Soccer….Family Style

My Timbers Army Antifascist Soccer Family
August 23, 2019, 11:10 pm
Filed under: Major League Soccer, Supporter Culture | Tags: , , , ,

I am a Jewish member of Timbers Army. I know I’m not alone, because I had fellow tribe members help me try to light Hanukkah candles in the wind and rain at our MLS Cup Final game in Atlanta. But the rise of antisemitism and antisemitic violence does weigh on me. As we prepare for our son’s bar mitzvah, I am more frequently confronted with the fact that my synagogue is always locked due to security concerns. It keeps me up at night…what will this world look like through the lens of synagogue life in a year?

When #AUnitedFront started earlier in August with the Timbers Army taking a stand against an MLS ban on the antifascist iron front symbol that was all too easily supported by the Timbers Front Office, I waited. As a Jew, I have so many friends that say, “don’t worry, we’ll protect you” when the “never again” topic comes up. But I don’t really believe them. When your life and the things you love are on the line, will you really stand up for my family against oppression?

What the Timbers Army and away Seattle Sounders supporters did tonight was shout a resounding “hell yes we will stand with you” in the quietest possible way. In one of the greatest rivalry games in soccer, our fans and their fans, who typically have no love lost between them, banded together and showed MLS Soccer that we will not back down when the rise of fascism is on the line.


Image credit: @ambrown Original tweet:

For the first 33 minutes of the match, the stadium sounded more like a Des Moines Menace match than the biggest rivalry in MLS. No flags, no tifo, no signing. ESPN tried to create some sound by cranking up the field mics, but the result was an awkward uneasy quiet punctuated by players talking and the occasional halfhearted attempt to get a chant started from (I imagine) some white dudes beside themselves in the uncomfortable quiet. Possibly these two?


The message was clear. Timbers Army is a huge part of what makes MLS great, and we have always been antifascist. We sing Bella Ciao because of its antifascist history. You can’t separate us from who we are.

To my TA family, I love you all. I know you risked getting banned from a game we all love to show support for the Iron Front, but for me, it was so much more than that. I will sleep better tonight knowing that I have an Army behind me, protecting my family from hate and oppression. Your magic is real and I’m so glad to be a part of it.

To Major League Soccer, Your profits are not more important than my family’s safety. You talk the big talk about wanting to be more family friendly…well here is your chance. Teach my children that you will stand up to the Faux News bullies that try to make Antifa any more than what we saw tonight. A group of glorious people bravely willing to stand up to hate and fascism.

In closing, here are a few tweets that captured the in stadium experience from awkward silence to the best Timbers Army has ever sounded.

All Quiet:

EBFG United:

The moment the protest ends:

Bella Ciao:

What Antifa actually looks like:


#AUnitedFront against Fascism, the View From the Iowa Caucus
August 23, 2019, 10:03 pm
Filed under: Major League Soccer, Supporter Culture

In case you’re new to my blog: Yes, I am a member of the Timbers Army and I live in Des Moines, Iowa. How this came to be is explained here, but suffice it to say, I may be uniquely qualified to talk about the intersection of soccer and politics.

Here’s where the story starts for me: 20190823_194942.jpg

Truth be told, I got addicted to politics because of soccer. I was working to build a soccer specific stadium in Des Moines in 2002, and the project couldn’t move forward because we couldn’t get it approved by the Urbandale City Council. Yes I’m still mad and yes I have voted in every election since then no matter how small the office. Politics is your whole life, and we need to find a way to make it less toxic, but banning it isn’t the way.

Living in Iowa, I’ve seen it happen. We get together in a high school auditorium or gym every four years and have the Iowa Caucus. No hiding in a voting booth and secretly pulling a lever. You have to stand up in front of all your neighbors and publicly declare who you support. Then, there’s re-alignment…you need to convince your neighbors, through civil discourse if their candidate isn’t viable, they should come join your corner. So you better come prepared to state your case and be convincing in a way that doesn’t make the neighborhood awkward from that day forward.

But here’s the thing: we need to have a conversation about this banning political stuff. Because that’s a slippery slope. Is a rainbow flag political? Is a red hat political? What about a whole section wearing red hats? In the Timber’s front office double down statement they write “Major League Soccer believes the Iron Front symbol is inherently political because it has been co-opted by antifa.” Let’s pull that apart.

Antifa isn’t a thing. There’s nothing parked at My husband wrote on Facebook “Antifa is a concept, a belief, a way of viewing the world and not an organization. Antifa is short for anti-fascist. There isn’t an antifa group, there are people who believe in the antifa way of viewing the world.” Since the 1930s the Iron Front has been a symbol of being antifascist, long before anyone coined the term “Antifa.”


So to say that we can’t use this symbol because a group that doesn’t exist doesn’t hold water.

Plus, what is the equivalent symbol that you would ban on the other end of the political spectrum? The “Don’t Tread” snake? Nah….you know what symbol has been corrupted by that side? The American Flag. Are we going to ban the American flag for getting politicized? See how silly that sounds?

MLS: It’s time to get on the right side of history. re-write your policy to be human rights focused, not parroting some BS FoxNews soundbite.

We are the Timbers Army. We are relentlessly anti-fascist. You know how the song goes, you love it in your promos.

You can’t stop us, we are the Rose City.

