Momoclo’s Stupid Fun Summer Party!) around the same time that the summer turned very dark and my brother started dragging me to a string of D.C. United games just to get us out of the house. Singing and waving flags with the supporters groups, the special meaning imbued in different colors, the larger than life personalities and specialized skills… it only took a small push to take me from idol fan to MLS fan.
And I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my time learning about soccer and MLS. Playing on team is much like playing in a band, demanding a mix of individual skill and teamwork from each player on the field. Songs don’t emerge fully formed from the voice of a singer and goals don’t happen with the single kick of a ball. Songs are built of many people all playing their parts and goals are built up from decisions made by the entire team. Do risk passing the ball to somebody in a better position or do you shoot yourself and possibly waste a chance? Do you attempt to kick the ball over the midfield and risk it landing with the other team or do you try to charge through and trust to your skill on the ground? A bass player determined to take a solo in every song is like a defender determined to dribble through the entire field by herself and score a goal. It might be amazing once but there’s no way you’d keep that person in your band.
A split second decision may change the course of the game… or it may not. A referee can put his thumb on the scale for one team or the other and sometimes it really all comes down to luck. The final score does not always represent the game that was played just like, to go back to my music metaphor, poor record sales do not always reflect the quality of the music being performed.
What I took away from “Soccer Sunday”, the first day of the 2016 MLS season, is that nobody in the sea of soccer pundits is paying much attention to D.C. United except to continuing the narrative that we suck. While I’m the first to admit that my knowledge of the game is rudimentary at best, even I could tell that the game we played against LA on Sunday looked nothing like the games I watched last year. The pieces are still coming together but it seems like win or lose, we’re in for an exciting season.
Which leads me to another point I wanted to squeeze in here before I signed off. I’ve seen some discussion recently on women fans and women in sports and international women’s day just happened and, as a woman, I feel like very little of this helps anything. It seems to lead to a lot of self-congratulating dudes patting themselves on the back for being “open-minded” about the fact that women are people and women playing identity politics to have their cake and eat it, too. I don’t want a “women’s fanclub” for D.C. United. Why can’t I just be a fan like everybody else without bros assuming it means I’m the soccer equivalent of a puck bunny? Just because I’m friendly doesn’t mean I want to sleep with you. I’ve dealt with enough of those types of bros in my fan experiences over the years that I’ve grown really cynical and, sadly, 99 times out of a hundred the cynicism has been warranted. Just treat me like a person, not a “lady”, is what I’m trying to say. There aren’t two standards of behavior, one for people, one for “ladies”. There’s just one standard: be kind and understanding to everybody and do not try to make yourself seem cool by making fun of people. Except Red Bull fans. They are evil.
But, that said, I think there are some great things to be drawn from more female-centric fandoms. For one thing, I think teams should be encouraged to promote themselves by selling… the team. One big hook for me last year, when I knew nothing about the players, was that fantastic “Dating in the District” video featuring Chris Pontius (#DOOP) and Steve Birnbaum. And I made my friend A. watch Steve Birnbaum’s roast video and now we’re going to wear the cat t-shirts featured in it for the home opener, her first D.C. United game. Does enjoying those videos mean I’m doing “soccer fan” wrong? I don’t think so. Learning the personalities and quirks of the players deepens the emotional bond with the team. And even if purists may not want to admit it, player personalities are part of the fun in watching soccer. If it wasn’t, we’d have replaced them with robots already… or FIFA video game tournaments. Does enjoying stories of Viggo's on-set antics cheapen the enjoyment of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings? Does knowing about the broken and mended friendships of the Beatles "ruin" their music?
Besides, in our selfish, contemporary world where we are increasingly isolated from our communities, the idea of “a team” or, as NYCFC’s Tommy Mac puts it in this utterly delightful bit of youtube magic “25 best friends” is a rare and precious commodity. Teamwork should be savored; outsized personalities should be enjoyed. I suppose that is where I’ll end this. I am a fan. I’ve always enjoyed being a fan. Some people like to be the center of attention and I enjoy giving those people my attention. My only true genius is for enthusiasm.