Fan Culture / Featured / Local

What I learned this summer

As the days grow shorter and the temperature, like the leaves, begins to drop I can’t help but cast my thoughts back over what has been a truly momentous summer of soccer.

Was it good for you, too?

The summer began with my attention divided between the World Cup and the pending opening of our brand new team’s brand new stadium. Actually, I think I’ll always think of the summer of 2010 beginning with the USA v Turkey match at the Linc. Both US goals were scored only yards away from where me and 40 of my friends were sitting and in those moments something clicked in me that only resonated more when our boys went to South Africa.

How was the World Cup for you?

For me, at least as long as the US was involved, the whole experience seemed to be one of extended moments of gutting disappointment and dark anxiety stemming from unfathomably horrendous coaching and/or refereeing decisions punctuated with intense, utterly primal—dare I say tribal—ecstatic jubilation the likes of which I have never experienced before in my life.

And that was just the ties.

I’ve watched the US in the World Cup since 1990, usually alone or with a few friends. With the exception of 2002, there really hasn’t been an awful lot to cheer about. And in 2002, to be honest, with the games being broadcast early in the AM, whatever chemical enhancements that may have been coursing through my veins make for some very hazy memories.

This time around, I watched the US games in a jam-packed bar. Well, as much as I could anyway since I was behind the bar at the 700. Forget if you can for a moment the bad calls, the questionable player selections and the disappointment of not making it out of the Round of 16 and think of this: If any of you were actually in South Africa or were watching in some bar crowded with US fans, have you ever experienced such a collectively intense and visceral mixture of joy and relief as when Dempsey’s ball dribbled out of Green’s hands and across the line? Or when Donovan nearly took the head off of the Slovenian keeper? Or when Donovan ran half the pitch to pick up a loose ball in front of the Algerian goal to win it for the US in the dying seconds of stoppage time? Have you ever heard so powerful a noise?

That guy in the crying tears of joy in the stands when the US came back against Slovenia. I feel him, I really do.

I’ve watched the Phillies win two World Series and the feelings that I felt then, they were close. But it isn’t the same thing. As much as I love our fair city, I learned something this summer to add to something I already knew. Soccer is my sport and it has been all of my life. It is the only organized sport I ever played at the club level or in high school, even if I played it poorly. For years I’ve watched European soccer and, up until this summer, my allegiances were often pointed there: devotedly watching and following the EPL, the Champions League, the Euros—you get the idea. Until this summer, it would be safe to say that I cared just as much about the England team as I did the US.

No more.

I may be an anglophile. I may start my day looking at the Guardian on-line, listen to the BBC all day at work, watch BBC America and the Sky News and the EPL when I get home and go out of my way to read British writers, watch British movies and listen to British music. I may even sometimes wish I lived in England. Whatever. When it comes to international soccer, I am an American, dammit, and the US is my team.

And whatever the competition, if the US is no longer in it, that competition suddenly means a whole lot less to me. Spain v Netherlands in the final? I couldn’t give a toss because I don’t care about either team. Sure, as a fan of soccer, I will want to see good games (pity that didn’t happen in the final, eh?), but do I really care? Care like I do when the US is down 2-0 at half time?

Nope.

And the other thing I learned…

Normally during the closed season in Europe, which is what I used to think “summer means,” I spend my time following transfer rumors, wondering which managers are coming or going, shaking my head at the money being tossed around, and so on.

All of that has changed, now that the Union is in town. And I barely saw it coming.

Because I learned something else this summer: My team is the Philadelphia Union.

I heard people talk about this at the start of the season; some of the folks at the PSP have even written about it. But it was a little too theoretical to me and kind of unreal.

I get it now.

Sure, I still care about my beloved Reading, I’m worried about Celtic, and I am tickled as hell that St. Pauli is in the Bundesliga. And yes, I still spend an awful lot of time following what’s happening in Europe. But none of this compares to what I feel about the Union.

It has been a tough season, one that, realistically, was about as much as could be expected from an expansion team. When the Union has blow a lead at home, there have been times when my mood has been some ugly mixture of anger and depression for days, even if I know that not every expansion team can be like the Philadelphia Atoms of 1973 and win the championship in their first season. Despite those low times, there have been moments—whole games even—when you can see the future, and its a future that is very bright. I swear, you can actually feel it. And off the pitch, there is absolutely nothing to compare to being a season ticket holder and regularly seeing games in person. A few quibbles aside, the stadium is awesome and the Union organization has done just about everything right.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past four or five years trying to connect individual soccer fans and create soccer communities, mainly because I was tired with watching games alone. I started showing games at the 700, I helped to organize a pick-up indoor game at my local neighborhood recreation center and organized fundraisers for new equipment there, and before writing for the PSP I wrote a weekly newsletter that goes out to more than 250 recipients every week.

Now I know I’m part of a soccer community, one that shows up in the thousands every time my team plays. And it feels terrific.

With the season’s end only a month and a half away, I’m already beginning to worry about what I’ll do during the off-season.

Watch European soccer, I guess. And count the days until the Union’s season begins again in March.

Until then, Up the Union!

It sure is a good time to be a soccer fan in Philadelphia, isn’t it?

4 Comments

  1. Funny how “the season” has now become “the offseason” isn’t it?

  2. Always fun to find another Loyal Royal supporter here in the States! C’Mon URRRRZZZZZ!

    I just love that ‘football’ is now a year round sport in our area. As the Union’s enthralling season enters it’s twilight, with it’s unforgettable highs and the maddening lows, in Europe it’s still early days. Royals will battle for promotion to the promised land, the Premier League. Chelsea continues to batter all-comers, while the Special One tries to lead the best team money can buy past hated rivals Barcalona. Then next spring, as all things reach their climax in Europe, the Union’s sophomore season will beckon more summer fun down at PPL.

    Is this fun, or what!

  3. Brion Shreffler says:

    If only on that trip back through time you gave us we could get off the ride and replace a referee or two. But then we would find ourselves stuck in a paradox, variances in poor officiating always forcing us back in time lest we forgo the loop and accept the outcome for what it indeed has done for all of us. Two years of qualification filled with dramatics followed by the frenzied emotions of our push out of the first round-yeah, the adrenaline still hasn’t worn off. Great revisitation Ed.

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