MLS Fans, Come Have a Drink Tonight and Let’s Talk Soccer

PSLPortlandI live in Des Moines, where local soccer means Des Moines Menace….the 2014 Regular Season National Champion Des Moines Menace that is. I have soccer friends in Iowa who are really into MLS who drive to Kansas City or Chicago to watch games. The phrase “soccer friends in Iowa” is a new thing for me. It’s only in the last five or six years I’ve had a group that inspired me to do more with MLS than catch a game when it was convenient. Last year was the first year I knew what the Supporters Shield was (this year I’m wishing it was awarded in the PDL), and with the 2013 MLS All Star Game in Kansas City, it was the first year I got to watch friends travel to the ASG. Major League Soccer is slowly sucking me in. Exhibit A: I just arrived in Portland for my first MLS All Star Game.

My morning has already been pretty cool (despite waking up at 2:15 AM Portland time). Once I made my connection in Chicago I was on a plane with a DC United fan and several Chicago Fire supporters (and the general counsel for the Fire, who looked like a business traveler until he unbuttoned his dress shirt to reveal a retro Chicago Fire navy jersey). It cracked me up, thinking about soccer fans from all over the country converging on Portland, each of us hitting our on moment when it’s OK to take the professional clothes off and reveal our true soccer loving selves. Personally, I left the house in my Portland Timbers jersey, although I don’t think it was noted by any neighbors at 4:30 AM.

I’m stoked to unlock another level of MLS Soccer this week and check out the MLS ASG festivities, but I really hope I get to meet some MLS fans from around the US so I can hear your stories about what life is like in full time MLS supporting. I’m doing a book signing tonight at the Cheerful Bullpen at 6:30 PM PT. I’ll have my book, Passionate Soccer Love, for sale and I’ll sign them and even do a reading if asked (maybe from one of the MLS chapters), but really I hope you’ll come out and help me learn more about the world of MLS: your supporter clubs, your songs, your rivalries…and help me continue to get to know the club side of US Soccer.

Pre-MLS All Star Game Passionate Soccer Love Book Tour

Cheerful Bullpen Bar

8/5/14 (Tuesday) 6:30-8 pm (beer specials start at 8, so stick around after!)

1730 SW Taylor St, Portland, Oregon 97205

Link to the Facebook Event:

For Our Referee Family, a Poignant and Momentous Start to MLS 2014
March 8, 2014, 12:57 pm
Filed under: Major League Soccer, US Soccer

I am a soccer supporter, but I came to my love of soccer by way of refereeing. When I met my husband in 1991, he was an up and coming referee in US Soccer, who eventually spent 10 years as a National Referee for US Soccer. I realized early on that if I wanted to see him, I needed to certify, and I became a referee in 1993, eventually becoming a State Referee and working high school and college games.

I’ve loved refereeing, but I’ve seen referee organizations doing both good to raise the level of the soccer in America and bad discriminating and treating people who weren’t their chosen few horribly, trashing careers and wreaking misery on the people they’re supposed to be supporting.

That said, I stand with the Professional Soccer Referees Association, and I encourage other supporters to do so also. You can’t complain about the calls made in MLS and not support the referee’s union. Their demands are to be paid fairly in a league that has gotten big enough to recruit big name players, but not compensate referees well enough that they can make a career out of refereeing. There is an enormous amount of time and training that goes into becoming a MLS level referee. How can we expect our best and brightest soccer talent to pursue refereeing when the highest level in the professional won’t allow a person to support themselves financially as a career? We cannot expect top level refereeing (although I would argue we often get it) without paying a reasonable salary to encourage the excellence and training we want from our referee pool.

Today is a huge day in our family, a day I have looked forward to and dreaded for years. Our daughter passed the entry level referee exam with a score of 94% and is officially a US Soccer Referee. I am full of pride, and so hopefully that she will not face the discrimination I endured in my career. I believe her best hope as an official and our best hope as supporters lies with the PSRA. But please don’t take my word for it. I share, with permission, a post from Landis Wiley, former MLS track referee. I hope you’ll read it and gain a little more understanding for what life is like on the way to MLS as a referee:

(Shared via Facebook, 3/7/14)


In re: the decision today by PRO to lockout the referees of Major League Soccer, I feel the time is right to share a point of view that in many ways relates to the events unfolding, and hopefully gives pause to those of you across the United States who dedicate your lives (and that of your families) to the sport, to reflect on your role in the outcome of these events.

As many know, in 2012 I stepped away from my life on the “fast train” and elected to resign from the MLS-pool of officials, and subsequently stepped back from many other soccer-related endeavors. It was, frankly, the hardest decision of my life. Very few knew it was coming, and fewer still understood it. Many still have ideas of why I left, and most are wrong. But, it was a decision arrived at after, literally, years of reflection. My doubts about my pursuit of the “top” began almost as soon as my time in MLS began back in 2008/2009. It was always my goal to “get there”, but once there I asked “what now?” I never came up with a definitive answer. My family and friends who supported by referee career from the time I stepped on the field at 10 years old were my sounding board, and many pushed me to continue, and for many of the wrong reasons I did so until I finally worked up the courage to step away.

My life on the career track of refereeing was and will remain one of the most enjoyable periods of my life. Many, hell – most- of my best friends came from the days hanging out in blistering heat or freezing cold under tents vulnerable to lightning strikes and wind storms. These aren’t the “best friends” in the sense that many consider friendships, these are the types of friends that I can go for months (or, in some cases longer) without seeing, and yet when we run into one another it’s like we never missed a day. I’ll be forever grateful to the mentors who, in many cases, taught me more about life off the field than the stuff that went on between the lines.

