Saturday, May 14, 2011

Forever on the Fringe

With discussion of a proposed Vikings stadium in Arden Hills also including the possibility of Minnesota getting a MLS franchise, some have begun revisiting the question of whether soccer will ever become one of the major spectator sports in the United States. I heard a an energetic chap call a local sport talk this week and make the claim that soccer is at last on the verge of "breaking through" and staking its place in the American sports mainstream. We've heard this prediction of an imminent American soccer surge made at various times over the course of the last thirty years and it's never actually come to fruition. More evidence of why I believe it never will is provided in an article from yesterday's WSJ called Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders Wage Hipster Soccer Showdown:

Sounders fans can no longer claim to be the league's most rugged supporters, as 18,627 Portlanders turned out in a torrential, freezing rainstorm last month for the Timbers' opening home game against the Chicago Fire. In Portland, stadium vendors hawk barbecued-tofu sandwiches, spinach salads and chocolate-covered bacon, putting Seattle's relatively mundane offerings, like veggie dogs, gourmet donuts and cappuccinos, to shame. Sure, the Sounders boast a "democracy" that gives fans voting rights on decisions like the team name, but the Timbers management consults regularly with its supporters group, the Timbers Army, and trumpets the team's commitment to community service. (The team plants a tree, for example, for every goal scored.) "The Timbers are all about helping out their fellow man," said Kaegan Dews, a 22-year-old dishwasher, pausing briefly between songs at the home opener.

While Seattle's scarf-wielding supporters may look edgy compared to the baseball fans across the street at Safeco Field, Portland fans boast at least as many piercings, tattoos and mohawks. In the merchandise line at a Timbers game, Bryan Dean, a 40-year-old industrial designer with a tall blond mohawk was sporting a kilt. He said kilts are "considered quite masculine" in Scotland and Ireland and evoke Portland's identity: "underdogs and kinda blue collar, but also fringe, artistic."

"They're hippies," said Seattle fan Nic Greer, a 32-year-old garbage man with a lip ring who wears a chicken mask on his head to every game and a jersey that reads "Chicken Man" across the back.

Not exactly a Bears-Packers kinda rivalry that most Americans could relate to, is it?