March 8th is a big day in our house. That day marks the start of the 2014 Major League Soccer (MLS) season. And in particular, it is the home opener for the Los Angeles Galaxy as they face Real Salt Lake (that’s pronounced ray-AL, by the way). A year ago at this time, I had no idea that I would become a soccerhead of this magnitude. Yet here I am counting down the days.
The most direct way from Long Beach to Torrance (where I work) and back is via the 405 freeway. Every weekday on that road, I drive past the marquee for the StubHub! Center, which up until June 2013 was known as the Home Depot Center. The StubHub Center (I will drop the superfluous exclamation point in the rest of the blog post for convenience sake. Also, it is actually kind of an annoying position for a punctuation mark.) is home to the Galaxy, along with the soon-to-be erstwhile Chivas USA (more on that in a future post).
Last year, they were able to advertise that the Galaxy were the two-time defending MLS Cup champions and they also advertised Chivas USA games. And naturally, everyone knew that David Beckham played and had just retired from the Galaxy. I would see the ads and make a mental note that I would like to attend a game to experience it. But knowing nothing else about MLS, I had no idea of whether I wanted to go to a Galaxy game or a Chivas one.
I was also curious about attending a game because of the debut for the Galaxy of Robbie Rogers, who became the first openly gay male professional athlete playing in a team sport. I’ve been so heartened to see how that was celebrated and then it became a total non-issue.
In late June of 2013 on a discount ticket site, I saw tickets to the July 4th Galaxy game advertised with a fireworks show afterwards. The tickets were very affordable, so it seemed like a small investment to finally do this thing that I have been thinking about ever since moving to California. After a quick consultation with Scott, we were booked to attend our first ever professional soccer match.
A (very) casual fan
Up until now, I’ve always been an “every four years” type of soccer fan – that is, I love to watch the World Cup and can name the champions going back many years. In 2010 back in Michigan, my boss at the time who was quite into soccer, took me to an “off-site meeting” where we watched the US play Algeria in the final World Cup group round match at a local restaurant. And we nearly flipped over the table where we were sitting when Landon Donovan made that incredible dash to score in extra time and send the USA into the knockout stage.
That clip still sends chills through me even now. I even wrote a blog post here regarding the 2010 World Cup Quarterfinals. But once the World Cup was over, so was my interest in soccer.
The first game
That first Galaxy match was against the Columbus Crew. While driving to the stadium, I asked Scott whether being from Ohio, he would be rooting for LA or Columbus. His reply was that we live in metro LA now and so LA would be his team. Good answer.
Columbus scored in the 78th minute to take a 1-0 lead, but LA struck back with two penalty kicks from Robbie Keane – the second one two minutes into extra time – to win 2-1. I was hooked. The energy of the stadium was amazing. The StubHub Center has two sections that are reserved for organized supporter groups – the Angel City Brigade and the LA Riot Squad. These groups stand, drum, chant and engage the rest of the crowd for the ENTIRE game. And Scott, who knew even less about soccer than I did at this game, had a great time and was ready to go back to the next game. Immediately on getting home, I went online to the Team LA store and ordered a Galaxy kit (jersey) for both Scott and me.
That was the first of eleven games that we attended last year at StubHub, in which the Galaxy were 8-2-1 (soccer is different from other sports in that ties are the middle number of the record). Unfortunately, the Galaxy season ended in Salt Lake City when the two game series went to extra time after being tied 1-1 and RSL scored a goal to eliminate our boys.
Cheering on my own
Growing up in Central Illinois, I was a younger version of the contrarian that I am today. One day around the age of seven, I decided that I wanted my own sports teams to root for that were different from the teams that those around me supported. For no particular reason, I selected the Pittsburgh teams – the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins. It was a fortunate selection, as I have been able to celebrate victories in a World Series, six Super Bowls and three Stanley Cups. However, I was always the only one celebrating around where I lived. And with the exception of one game where my ever-patient parents took me to see the Pirates play at Wrigley Field, I haven’t seen my teams play in person.
Now, I’m experiencing what it’s like to be at the stadium with 15,000-20,000 fellow supporters of the team I support – the anticipation before the game, the buzz during the game and the shared joy or disappointment depending on the game’s outcome.
A new passion
Now if you know me well, you know that when I get a new passion, I go all out. And, soccer is no exception. I have the Galaxy kit, hoodie and raincoat. This year, I’m sure I will get the new 2014 kit and I absolutely must have a Galaxy scarf. I visit the LA Galaxy and MLS Soccer web sites almost every day. I have a subscription to MLS Live so that I can see all of the games. I follow soccer on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. I listen to general soccer and Galaxy-specific podcasts. I carefully considered and selected a favorite Premier League team. I even changed our our TV provider from Dish Network to Verizon FIOS so that we could get the TimeWarner Sports Channel, which is the channel that carries the Galaxy games.
And the newest addition to my soccer obsession is MLS Fantasy Soccer. My interest in NFL Fantasy Football has faded over the last few years. But now, I’m totally engaged in trying to figure out how to make those last few tweaks to my fantasy MLS team to make a difference (I’m depending on a big season from you, Robbie Keane!).
I’m looking forward to documenting my involvement with a full season of MLS. Besides discussing the games themselves, I plan on talking about MLS history, the Champions League (both European and North American), the European leagues (especially the Premier League), fantasy soccer and, of course, the upcoming World Cup.