ish) to me, which in practice means NYRB or the Revolution. I think this is going to be fun!