That said, there reached a point where I had to pause and ask myself, “what next?” For a variety of reasons I asked that question, and, unfortunately, some of those reasons went back to a lack of support for further development. Some call it “politics”, others call it “favoritism”, I just call it “lack of vision.” I saw too many around me who were denied the opportunity to improve as a referee, not because of lack of skill or lack of desire or effort, but simply because someone else took over as “flavor of the month.” Frankly, I didn’t want to be “that guy” that at 40-some years of age would be discarded like an old sock simply because something new or “better” was coming along. The system was broken, the system IS broken. The sad thing is, the solutions are not difficult. Unfortunately, it appears that the people employed with the purpose of implementing them are incapable of seeing past their own short term goals and allegiances to to do what needs to be done.

Now, don’t mistake what I’m saying here. I did not leave the professional ranks because of anyone else, or because someone “screwed” me. Quite the contrary, I left for myself, for my family, and for my real career. My professional soccer career spanned a series of marriage, divorce, death of my mother, and loss of a job – most of which occurred in 2010 and 2011. I had plenty of reasons to walk away, and eventually I got the courage up and did so – and I’ve never looked back. Well, at least once I got past the withdrawal stage which lasted an excruciating 6 months. The comparison to a drug addiction is apt. I look at my life in the years since I walked away with joy and appreciation. I have a beautiful wife, and blessed family – about to grow by one, an incredible job, and wonderful friends. I would not change one thing about the decision, or the path forward since.

So, where does all this tie in to the current PRO/MLS/PSRA situation? It’s simply this: The men and women who continue to dedicate their lives to the sport and to the career DESERVE to have the sport and the career dedicate itself back to them in a fair and equal way. If a person is going to be asked to sacrifice career, family, friends, time and energy to become “the best”, then they absolutely deserve to be treated with a basic level of respect – both financially and otherwise. Up until now, the referees in this country have been involved in a one-way relationship. PRO and MLS appear to expect that this should continue. PSRA is standing up for a cause that is long overdue and will serve to benefit the development and retention of “the best” referees from the time they step on their first U10 field, to the time they carry the ball onto the field of a World Cup.

My involvement in the founding and floundering first years of PSRA make me intimately passionate about this subject. It pains me (and I’m trying to be polite here) to hear that fellow “brothers” in the referee ranks are stepping in to circumvent those who have given so much for the sake of helping ALL referees at all levels. I can’t force, and I don’t beg, but I would encourage ALL of my friends in the soccer community to give pause to your personal ambitions in soccer and reflect on the greater good here. For those “crossing the line”, I’ll leave you with this: “what next”?

Landis T. Wiley
Professional National Referee – Retired

Why the Des Moines Menace Represent Everything That is Right with Soccer in America.

Last night, when I read Chris Cuellar‘s Des Moines Register article about today’s Menace vs Sporting KC Open Cup match, I was pretty clear in my feelings that it did not reflect the magnitude of the day, nor a proper “so you’re saying we have a chance” feeling. Sure, he’s a journalist, but we could sound a tiny bit more excited at the possibility of a win for the Menace tonight, because however unlikely, it is a wonderful possibility. I wrote my thoughts about the game here on my blog, and left a comment on the Register’s website and left it at that. But then you wonderful people started sending me other things people wrote about our Menace, and one piece I must share here, because it’s wonderful, and what I wish I’d written about our guys. So thank you, Jason Lemire, Freelance Soccer Writer (310.867.0977  ~   lemire.jason at yahoo dot com), you can guest blog for me any time:

Why the Des Moines Menace represent everything that is right with soccer in America.

Everyone expects Sporting KC to wipe the floor with them tonight.  Even Adrian Healy, in his heart of hearts, must know.  Surely he must.  This team of amateurs.  This team of school boys.  This team of hopefuls and maybes and never will bes.

Tonight, in their US Open Cup game against Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer, the Des Moines Menace of the PDL, collectively, haven’t got a chance in hell.

But… what if they did? What if the impossible happened? What if they won?

What would it mean?

The pessimists would decry the result as proof that MLS is not progressing, that soccer in this country will never reach the lofty heights to which it aspires.  They would probably publish an article about it on Grantland.  And they would be wrong.  Dead, stinkin’ wrong.  Ten years ago, maybe.  Ten years ago, when Major League Soccer was hanging on by the thread of Phil Anschutz’s argyles.  But today?  Tonight?  A victory for the Des Moines Menace would not signal the futility of soccer in this country.  Quite the contrary.  A victory by the Des Moines Menace tonight would signify something beautiful.  Something incredible.  Something profound.  But to grasp the profundity, we must first consider this:

Like most team pages, the first section in the contents bar is club’s history.  Not a big deal.  Only, in the case of the Des Moines Menace’s Wikipedia page, their history entry is 2,779 words long.  That’s just the entry on the team’s history!  Not only does that crush SKC’s page, it crushes the pages of most EPL teams.

Of course, anyone can edit a Wikipedia page.  Are we really to take draw conclusions from website that allows, among other things, this?

In a word.  Yes.  Because the Des Moines Menace’s Wikipedia page is a clear indication that there are people out there who really, really, care about this team, and as any support of soccer in the US will tell you, the dreaded specter that stalks our beloved sport in the night is not losing or disappointment, it’s apathy.

So the Menace have a ridiculous Wikipedia page.  So what.  So this.Kyle_Krause_(2011)His name is Kyle Krause, and his chin will eat you for friggin’ breakfast.

