Soccer….Family Style


My Relationship With MLS: “It’s Complicated”
August 15, 2012, 5:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I got a message via Facebook the other day from my friend, Richard Hayes, a Richmond, VA, DC United supporter whom I met last year while he was representing American Outlaws RVA chapter. He’d been reading my blog about my MLS Roadtrip and after apologizing and respect for my love of soccer, he wrote:

“What confuses me is your chameleon like attitude with visiting other teams and supporters on your recent MLS Roadtrip. Is it the supporters atmosphere that attracted you to this trip? I have tons of respect for all the supporters that spend time, money and passion supporting their team but I can only do the same for my team. Last month I visited family and friend in Seattle and enjoyed a Sea vs. Col game but I couldn’t jump into the Seattle chants cheers could it would have felt like cheating on a lover. Don’t get me wrong I had a good time and enjoyed the beers and companionship but I think I enjoyed the glares for wearing my DCU gear just as much. Do you not have an MLS team that is truly close to your heart?”

With his permission, I’m reposting so I can answer publicly. I’ve thought about my answer for a few days, and the shortest answer I’ve come up with is my relationship status with Major League Soccer would be “It’s Complicated.”

I’ve lived in Des Moines, Iowa since the beginning of MLS, but I’d just moved here in December, 1992 and had no intention to staying when the league was launched in 1996. Kansas City Wiz had nothing to offer my Jersey girl self-image, and there wasn’t another team within a reasonable drive. I made a point to go see the New York Metrostars while I was refereeing a tournament in DC, thinking it made sense for a Jersey girl to root for them, but even year 1, DCU had some great supporters (and I’m not just saying that because I know all of RVA DCU will read this). I had such a great time with them, I immediately switched allegiance and became a DCU fan.

That lasted until the Chicago Fire launched in 1998, when my husband played the Jersey and local angle: Chicago was about a 5 hour drive, and they were initially coached by Bob Bradley, who is from my hometown, Montclair, NJ. We went to a few games, and again, I was won over by the supporters club, who would get the whole stadium involved with their chants from the various color seats of Soldier Field (now East and West sides of Toyota Park, and let’s not forget the upper deck!)

I stayed with the Fire until April 2007, when they did something absolutely unforgivable. They signed my most hated player, Blanco from the Mexican team. I can’t really express how much I hate Blanco, but in my estimation, he is the dirtiest tackling, diving, whining jerk of the team I hate most as a USMNT fan. I sat next to a German during the 1998 World Cup who was watching England play Romania because he couldn’t stand to watch the German national team because they were all the players he hated from Bayern Munich’s opponents. I couldn’t understand what he was talking about until the day I learned that Blanco was in a Fire jersey. I broke up with the Fire and vowed to never fall in love in the MLS again. The US national team was my lover, and I was done opening myself up to the risk of betraying them ever again by cheering for a club that might one day hire a mortal enemy of my beloved.

Then I started writing this blog, and people started to ask me which clubs I supported, and you all don’t like the answer “none.” Plus, my kids started getting older, and I wanted to take them to MLS games. I’d already had an amazing experience with Portland Timbers while they were in the A-League, and of course I should interview the two closest teams to me, Chicago Fire (despite their past transgression) and Sporting KC (who mercifully ditched their less marketable names).

I re-evaluated what I was looking for in an MLS team. My passion has to be directed at the supporters, not the team. I try to not even look at rosters, so that I don’t get angry at some USMNT arch-enemy joining the ranks, and I can be pleasantly surprised if a USMNT hero joins the team, because I’ll recognize him. I wanted to find a team that made me want to go see games because of their fans. I wanted to look forward to the next tifo, the next original song, and the coolest traditions.

My recent road trip confirmed my suspicion: Portland Timbers are the team for me. Going to their game as part of my 2012 MLS Roadtrip made my supporter heart want to burst. I wanted to soak it up from start to finish. Timbers Army members were so friendly, they have so many great traditions, great songs, an unbelievable resilience in the face of going down a goal, great tifo, and let’s just say it….Tetris freaking rules. I’m gone for them, and that’s all there is to it.

There’s just one problem: they’re ridiculously far away from where I live.

I need a second team, one that I can hope to bring my kids to with some frequency and little expense. I’d been going to Fire games and really didn’t think Kansas City could hold a candle to their atmosphere. I’d been to a few Wiz/Wizards games at Arrowhead and Community America Ballpark, and frankly, the atmosphere sucked. But after a few Twitter conversations with members of their SG, the Cauldron, I felt I had to give them another try.  To watch a mercy game, before committing myself back to the Fire.

So when the MLS Roadtrip pulled into the Open Cup final of SKC vs Seattle Sounders, I thought I was being very fair, humoring Sporting at their little championship game. Don’t worry Sporting fans, I’m going to give you your on blog post for the show you put on, once I come back to my senses, but it’s enough to say for now that I underestimated you, and I apologize. If you haven’t seen Sporting KC lately, you haven’t seen them at all. Sporting, I stand corrected.

