The story of how I came to actually attend the match was a bit spontaneous and unexpected. I am currently living with 7 housemates in downtown DC as I work an internship as part of a scholarship program for graduate school. And as most houses in the Summer in DC go, the majority of the housemates are also spending Summer internships in the District.
That is not an uncommon occurrence in this town, but what is uncommon is that three of the housemates are fairly fervent supporters of Soccer clubs. I bang the MLS and New York Red Bull drum loud and proud, another roommate is a season ticket holder for the Sounders, and then we have an American that supports a major European club overseas, just to round it out.
Well, that European club just so happens to be Chelsea Football Club. And that same club just so happens to be touring the United States this summer in preseason. And that same club just so happens to be playing the MLS All-Stars in a match just 190 miles north of our house. The stars aligned for a magical and unforgettable night.
Russ (@Brooksonbreak), my Chelsea supporting housemate, had never seen Chelsea play in a live match. So over a few beers one night, as we were discussing the English Premier League and the growth of MLS we decided that we should change that and get some tickets to the game.
|Pedro and Russ arriving at PPL Park|
A couple of weeks later, we cut out of work early on a Wednesday afternoon and jumped into my car, embarking on our journey.
A journey that was much more than just to watch a soccer match. It was a trip that would connect a myriad of different aspects of American Soccer culture into a well-orchestrated and calculated celebration. It was a chance to connect these sometimes disparate aspects of American Soccer culture into a collective experience.
The MLS All-Star match brings together the age-old debate of Euro snobbery versus MLS snobbery. Should Americans support their local professional teams or support a team that plies their trade across the pong. Should we simply show love and support for the game being played at its highest level regardless of its geographic location? Even if that means not supporting the growth of the domestic game or can we do both?
The All-Star Game also brings together the interesting mesh of seemingly opposite worlds. On one side is the mainstream media coverage (ESPN for this outing) and on the other underground social media circles that provides the majority of Soccer coverage across the United States. This Tweeting, Facebooking, Podcasting, unheralded bunch of soccer fanatics provide insatiable soccer fans across the country with the bulk of the content they consume on a daily basis. And on this night they gather to put digital connections into physical form. It’s a place where they can exchange Tweets one minute and handshakes the next. Connections that can even lead to an American Soccer legend like, Alexi Lalas, introducing one such Social Media-lite as legendary themself (insert Lalas tweet of Jason Davis). Here are some of the more memorable experiences of the night and what I learned from these moments:
I begin with my adventure to track down and deliver a beer to long time blogger\journalist\podcaster, Jason Davis (@davisjsn). Many readers might be familiar with Jason from his work on Match Fit USA and the NASN.tv podcast - The Best Soccer Show, which he co-hosts with Jared DuBois (@JRodius).
|A fuzzy shot of Pedro and Jason Davis|
In an attempt to track down and locate a man I have never actually met in person, I decided to stand up in my section and hold my New York Red Bulls scarf high above my head to allow Jason to easily spot me. Oddly enough I wasn’t able to spot Jason, but a dozen or so Philadelphia Union supporters spotted me and were quick to share a few choice words and expressed how they thought I was #1.
Ahhh, MLS rivalries are alive and well.
Eventually, I was able to locate Jason up in the media section of the Park. There was one small problem though; I didn’t have any media credentials. So, with beer in hand I made my way to the staff guarding the stairs to the media section and, after a little finagling, I managed to convince her to let me upstairs. Finally I met Jason, delivered his beer, and had a great Soccer talk while surrounded by some of the big shots of MLS. It was an all around awesome experience.
My takeaway from that experience was fascination. Here were two passionate soccer supporters surrounded by the bigwigs of MLS and only steps away from the ESPN broadcast booth, but none of that interested us. Instead, we found ourselves chatting away like old friends covering topics from former small town Virginia beauty queens to the possibility of US Soccer reincarnating a Soccer Hall of Fame and what MLS' role should be in the process. Amongst all the glitz, glamor, pomp, and circumstance we stood talking the simple intricacies of the sport we loved and day-to-day life.
When I got back to my seat I found my friend Russ involved in a discussion with a couple early 20somethings; Julio (@Juliusseizedher) and Ian from Kansas City. These guys were a riot. They were young, fun, energetic, passionate, and easily transitioned from showering Chelsea with praise to screams of ”White Puma” whenever Jimmy Nielsen made a save. They were just the kind of fan that has rejuvenated Kansas City into one of the best MLS markets.
But even their story showed a bit of dichotomy. Ian was a die-hard Chelsea and Kansas City supporter, whereas Julio bled Liverpool red and Kansas City blue. Yet here they were, one cheering for Chelsea and the other showing them no love but at the same time both showering their local KC boys with praise whenever they got on the ball.
Ian and Julio were not the only supporters wearing two “shirts” that night. When Philadelphia's hometown heroes Michael Farfan and Carlos Valdez graced the pitch at PPL Park, large numbers of the Chelsea clad supporters erupted to show some love. It may not have been the entirety of PPL Park that got on their feet for Valdez and Farfan but it was yet another interesting contrast that speaks to the eclectic and special characteristics of American Soccer culture. Although many may have come out to support their favorite club from England, there was no mistaking that Chelsea was playing in the Union's house.
And finally, as the game was approaching the final whistle, I remember looking up toward the ESPN set and seeing Kasey Keller and Alexi Lalas. Throughout the night I had watched these guys sign countless autographs and never lose their smiles. They reminded me of just how far the game has come in this country. Both were trailblazers for the American player overseas. Even though Alexi may have done it as much with his personality off the field as he did with his talents on the field they both raised the profile of American players in their own way.
|ESPN Broadcast crew: Kasey Keller, Alexi Lalas and Max Bretos|
And here they were perched high above PPL Park, like proud parents, taking in an entertaining match between great domestic and foreign based talent. I couldn't help myself but to think of a way to let them know the “Fans” haven't forgotten their efforts. I looked towards my new found Kansas City friends and decided to take action. We started a “Lalas and Keller” chant that quickly took hold around our section. With the help of Max Bretos they quickly understood the situation and acknowledged our support with some approving gestures and smiles. That was all we needed to know that the message was received and appreciated.
Soon after the final whistle and the match had come to an end. And as the throngs of supporters made their way out of the stadium I couldn't help but think - No matter what the final result may have been, regardless of who would take what away from the final score, this much I knew, this game wasn't just about a celebration of 22 players on the field. It was as much a celebration for all the 19,236 fans in attendance. Those that celebrated their first ever Chelsea match, those that shared the first ever personal encounter with each other, those that celebrated their hometown players performance on the field, and even those who we celebrated for their contributions to the foundation and history of the sport that helped make this All-Star moment possible.
So raise them high Soccer fans. This day was for US.