He is, among many other things, the CEO of Kum & Go convenience stores.  He is a wealthy man.  He is also the majority owner of the Des Moines Menace.  Has been since 1998.  Why?  It’s sure as hell not for the money.  No, Kyle Krause is one of longest standing owners in North American soccer because he loves the game, and he loves what the team means to his community.  I don’t have a direct quote from him, but I also suspect that he loves the fact that his team has led the PDL in average attendance for eight of the past ten years.  (Averaging 3,800 fans per game, in the middle of football country, is flat out impressive.)

So the team has a dedicated owner with a good chin.  A really good chin.  And the team has good fan support.  So what?  So this.

mike jeffriesIt’s an oil painting of Mike Jeffries.  At least I think it’s oils.  It could be acrylic.  The point is, where’s your painting of you?  Oh, that’s right, you don’t have one. Because you’re not Mike Jeffries!  (Mr. Krause, if you are reading this, I’m sure you have an oil painting of yourself too.  Please excuse the above sentence aimed at lesser readers.)  This swarthy, painted gentleman was not only a Herman Trophy winner, not only the head coach of the Dallas Burn, not only a scout for Bob Bradley’s 2010 World Cup Team, not only a trophy-winning MLS assistant coach and double major in Electrical Engineering and Public Policy… he is the head coach of the Des Moines Menace.  And he is the coach of the Des Moines Menace because he loves developing young players; and I don’t have a direct quote from him either but suspect he also relishes the opportunity to be a head coach again for an organization that truly appreciates his dedication to his craft.  The fact that Mike Jeffries, with his resume, is coaching in the PDL, is a sign of just how far our sport has progressed since the good folks in Manhattan thought it wise to name a pro soccer team after an uncomfortable physical condition (and I’m not talking about the Wiz).

So the Menace have a head coach steeped in American soccer history with connections all over MLS and a passion for developing young players.  So what?  So this.

DesMoines-Homonoff1105His name is Matt Homonoff and you’ve never heard of him.  You’ve never heard of him because his resume reads more or less like this:

2003 – 2005  DC United Ticket Sales Representative

2006 – 2010  DC United Corporate Partnerships

2011 – 2012  FC Edmonton Dir. of Sales

2012 – Present  Des Moines Menace General Manager

You’ve never heard of Matt Homonoff, but chances are you have never savored your team winning the way Matt savored the Menace’s Open Cup victory over Minnesota’s NASL team last week.  You’ve never savored a victory like he did because chances are you’ve never put in an 80-hour work week, or a 2,500-hour work year, for “your” team.  Chances are soccer is a game you love, but it doesn’t put food on your table.  But for guys like Matt, guys (and plenty of women too) who are in the trenches of selling tickets and booking sponsorships and securing venues and managing the hundreds upon hundreds of small and mighty details that go into making soccer a reality in this country, there is no off season.  Soccer is a game that is lived, day in and day out.  And all of this bears mentioning because contrary to what some might believe, there is an army of people like Matt out there doing everything they can to grow our game, and the fact that a team in the fourth division of soccer in this country has a GM with the chops of Matt Homonoff says an awful lot about how far our sport has come.  That’s right.  Matt has serious chops.  He’s also eaten a few chops in his day.  Lamb chops.  That’s okay.  It’s not his job to be svelte.  He’s a GM.

The Menace are a fourth division team with a passionate GM.  So what?  So this!

frickeMy God, he looks like he’s 12 years old.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is Brandon Fricke.  He grew up in a little place called Grimes, Iowa, which is, according to my sources, the single most Midwestern place in the entire universe.  Young Brandon just wrapped up his sophomore year as a defender for Butler University and now plays his summer ball for little club called the Des Moines Menace.  It was his goal, in the 86th minute, against the NASL’s Minnesota United FC, that propelled the Menace into their game against Sporting Kansas City.  He is also the former captain of the Iowa ODP team.  Isn’t that special.  Local boy does good for his local PDL team, setting the stage for the impossible task of playing against the team who developed him in the first place!  That’s right.  Brandon Fricke is actually a former member of the Sporting KC Academy program.  This is poetry, people!  Poetry!!!  Perhaps, in the near future, once Brandon has earned his degree in, we can only assume, dimples, he will pursue a professional career in soccer.  But until that day comes, he is a member of an amateur PDL squad going against the big, bad Sportings from Major League Soccer, trying to show his old team that he still has the talent and drive that caught their eye so many, misty years ago, and with all that being said you can’t tell me you’re not rooting for the kid, or his team.  And the truth is, every player on the Menace has a backstory that is just as compelling.

So let’s review.  A dedicated owner in it for the love of the game.  The most dedicated fanbase in all of amateur soccer.  A head coach returning to his player development roots.  A GM who represents every unsung hero of US soccer’s ascent over the past 20 years.  A roster full of redemption stories and half realized dreams, all clawing and scratching their way towards the light of a pro contract. 


No.  The Des Moines Menace do not stand a chance against Sporting Kansas City.  Not under the lights of Sporting’s $200 million dollar stadium.  Not under the withering glare of the amateur/professional divide.

But if they did?  If they somehow, somehow did.  What if Kamara hits the woodwork three times in the first half but can’t finish; then, Kansas City native and former MLS League Pool GK Scott Angevine has the game of his life and keeps the Menace in it until the 65th minute when SKC’s Besler-less backline botches an offsides trap, putting Des Moines’s Jimmy Tulloch in one-on-one against Jimmy Neilsen who has momentarily lost focus pondering the wisdom of releasing his autobiography midseason; Tulloch scores, tells the SKC fans to quiet down, and the Menace go on to hold their improbable lead for the next 29 minutes in a flurry of defensive heroics that include Fricke’s dimples and Krause’s chin making three goal line clearances in stoppage time.