Where am I then? I love a team a VERY long drive or expensive flight away, and as for Chicago and KC, well, it’s complicated. All I can say for sure is if you’ve got an SG with great fans pouring their hearts out for their soccer team, chances are I’d be willing to stand and scream with you for a game somewhere on your schedule.

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Oklahoma is NOT OK, but Alert Sporting KC, We are in Kansas!
August 8, 2012, 12:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Confession: I don’t book hotels in advance on my road trips. I feel like it’s bad luck. If you book a hotel, you might not make it to that city (the one stop I was going to book ahead was the one we broke down, so there you go). I’ve only gotten caught by my lack of planning twice, once in France during the World Cup (when we needed a hotel last minute due to travel plans changing) and once last night.

Due to road construction in Kansas, we were driving all the way across Oklahoma, instead of our original plan to just nick the pan handle. It was my first time in Oklahoma, and I was excited to pick up a new state and check it out. But at every gas stop, people would stare at my Iowa plates and New Jersey stickers with looks that were neither amused or friendly, growing my sense of unease at every stop. In addition, there were no big chain hotels as we went, but by 2 AM, I was ready to take any shady no-name motel I could find. Trouble is, some big oil rig had booked every hotel and motel for hours.

The highlight of my night was stopping in Alva at 2:30 AM to call my husband to enlist his help and internet connection in finding a hotel (I’m pretty sure communist countries have better WIFI than Oklahoma). As I was backing out of a gas station parking lot, there was a guy staring at my car’s front bumper, I thought at my plate, but when he flagged me down, I thought maybe I had a light out. But no, this 20-something oil splattered guy said “Hey, is there anything going on in this town? I’m shipping out to Iraq tomorrow and I’m just looking for some fun.”

WOW. Really? My 40 year old mom of two, t-shirt and yoga pants “look” is really doing it for you? My response may have been stating the obvious, but what else can you say: “I’m just passing through, but seeing as my husband is on the phone (shakes lit smart phone) and my two kids are asleep in the back, I’m probably not your girl.” And then I left that town, because even there was a hotel room in that town (there wasn’t) I did not want to stay there. Two hours of driving and several “No Vacancy” signs later, we crossed into Kansas and found a room.

So Oklahoma, it’s been real, and it’s been fun (I stopped in Hooker, OK and took a photo of their welcome sign….that was fun) but it definitely was not real fun. Next time, I’d stick to the pan handle and face construction traffic. The good news is, we are in Kansas, got 7 hours sleep, and have only 3.5 hours drive to Livestrong Park. An easy (sheesh…I hope!) trip to our first Sporting KC game, the Open Cup Final vs Seattle Sounders, our last stop on MLS Road Trip 2012.

Can’t wait to meet you, KC Cauldron supporters!



Jiffy Lube is Arch Enemy of #MLSRoadtrip
August 6, 2012, 2:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I took my car to the Jiffy Lube on Lincoln Avenue in Cypress, CA because after 3400 miles in the last 10 days, I wanted to make sure everything was in good working order before venturing across the desert. I told the guy that I was taking the car back to Iowa, and I wanted everything to be checking, then I told him again when he asked me what kind of oil I wanted to use. You’d think they would have taken a little extra care to make sure it was done right, but that’s not what happened.

I got about 2 hours outside the LA area when my oil light started to flicker. Luckily, I was about 1 mile from Barstow, CA, because after that exit, I would have been stranded in the desert for a long, long time. I checked my oil level and it was dry. I don’t know much about cars, but I know that’s REALLY bad. I poured a quart of oil in and went across the street to the truck stop where they could get it up on blocks. The guy there said it was leaking really bad, but only having truck tools, he couldn’t tell exactly what was wrong. I poured another quart of oil in and drove to the Hampton Inn Barstow and waited for Monday morning to arrive.

I had my car towed to Barstow Midas, who called a few hours later with good news! It wasn’t the oil filter casing, but the O ring that you’re supposed to change when you change the oil, but he said that many quick lube places don’t and mine was damaged, which was causing the oil leak. Lesson learned….don’t get your oil changed at Jiffy Lube, use the better trained techs at Midas or the dealership!

Hopefully, me pulling off the highway right away will keep this from being a catastrophic engine failure, but rest assured Jiffy Lube, my bill for your crappy oil change, quarts of wasted oil, repeat oil change, hotel, dinner, and compensation for the 3 hour massage I will need to de-stress from this experience will be in the mail. Oh yeah, and you should make a donation to an environmental charity for the oil you just caused me to spill on the ground.

Our leisurely drive to KC just got a little more stressful, but I’m still hoping we can make the game. Wish us luck!



Why You Should Join (or Renew) with American Outlaws
August 6, 2012, 8:33 am
Filed under: Supporter Culture, Uncategorized

Full disclosure: I am the Chapter Leader for American Outlaws Des Moines. I didn’t campaign for this job, I was just the first person from Iowa to express interest in a chapter, and I continue to do it because I believe passionately in the soccer supporter movement in the US, and American Outlaws are doing it best right now in my neck of the corn field. I’ve been a member of Sam’s Army too, before AO started, so if you have a local Sam’s Army chapter that’s really making it work in your town, knock yourself out. This blog is about why you should support your local supporters group (SG).

