It all started when I was a youngster. My brother was a soccer jock his whole life and dragged me along for the ride. We first got cable in our house in 1994 so that we could watch the World Cup. My brother played for a D III soccer powerhouse (Messiah College- nine championships in the last 10 years) and I followed in his footsteps. No, I didn’t play. I majored in theater for some reason. But the end result of all the exposure to the game from my brother was that I have been a fan of soccer from a pretty young age.
Specifically, I was a USMNT fan. The MLS didn’t exist when I was in my formative years and neither did the internet, at least as we know it today, which made it slightly more difficult to sample the sport overseas. This was my soccer background.
Then in 2010, I found myself as I always did every four years, glued to the television and computer for the World Cup. I was an adult now with a full time job during the day, so much of the coverage I saw was online. But I lived and died with the results. As all of you know, it didn’t end well.
By this time, MLS was going full swing and I had missed the boat. While MLS was going through its growing pains, I was in college, getting married, moving to a new city, and having kids. I didn’t have the time to incorporate a new league into my life.
Or so I thought.
When World Cup 2010 ended I found myself feeling the soccer void more than ever. I knew that I wanted soccer to grow in popularity here in the States, but I knew that it could only do that if it had fans. Fans drive a sport. Sure the players make the game actually happen, but it is the fans that fill the stadiums, fans that watch the games on television, fans that buy the merchandise, and fans that really promote the game. So then and there I decided to become an MLS fan. It was an intellectual decision; a matter of the mind. And for me, it had to start there before it became a matter of the heart, as it is now. But this is where I hit unchartered waters.
You see, I hail from Pittsburgh. I was born with a Terrible Towel wrapped around me, Lemieux is a god-figure, and Clemente is as much a native son of ours as he is of Puerto Rico. I bleed black and gold. But without an MLS team in Pittsburgh, I found myself without a "home team". I knew that I wouldn’t learn nearly as much and wouldn’t become nearly as invested if I wasn’t pulling for a specific team. So I was faced with this reality:
I could choose the team to which I could devote myself.
I had never had a choice before. I was from Pittsburgh, where it was a given that you pull for the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates (these last couple of good years were a long time coming for the Buccos!). But who would I choose in MLS? Since I live in Brooklyn, NY, I decided that I would start following the "home town" Red Bulls- don’t hate me. It was the place-holder team that I could follow as I learned more about the league and its teams.
After a while though, it felt like rooting for the Yankees. I felt dirty. But then I read about a curious supporters group called the Sons of Ben. I read that they existed before there was even a team and that it was their fervent support that got the attention of MLS. This was the kind of fan base I could get behind.
It was the Union’s inaugural year and I had only missed a few months of their actual play on the field. They had a selfless, quality, and clean-playing "star" in Sebastien Le Toux, and one of the best parts, Philly isn’t that far from NYC, which meant that I could actually go see some games in person.
So here I am, coming up on another World Cup year. This time around, I know that I am doing my part to grow the sport here in the States. I have become a full-fledged convert of MLS and have been "preaching" the good news to many of my friends who will listen. I know I am a late-comer to MLS. But over the last three and a half to four years, I’ve become as much a part of the soccer landscape here as anyone. I can even cheer on the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, the relatively new-to-USL Pro team in da Burgh.
I’ve always enjoyed soccer. I’ve always enjoyed watching the US in the World Cup. But it was the fans that brought me to the U and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. DOOP.