The United States is, as Schoolhouse Rock reminded us, a great melting pot. It’s not always pretty. As Dave Chappelle said on Dr. Katz: “I saw two Irish guys beating an Italian guy — these people are specific.”
Culturally, we’re in a constant state of flux. We’re still young. We’re almost a blank slate.
In soccer culture, we’re even younger and more blank, as Nigel Tufnel might say. Whatever supporter culture existed in the ASL glory days of the 1920s wasn’t handed down in any meaningful manner. The NASL had some serious supporters (as has been pointed out to me when I’ve written about it before), but the lingering “culture” was still shootouts, cheerleaders, disco and Bugs Bunny.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and as soccer has zoomed into the mainstream over the past two decades, we’ve seen a galaxy’s worth of matter rushing into that vacuum.
The result? Let’s put it this way — I wasn’t quite right when I agreed a few years ago that the USA has no soccer culture. We have many soccer cultures.
In a lot of ways, that’s fun. Our supporters groups bring a mix of traditions and languages. We can choose from the best coaching practices around the world.
Or, as I more or less said in my SoccerWire piece today, we can each take our own interpretations of how soccer is supposed to be and just scream at each other all day.
I covered the coaching angle at SoccerWire — the country is crawling with know-it-alls who think their personal experience or some academy they once saw is “the way it’s done around the world.” I did forget to include this Princess Bride clip that I think shows what these coaches think of every other school of thought that isn’t their own:
The “culture” angle as a whole is just as complicated — and aggravating when we fail to fully appreciate our diversity.
Take a look at the City Guides MLSSoccer put together in its season preview. In Chicago, the Fire shuttles fans from “pub to pitch.” Go to D.C. for a Lot 8 tailgate and bounce in the stands with the four supporters groups on the “loud side” at RFK. Take in the tifo in Seattle, cheer for a chainsaw in Portland, or go to Salt Lake and sing along with a chant written by the drummer for punk band Rancid.
“Oh, that’s not authentic,” someone might sneer. Really? That’s less “authentic” than venerable English club Bradford City playing a knockoff of John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads?
Over the weekend, I saw some Twitter traffic by a Premier League fan who was puzzled by seeing streamers on the field at an MLS game. A few astute folks pointed out that this is typical behavior in several countries, moreso in South America than in Western Europe.
Some people don’t like the MLS playoff system. I don’t either, but if you’re going to dismiss the idea entirely, then don’t look at the most popular soccer league on U.S. TV. (Nope, not the Premier League.) A few other South American leagues also have playoffs. You don’t want to know what happened in Brazilian soccer in 2000.
Some fans like drums. Some like tifo. The only thing we agree on is that we hate vuvuzelas.
Some of our internal battles are more serious. When Sam’s Army started the quest to bring supporter culture to the USA, one thing was sacrosanct: We will not be hooligans or racists. The American Outlaws are bigger than Sam’s Army ever got, but they’re struggling with some unsavory elements. (At least we don’t have any of the European idiots who hurl bananas at players who aren’t white.)
If you’re trying to duplicate England or Germany or Brazil in the USA, you’re going to be disappointed. If you appreciate strength through diversity, you’ll appreciate the unique opportunities we have here.
Or, you know, you can just insist things are better elsewhere because you say so. Whichever. Free country and all that.