However it happens, if the Des Moines Menace of the PDL win tonight against Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer, it will not be a sign that the sky is falling on our beloved game.

No.  It will be a sign that the Soccer Gods, the same Gods that have steered the fates of so many other underdog clubs around the world, in tournaments just like this, have finally seen fit to visit our shores.

If the Menace win tonight, the victory will be etched in the minds of soccer fans for years to come.  In the little town of Grimes, and the not so little city of Des Moines, it is a story that will be told for decades.

If the Menace win tonight it will be a sign that our beloved game has finally begun to develop more than just players… we have begun to develop legends.

Road Trip: the Des Moines Menace Head to Sporting KC in Open Cup 3rd Round
May 28, 2013, 1:38 am
Filed under: Major League Soccer, Supporter Culture | Tags: , ,

What a week! We had a great trip to watch the Menace win in Minneapolis, and now here it is, game day in Kansas City for the 3rd round. I’m pretty amped up for this thing, and the Des Moines Register’s article left me wanting more, so here it is, the story I want told about the Des Moines Menace.

This week has been a roller coaster, with Adrian Healey tweeting and talking about our Menace, getting our 15 seconds of fame on Big Head and the Red Head (at minute 33) at the high points, and Taylor Twellman’s snarky, disbelieving tone every time he says “Des Moines Menace” at the low, but even then…he was snarky about us on an MLS broadcast! It’s been a great week to be a Menace fan.

Now we have 2 full buses of people committed to go down to Kansas City in a few hours, to see if we can put the brakes on Sporting’s plans to keep the Open Cup trophy. Our PDL David to their MLS Goliath. My first chance to see Sporting Park NOT from the Members Stand.

I know we’re a long shot, but there’s a reason we play the games. It’s like my husband was saying tonight, the difference between success and failure in professional sports is tiny thin line, let’s call it 2% more mental focus. All high level players have the physical prowess to win matches. It all comes down to the focus, mental clarity, and speed of thought to make it happen on that particular day. Do you have the clarity that allows you to see that strike, and have your laces hit it just perfectly at the moment when everything is on the line? Who will have their Lafester Rhodes day tomorrow, and light it up like we’ve never seen?

On any given day, any one player can make or break it for the whole match. When we played in Minneapolis last week, the Menace dominated the first half, and looked like a sure thing. In the second half, I was positive that Minnesota United would win, they were beating us to the ball, out shooting, out possessing….but like in so many soccer games, it came down to one Menace player timing his jump better than his defender, and Menace keeper Scott Avengine not allowing anyone to make it back. That’s all it takes to win in Open Cup or any other game.

The Menace is in their 20th year, and I have watched them all 20 years. This season feels like something special. We have a new GM, Matt Homonoff, fresh off the NASL circuit, and every time I talk to him, I get more excited about soccer in Des Moines. We have Mike Jeffries, (not the evil one…google Mike Jeffries soccer) a former USMNT player and former MLS coach. I like our player roster…I mean, I barely know them, but these guys played really well together in Minnesota, and they’d hardly met each other yet. I’m excited to see how they look against an MLS side after another week playing together.

They say the third time’s the charm, and this is the 3rd appearance for the Menace against a Kansas City MLS team (let’s all be thankful that the Wiz years are over). So, Sporting KC, I’ll see your #CupStaysHere hashtag, and raise you a #ThirdXCharm for my beloved Menace Soccer. Go get em, boys!

Why It’s OK to Keep Talking About Robbie Rogers
May 27, 2013, 9:39 pm
Filed under: Major League Soccer, Supporter Culture

After Robbie Rogers return to MLS last night, I was chatting with my friend and fellow supporter, Justin Plasket, about how he felt about Rogers’ appearance. We’ve had several great talks about our  frustrations: mine as a straight woman refereeing men’s soccer, and his as a gay man who likes sports. I asked him to write his reaction. What I got was more than I bargained for, and I hope you’ll read it for every kid who’s ever played youth sports in your presence, and let’s just get to the place where it’s OK we’re still talking about Robbie Rogers:

“And the blood will dry underneath my nails.  And the wind will rise up, to fill my sails so you can doubt and you can hate but I know no matter what it takes, I’m coming home.” – Skylar Grey

I’ve always been sort of the runt of the litter – not so much in the sense of physically or psychologically deficient (though THAT quantification is enough of a hotspot/soap box for me to spark an ENTIRELY different post) but more the outsider.  The Japanese term for it is a “Gaijn” means more than outsider, as it carries connotations of not knowing one’s self or history or not having a place in the world.  Sort of like being that kid you see in the movies who is always watching everyone else enjoy the party, but knowing his place was on the outside, and it was his dues to pay, or some BS like that, that somehow made the pill easier to swallow.

There’s a picture of my soccer team from when I was 10 years old – we wore red in that summer’s Cedar Valley youth league – and in that picture, I’m crying.  Before the picture had been snapped, the kid next to me had punched me twice and called me a “faggot.” But that’s not what made me cry.  I took the hits and heard that word and felt its burn and I knelt there in the back row of players, right in front of the coaches, knowing that I still had a place on this team and that Andy (the name-caller) would still count on me on game day, because I had earned my place and this was a game that I loved – and playing it well – and nothing else mattered.  Even knowing in my heart that he was remarking on my sexuality (and that I knew I was gay) didn’t matter.  I resolved it in my head: “yes, I’m a faggot who is going to save your ass when I clear a ball off the line because you’re taking the near post” or something like that.  What made me cry just moments before the cameraman snapped the picture was that when I turned back to smile at my dad – to show him that I was “invincible” and could take anything for the game that I’d come to love – and my Dad wouldn’t look at me.  All he could muster was “don’t act like what he’s calling you if you don’t want to be called that.”  I was ten.  I’ll never forget those words from my dad – he couldn’t even bring himself to say “gay” or “homosexual” or “faggot.” Looking up and not seeing his eyes, and feeling the rest of my coaches’ eyes – like they were begging me to look to them instead, and feeling like they just wanted me to stop embarrassing them. My 10 year old heart broke and I lost it.