This rant was started by a discussion on the Chapter Leader’s board for AO on a thread talking about members who didn’t want to pay to renew their AO membership. Let’s look at the member benefits, in addition to the T-shirt and bandana you get every year. The membership page of American Outlaws lists this:

“Benefits

  • Discounts on Tickets to the supporters section of each US game
  • Membership benefits at events such as tailgates, viewing parties, etc.
  • 10% Discounts at http://shop.bigsoccer.com/
  • Free gifts from great companies such as NIKE, FSC, and more…  (varies based on events)
  • Flight Discounts from Continental Airlines to any US Soccer game, anywhere in the world. http://www.continental.com

Supporting the next generation of US Soccer diehards”

Apparently, there are people out there that look at that list and think “well, I don’t go to games, so I’m not getting the full value of my membership, and therefore, it’s not worth it.” So let me tell you why I not only pay for membership for myself, but for every member of my family, including our kids who could get supporter tickets and travel discounts through our membership. It all has to do with that last line.

Supporting the next generation of US Soccer diehards. That one line should be worth $24 a year to you if you love US Soccer. Maybe you weren’t around before AO. Before SGs, there was very little organization at games, no big meetups of fans at games, or in Vegas. There was no way for me to look up in any town where I might be traveling and find where I could watch a US game or the Euros. Maybe you don’t use that stuff today, but it should be worth $2 a month to make sure it’s around in the future.

Doesn’t it make you happy to see a group of psycho US supporters behind the goal? That costs money. The banners, the capos leading the cheers. The tailgate with enough social lubricant to get all those people singing. So even if you don’t get to games, your membership helps support building soccer culture in the US and on the road.

Look, I know we’re all looking for ways to cut expenses, but please….support the work that American Outlaws is doing to build US Soccer. They’ll even send you a free T-shirt.



No Pity in the Rose City….Yep, We Just Drove 5000 Miles for a Loss

Oh Portland….how I love you! Somehow we made it safely to Portland in under 20 hours from Salt Lake City with two young kids and one driver (Mapquest it….it’s impressive). We stopped along the way to check out the Columbia River and a fish hatchery, but mainly, it was a long day of driving. By the time I got to Portland, I really wasn’t mentally prepared to learn a new city’s parking system, particularly one as, shall we say, bike/walk encouraging, as Portland. But from the moment we arrived, Timbers Army members were nothing but amazing. We got parking help from one fan, who helped us find the line for early entry wristbands. Then other fans pointed us to the Timbers Army merch van, where we glutted ourselves on scarves, stickers, and shirts. As if this lovely lady welcoming us wasn’t enough, things were about to get even better.

My goal for taking my kids to Portland was to show them the height of supporters clubs. I wanted them to see a club that sings the whole way through with tradition and wonderful stuff the whole way through. We’ve taken them to some great games with fantastic supporters, but I’ve never had an experience like the one I had in Portland in 2005 when they were playing on a baseball field and still in the A-League. I had to see for myself how they’d developed, and wanted to share with my kids what I consider to be the best supporters group I’ve ever seen.

Phyllis and the kids, Timbers pre-game

Enter Phyllis, previously a stranger, and our initial seatmate.  Phyllis took to our little group right away. When she heard we’d traveled from Des Moines mainly for this game, she became our Timbers Army concierge. She got us song sheets and started teaching the kids the various Timbers Army traditions, such as changing the last line of the national anthem to “home of the Timbers.” She helped them tear up confetti for the end of the anthem. She taught them about all the things they should do as supporters. It was amazing. My kids have been to dozens of soccer games, but I’ve never seen them so engaged as they were after Timbers 101 with Phyllis.

The game was exciting. Portland had so many chances, 20 shots by the end of the game, and after every one, I had to turn around to and count off the near misses to Phyllis, who had moved a few rows back to be with her injured husband. We got to learn the Timbers two new songs as well as their old favorites, including Tetris. The Timbers Army sings through the entire game, including a call and response with the entire stadium. When Chivas scored the game winner in the 69th minute, the Army put their scarves up and kept right on singing. It was a beautiful show of support for their team, and I loved it almost as much as their show of discontent with their current coach, recently installed rather bluntly by management, after the game.

As I walked out after the game, I turned to my daughter and said “You know what we just did?”

“What?” she replied.

“We just drove 2500 miles to see our team lose.” She smiled at me halfheartedly. Then I said, “You know what that means? …..We’re going to have to come back.” The Timbers Army showed us such great hospitality, we barely noticed the loss. I’d gladly do this drive all over again (or maybe we’ll fly next time…) to come back for more. Thanks Timbers Army. I waited seven years to rejoin your ranks, and it was absolutely worth the wait.




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