Written by Chris Albin. Media by Mikey Ward.
My name is Chris Albin, and I am a soccer fan in the United States. Not only am I a soccer fan, I am an MLS (Major League Soccer) fan. (MLS is the top pro soccer league in the United States.) While soccer fans are not as rare as one might expect in the US, MLS fans are even fewer in number. One might ask, “How does one become a fan of an MLS team?” For me, the answer is simple. When entering my freshman year of high school, I knew nothing about professional soccer. I was a Dallas Cowboys fan, and knew all about the NFL. This interest in the NFL came from the fact that I had played football in grade school. (This was before everyone got bigger than me.) Like many young football playing boys I wanted to be in the NFL when I grew up. Because of this dream I watched the NFL to take in the glamour that was sure to be my future. However, after a couple of bad seasons (during my last year of football, my team did not score a single point all season) I decided that it would be more fun for me to play soccer instead, since our soccer team was outscoring our football team.
By the time that I reached high school and got more serious about playing soccer, I started wondering what pro soccer looked like. (Just because I switched sports, I was not discouraged from my dream of being a pro athlete.) I knew that there were foreign teams and leagues, but being in the United States and the sports culture that comes with it, I knew that we had to have a pro soccer league of some kind. So, as any person of our generation does, I went to the Internet in search of answers. I quickly found out that there was a pro league by the name of Major League Soccer, and the closest team to me was the Chicago Fire. I am aware that this is an unfortunate name for a team, but it beat the mascot for my high school soccer team. To my shame we were the mighty Cornjerkers. That summer before my freshman year of high school, I went to a couple of games in Chicago, and watched the Fire play on TV, and I was immediately hooked. That’s how I became an MLS fan. I simply looked it up, watched it and have been watching it ever since. (Even after it became clear that I was not blessed with the athletic abilities to be a pro athlete.)
Many people ask me why I like MLS more than European leagues such as the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, or the Bundesliga, since these leagues have better players and better all around soccer than the MLS. There are many reasons why I like MLS better. I want to support American soccer, I can actually see MLS games in person, almost all of the games are competitive, and I am familiar with the teams and their backgrounds. However, one of the more unique reasons that I like MLS is because each team has its own soccer culture and environment. Each sport has a unique fan culture; this is especially true of soccer. In fact, there are many different fan cultures within the sport of soccer itself. This is due to the large ethnic diversity that exists in soccer. Soccer is a global sport and every nation has a different way of responding/showing their support for the game. For example, in South Africa, fans love to blow on vuvuzelas when they watch the game. (If you do not know what a vuvuzela is, it is a plastic horn that is very loud. It sounds like a loud buzzing wasp.) This is why there was that constant buzzing sound in the background of all of the 2010 World Cup games, which took place in South Africa. All of this is to say that each soccer game has a very unique atmosphere depending on where it is played. I find this diversity to be one of the most appealing aspects of being a soccer fan. A unique way that section 8 (the major supporters group of the Chicago Fire) shows their support is when they light flares in the stands and jump around with them! (Though this may no longer be allowed because they sometimes like to throw them onto the field to smoke out the opposing goalkeeper.) One of my favorite displays of support are tifos. (Tifos are the name of an organized choreography that is preformed by fans.) In the United States, Portland and Seattle are the best places to experience world-class Tifos. Each MLS city has it’s own fan culture because North American (MLS has 3 Canadian teams that are included into the league) cities are so culturally diverse. This makes every stadium environment unique. These differing environments are one of my favorite aspects of MLS.
However, my favorite aspect of MLS is that it is growing very quickly into one of the top sporting leagues in the United States and in the world. In a recent Google + Hangout, the MLS commissioner Don Garber recently stated that he wanted MLS to become one of the elite leagues in the world by 2022. This goal is certainly possible considering the rapid growth of the league. According to social scientist Rich Luker, the MLS market could triple or quadruple with the coming generation. (espnfc.com) Luker thinks that the rapid growth in the popularity of soccer in the United States is due to the fact that the youth soccer programs in the United States are one of the most popular in the world. I tend to agree with him. Soccer at the youth level is extremely popular in the United States. This is not necessarily new however. What is new is that there are more and more youth soccer players who are coming into contact with professional soccer via the Internet or TV. Because of this exposure, more and more professional soccer fans are being born every year. MLS is capitalizing on this growth, and is growing as a result. I have no doubt that MLS will become one of the top leagues in the world (both in popularity and in quality of play) in two decades. Being part of this growth is very exciting for me. It is exciting to see the league attendance rise every year and to see more and more teams enter the league. (There are 19 now, and very likely a 20th team in the next two years.) It is also exciting to see more and more big name players join the league every year. (There are rumors that Kaka and/or Frank Lampard could be joining MLS at some point this season.) These and many other signs indicate that MLS is surely going to be a national and international sporting power in the decades to come, and I am very excited that I have the opportunity to experience this as an MLS fan.