That was it. That was the moment my spirit took a break from the game. I began to spiral away from the pitch and the game I loved (I even had an Orange Ball… how cool was I?  What kid has an Orange ball?) and into a dark abyss of something I never truly understood beyond “Aaron is cuter than any girl I’ve seen and wow… boobs are interesting but they don’t do anything for me.” The feeling was gone.  There was just a whole big NOTHING and my still-developing hands couldn’t grasp onto Nothing.

In the flash of the photo snapping, something changed. I’ll never forget the photographer’s face as he practically begged my coaches – and ultimately,  my father – to let him take another where I was more “together,” but it didn’t happen.

I played one more season, moving up from right back to right wing and there was Andy, in my old spot at back, playing as if we were best friends and teammates.  We were the Sky Blue Team and we were flying high… making it to some final of some competition that I couldn’t tell you what it was.  Andy rode to the tournament in my Dad’s yellow Mustang with me as we blared Weezer’s Blue Album with the windows down.  We WERE friends and teammates.

My last game, I sent a cross into the box that led to a goal and later, in the final minutes, found myself in a spot to rifle a shot into the keeper’s nose… and collect the rebound, finishing the play in a goal before collapsing to my knees to make sure the keeper was alright.  At the end of that game, I couldn’t tell you I would step away from the game for the better part of 15 years.  All I could tell you was that I was happy.

I was happy because the things that had bothered me about myself never ever manifested on the field.  All I felt was the touch of the ball on my instep or laces, the junky pollen in the air as it filled my lungs on some days, the embrace of my teammates after we scored, and the pats on the back from the coaches, even when we were getting blown out.  I was a Soccer Player.  I was a Right Winger.  I was a good person…

And when I stepped off the pitch and took off my shoes, I hated myself.  I hated that I didn’t KNOW myself.  I hated that I didn’t WANT to know myself.  And most of all, I hated that I had nobody to look up to.

I used to dream that my favorite player, Alexi Lalas, would stand over me when Andy would call me a “faggot” and get in his face about it.  Why couldn’t I play too?  I was good.  I had earned my place on the field and what should anything else matter?  Alexi would tell him, and we’d high five and then he’d go and score in another World Cup and the world would be right…

Except that never happened.  I hung up my boots and it would be 15 years until I truly found Soccer again, this time as a supporter.

Landon Donovan… the Miracle Minute… and I felt something.  I saw the ball escape the keeper on Deuce’s shot and Landon blast it home and for just a moment, while leaping off my bar stool and being showered in beer, I stopped being “Gay but not Obviously Gay Justin” and was just an Outlaw.  I was hugged, picked up, swung around, and maybe even kissed?  It felt good and I wanted more.

I’d always had an allegiance to Celtic FC (I’m Scots/Irish) and grew up with the Fire but as the years wore on and I slowly began to return to the game as a supporter, I felt like I needed a change.  Maybe it was the Xbox logo or maybe it really WAS that Rave Green that sunk into my soul the moment I saw the Sounders on ESPN one night, I’ll never know.  I became a fan.  Watching the game again felt close to what I felt as a kid.  Who I was didn’t matter when who I rooted for was concerned… and I loved this game so, SO much.

And then that day.  My little brother suggested we go to the USOC Final in KC. It was Sporting KC hosting the Sounders, and I went.  Everything from tailgating to the march in, to swinging my scarf, to feeling utterly defeated as EJ’s PK soared up to meet the International Space Station… the world of being a supporter truly opened up to me.  I was hooked.

A few months later I was back in KC for the USA vs. Guatemala game (this time, supporting the WINNING Side).  I was at a point in my life where putting on the jersey or the scarf was no longer a way of covering up or hiding… and for the first time, I truly felt like I belonged when I could feel the fabric against my skin.  Nobody had a label.  Nobody’s mannerisms defined him/her.  We wore the hoops, the sash, the all-white… the Crest.  That made us one. THAT is what mattered.

… And I was finally Home.

And I loved it.  I met Tanya.  I met Doug.  I met Herculez Gomez at a bar after the game.  I was with my best friends – old and new – and never once did I question who I was or if I belonged. I just simply knew.

See, I’m not really the type of dude who ever fit in anywhere before.  Even now in my early-mid 20s, I had been displaced from whatever community where I felt I should belong.  I’ve been told I “act too straight to be accepted” by the gay community (yes, even the gay community can have narrow minded people,) but I’ve always been “gay Justin” to my straight friends.  But there in the supporter community, I was, for the first time in my LIFE, truly belonging.  Which brings me, finally, to my point:

Tonight was March 26th, 2013.  I watched one of the worst played Sounders games in recent memory.  I’ve felt and remembered all of what is written above on top of having a really bad day.  Then, minute 76 happened.

Robbie Rogers, an out gay man, stepped onto the field for the first time since coming out.  And everything above stopped mattering.

