116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A New Challenge

In between loads of laundry, I was catching glimpses of Saturday's Chicago Fire vs. Columbus Crew match, pleased to see that what at first glimpse appeared to be many yellow seats were, in fact, Crew fans dressed in their team's colors (what possessed the Crew to paint their seats yellow, anyway?). I was even happier to see the many kids in the crowd shots, carrying banners and enthusiastically cheering on the Crew. What a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, I thought to myself, and what a great new generation of fans.
Later that night, after a pleasant evening out with The Girl By 23rd Street, I came home in time to catch the match (I refuse to call it a "Superclasico") between the L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA. This one had an incredible atmosphere; it was as if a Liverpool-Everton derby had suddenly been transferred to the Home Depot Center. It was great to see the decidedly non-"soccer mom"-ish Chivas fans get their chance to celebrate, as Ante Razov put them ahead early in the second half, and it was even better to witness the Landon Donovan show that allowed L.A. to come back and get the win. With these games of this quality, as well as with attendance and television ratings markedly improved from last season, it appears as though MLS is poised to have an impact upon the American sporting scene. But before it can do that, the league has to tackle some new issues to ensure that a family atmosphere is upheld at its stadiums.
The ESPN2 crew was interviewing the actor Kuno Becker about the upcoming soccer-themed movie Goal!, but could barely conduct the interview because the Chivas fans were throwing so much confetti at them. The ducking of foreign objects wasn't only limited to the production team, however; Galaxy keeper Kevin Hartman had to wade through a sea of streamers in his failed attempt to stop Razov's opening goal. Soccer fans worldwide love the festive atmosphere a good supporters' group can provide, and confetti and streamers are obviously a very big part of that, but MLS needs to find a solution to the problem of fans throwing objects onto the field. I am a believer in the theory that the appearance of disorder only leads to further chaos, and while such problems are nowhere near epidemic, the league needs to take steps to eliminate them now before public perception equates MLS with hooliganism.
In England, video surveillance and lifetime bans have helped curb some of the unruly behavior that plagued the FA in the 1980's. I'm not saying MLS needs to take such drastic steps, but the time is right to find a necessary solution, especially in light of the fan violence that took place opening weekend during the Red Bull New York vs. D.C. United game. Disorderly crowds are not exclusive to soccer (go to a Flyers-Devils game and you'll find that out), but the league cannot afford to have its fans and product equated with the actions of their counterparts overseas. Regardless, I have confidence in the league, following its progress in stadium development, marketing and sponsorship, and financial stability. If they continue to raise their standards, I believe we will see progress in finding solutions to these new challenges as well.


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