The New Battle Hymn of the Republic: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Soccer Glory
Instead of talking about MLS preseason or highlighting the Super Bowl ads we loved (Doritos baby, for the win), I decided to write a reflection on two things that, until recently, had not been joined in holy sports matrimony: MLS fans and the outward expression of their fandom in public places.
As a kid in the mid-90s, I was a devout follower in the Church of Soccer like many of you, but I rarely saw members of our congregation express their fanaticism in public. Thankfully for myself and other early MLS fan that kept it real through dark times, mine and many others’ eyes, have seen the glory of a thriving league. As fandom continues to grow at alarming rates in the U.S. and people consume the game at a higher level, it’s interesting to note the random places I now see people outwardly expressing their fandom and their faith to the beautiful game.
I recently went on a ten-day trip around the American Southwest. As a lover of nature and the great outdoors, I road tripped from Las Vegas to Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Mesa Verde, Albuquerque, and beyond. Heading into the trip, one of the most exciting parts of getting away was going to be turning off my phone, not checking Twitter, and leaving the soccer world in the rearview mirror for an extended period for the first time in several years.
My excitement to get away from the sport lasted all of two hours and I quickly realized that seeing hints of soccer fandom in random places would become a casual theme through the entirety of my trip. Cramped on my Spirit Airlines flight to Las Vegas I sat next to a Chicago Fire fan. While waiting for mules to pass at the Grand Canyon I talked to German tourists wearing Bayern Munich shirts. A Navajo trading post owner struck up a conversation with me after noticing my Landon Donovan shirt. In Bryce Canyon we camped next to Real Salt Lake season ticket holders.
Back in Las Vegas outside the Bellagio, I discussed Sebastian Giovinco’s resurgence with a dad wearing a Toronto FC shirt. For two hours in our hotel pool and over several drinks, I talked with two Birmingham, England residents about the growth of MLS and the balding patterns of American goalkeepers. Waiting for my flight back to Chicago, I stumbled upon a Mexican restaurant showing ESPN’s featured Sunday MLS game amongst a sea of NFL fans.
Even when I tried to escape the sport and the league for a mere ten days, I couldn’t. Sprinkled throughout our hikes into canyons and up mountains were signs that the sport and league are alive and well in the U.S.
We here at GESM look at soccer fans through six sets of eyes: Agnostics, Domestics, Europhiles, Fanaticos, Event Seekers, and Observers. As a self-categorized Domestic fan who loves all things America, it was great to meet see so many other proud Domestics out and about in the wild, equally as excited as I am about MLS and the general growth of soccer in this county. From what I saw over ten days to what is now the reality of Europhile- and Agnostic-packed bars on weekends, we’re at an unbelievable period where attention has equaled fandom and it’s great to see how things have changed over the years.
As you travel for work or for pleasure over the next few months and league kick-offs give way to the dog days of summer and Copa America (a dream tournament for Fanaticos), keep your eyes on how many soccer fans you see in random places. Slowly but surely we’re trampling out the vintage and antiquated thought that soccer hasn’t arrived in our great country.