I always thought I’d respond to seeing him on the field again as a “well, I’m smiling because I should smile” type of thing (and I’m not really that prone to being emotional).  Even seeing him warming up, I really felt nothing more than frustration at the amateur show from Seattle’s backline and complete longing for Ozzie (out with Injury).  And then I saw the sign.  19 in red, 14 in green…. and  I lost it.

I’m a 24 year old man.  I never really cared too much about “gay” stuff (the whole “outcast” feeling allowed me to just shrug it all off) and so it couldn’t be JUST that.  I saw his first step onto the pitch and it started to hit me – this wasn’t just because he was gay… it was so much more.  For the first time, I saw something in the Nothing.  I saw something to latch onto.

For the first time, that 10 or 11 year old kid who was still inside my soul – who took off his boots and held them as he sobbed and didn’t even know why he was crying… for the first time, he saw something in that Nothing…  And that kid – that part of my soul – he was wearing the Red/White Hoops when he finally stepped forth into the light.

It was also the final piece I needed.  The sport that I loved – that gave me a home for so long, even after I stepped away – finally saw that last part of me step out from the darkness and into the world.  I’m a gay dude.  I’m a supporter.  I still try and pretend to play on occasion.

And when I put on the crest on my replica (I’m a college kid, kinda all I can afford at the moment…) USMNT jersey or my Sounders’ Scarf, the only thing that matters is that I’m Justin: a Sounder and an Outlaw.

THIS is what Robbie Rogers has really done.  It’s not just about the whole “gay” thing.  It’s about finding the courage to be yourself.  It’s about finally finding that one thing to latch onto and help yourself out of the darkness and Nothingness. And it is about the Family that helps you do it.

For me, it is about standing on that table or that stool or in those bleachers and singing/shouting:

“Everywhere we go // people wanna know // who we are // so we tell them // we are the U.S. // THE MIGHTY FUCKING U.S!”

Thank you, Robbie, for helping that last part of me to finally let go.  Thank you MLS for supporting everyone being above the line.  And most importantly, thank you Outlaws, ECS, Green Brigade (at least in the US) for always seeing me as more than just one aspect of who I am.  To the teams and the players who have quite literally saved my life in the past, thank you.  To the supporters who have become my Family, thank you.  To all, I love you.  Wherever you go, I’ll follow.

I’ve come home.

See you in Seattle.

NYCFC… Really MLS?
May 27, 2013, 4:14 pm
Filed under: Major League Soccer | Tags: , ,

Yes, we all knew it was coming. Of course New York would get a second team….we can’t go around making sense or anything. And I enjoyed it when it was announced. First thing in the morning, my Facebook wall blew up with posts ranging from apathy to instant hatred from my soccer friends around the US. It seemed like there was something for everyone to hate: New York, the Yankees, Man City, take your pick. I began to consider the real possibility that the marketing strategy was to have a team that so many people would despise, to the point where the team is supported by away fans coming to every game.

Then the afternoon rolled around, and my “non-soccer” friends started posting about it. (Disclaimer: I’m originally from New Jersey) People were posting things about “once NYCFC kicks off, does that mean Red Bulls will officially become Jersey?” Which make SOOO much more sense than expecting Jersey fans to root for a NYC team (if you don’t believe me, listen to Jeff “Jersey” Bradley). At least RBNY play in Jersey… But really, I still don’t get it…I don’t see anything in Red Bulls attendance numbers that scream “That area needs another team, STAT!!” But whatever…I wasn’t going to write anything about it….busy with the Open Cup and all that.

Then I heard Alexi Lalas talking during the MLS LA vs Seattle game, talking about how Don Graber had called him (yeah, Twellman, he didn’t call you because he pissed that you can’t say “Des Moines Menace” with a serious tone…work on it). Graber was saying that he didn’t feel Lalas’ concern that people weren’t going to be into NYCFC because of their Manchester City, Yankees, or other partnerships, was warranted…people would follow a team regardless.


Does Graber really know any supporter? I have made very few rational decisions about teams I support, and even fewer about teams I hate, and I’m not alone. During the Champions League final, I was talking with a Menace front office, about how much he hates when the Menace has to wear a kit that reminds him of his most hated rival. Just the matching colors…not the actual kit of his enemy. Rational? No. Understandable, yes…to every supporter there.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with NYCFC, but very little of it makes sense to me, in my 20th year kicking around US Soccer. It’s above my pay grade to make these decisions, but I still say building soccer here in flyover country is smarter money than yet another in New York metro. I wish them luck, because I think they’re going to need it.

Robbie Rogers Comes Out By Blog Post Read By My 10 Year Old
February 16, 2013, 9:13 pm
Filed under: Major League Soccer, Supporter Culture, US Soccer | Tags: , , , ,

robbie respectI got the news of Robbie Rogers’ coming out via my 10 year old daughter reading his blog post aloud as I was driving, with her five year old brother listening. His message is a bittersweet and poignant reminder that our society is far from a welcoming utopia, but to hear his words through my daughter, and hearing my children’s reaction gives me hope.

It’s school intercession this week, and since the kids and I will be spending Spring Break in Denver, we’ve been working pretty hard on our house project (the blog/project that keeps me from posting more here). We were taking a drive out to southwest Iowa to check out a new fireplace mantle, listening to NPR, waiting for Science Friday to talk about the asteroid flyby (I know, I have a five and ten year old who ask to listen to NPR, we’re a geeky family, what can I say?) While we waited, they had an interview of some hateful man ranting about the Boy Scouts and gays, saying things that were nothing short of horrifying. I want my kids to know about the world, but do I really want them exposed to hatred?

They know homophobia exists. When my daughter was the flower girl in my Aunties’ wedding, our former next door neighbor found out that we (gasp!) don’t mind having gay friends and family, and had her daughter stop playing with my daughter. That was basically the last straw in staying in that house, and we soon moved to our current neighborhood, River Bend, which is much more in line with our world view:  economically and racially diverse, and is affectionately referred to as “the best damn gayborhood in Des Moines.” Viva diversity!

NPR turned to Science Friday soon enough, and we continued our mission for the perfect fireplace mantle. We were on our way back to Des Moines when my phone beeped the notification from a writer/soccer friend from AO Iowa City had just written me a Facebook message that just said “ROBBIE ROGERS!!!!!” in vaguebooking style of leaving message open to anything from Rogers in near-fatal accident to amazing trade/score/news. I wrote back “What?” and flipped open Twitter in attempt to answer my own question. It took no time to find this blog post in my feed, but since I was driving, I asked my 10 year old daughter to read it.

My kids are growing up Jewish in Iowa. They know what it’s like to be a minority and get teased for it. We talked about how hard it must be to feel like you have to hide who you are from everyone, even your family. When asked, my daughter said she didn’t think it should make a difference if a player is gay, full of child-like wisdom with “It’s who he is, all that should matter is how he plays.” Absolutely right, kiddo.

So we join in the outpouring of support for Robbie Rogers, which made me so proud yesterday, to read so much love and support for a player who really should only be famous for what he’s added as a player. While I look forward to the day when he wouldn’t have to have suffered so long with this secret, I’m so grateful that my kids got to share in his coming out message, and they now have a new role model for living an authentic life. Hopefully his step away from soccer will be short lived now that he knows the soccer fans and players can stay classy. Well done and best wishes, Robbie Rogers.

CSI: SKC, How Sporting KC Got My USMNT Banners Back
November 3, 2012, 8:18 pm
Filed under: International Soccer, Major League Soccer, Supporter Culture | Tags: , , ,

I was watching my son’s final soccer game Wednesday, when my phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize from Kansas City. Usually, I let numbers I don’t recognize go to voicemail, but on a whim, I answered, and a man asked if I was Tanya Keith. I said yes, and he started speaking in a very serious, deep voice: “Tanya, this is Chris Wyche, Vice President at Sporting KC. I want you to know that we take things very seriously here at Livestrong Park, and when someone does something that isn’t right at our stadium, we track them down.” That’s a paraphrase, because honestly, his voice was so firm and dark, I was frantically wracking my brain for what I possibly could have done wrong, or maybe one of our American Outlaws Des Moines members had gotten in trouble….I couldn’t imagine, since we’re far from the rowdiest group of trouble makers.

He continued, “ We’ve been able to locate your banners.” OH PHEW! We’d traveled to Boston to visit family right before the World Cup qualifier in Kansas City, and on our travels, had met my friend, Prairie Clayton, the artist behind the AO Des Moines banner and many other great hand-painted banners supporting US Soccer. She’d asked us to carry two of her banners to hang at the game while we were hanging the AO Des Moines banner. When she asked, I almost said no. Having been to Livestrong Park before, I knew that the banners would be hung far above the supporters section, and it always makes me nervous, having her works of art hanging so far from my watchful eye and protection. I mentioned the placement of banners to her, but she wanted to send them, so we took them along with us, and hung them along with our own American Outlaws Des Moines banner.

The game was fantastic, and excellent win to finish out the round of World Cup qualifying, and the banners were still hanging, every time I glanced up, even after the final whistle. I helped Doug fold our 20×30′ stadium flag, the Midwest Mama, and took the kids into the Member’s Bar while Doug went to fetch the banners. All was right with the world….

Then I got the text: “I have our banner, but Prairie’s are gone.” My worst nightmare had come true, worse than my own banners getting stolen, someone had taken banners that had been entrusted to me. Horrified, I found stadium management and told them about the theft. Their response was amazing, taking the problem very seriously with no fit throwing on my part whatsoever. They took me to the place where SKC tifo is stored, but the banners weren’t there. They took down my name and number, assured me that they would be able to track them down, and would be in touch.

The next day, I posted photos of the missing banners with pleas for help getting them back. My post got lots of retweets and reposts, and one of the AO Kansas City guys told me the stadium was taking it very seriously, and he would keep me posted on the investigation. Then a local station in KC picked up the story, and broadcast about the theft. Prairie and I were both touched. Even if the banners were never returned, it was nice to have a front office and community give so much respect to supporter’s work. Then I read a post on the American Outlaws leadership board: through stadium security, they had identified the people who took the banners, and they were working on contacting the thieves to get them returned. CSI Sporting KC is serious business apparently, because it was only a few days later that I got the above mentioned phone call that both banners were being returned.

In this day, with so much animosity between MLS front offices and supporters, it’s refreshing to see a stadium run with such a strong commitment and support of the people who create the atmosphere and energy that MLS likes to use to market their product. From the initial meeting with stadiums ops, to the diligent work to return banners to their rightful owners, Sporting KC showed that they are a cut above in creating the kind of culture that I want to see in American soccer. They have my profound appreciation, and increasingly, my support as a fan. Looking forward to learning more about the organization to the south, but for now, a huge thank you for supporting supporters to everyone that helped get banners back to the artist who made them. FYI…Prairie’s banners are for sale, and she does commissions. You can contact her via Twitter @hoover_dam, or message me and I’ll be happy to get you in touch. If you don’t have a team to watch in the MLS Playoffs, I suggest you check out Sporting KC against Houston next Sunday and Wednesday.

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