Footballing in the land of football: #SupportLocalSoccer
There is seemingly a soccer black-hole over the Southeastern United States. Over the next few months, I will be looking at football culture in the Southeastern United States.
I would suggest that what’s holding us back is our inferiority complex.
It all ties together in the end. The words of Will Kuhns, the communication director of MLS, were spoken to Eric Wynalda during Wynalda’s panel at the NCSAA. It works as a definition for American soccer in general, but it can also be specifically applied to the conditions of footballing in the land of football.
A few weeks back, I went to visit Chattanooga, TN. While in Chattanooga, I bought the only souvenir that stood out to me. A Chattanooga FC t-shirt (pictured left). I bought the shirt partially because I was being fresh, and partially because I always support local football –especially in the South.
There are strange things that you can notice about football in the Southeast if you pay close attention. To be perfectly honest, sitting in the middle of a gym where the majority of the people were either Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Florida State, or LSU alumni, I was a bit nervous wearing the shirt. Yet as I looked around I noticed I was not alone in my love of the lower levels –pyramid wise– of soccer played throughout the Southeast.
Running on the treadmill was an Atlanta Silverbacks shirt. On the leg press was a Rocket City United shirt. I even saw a shirt for the New Orleans Jesters (who I didn’t even know existed). In addition to these people wearing shirts of semi-local professional and semiprofessional teams, I saw two more shirts for Enterprise Futbol Club (it is the youth club for the area I currently live in). That’s when it struck me. Though the Southeast does lack an MLS franchise, it does not lack football.
The Southeast badly wants an MLS franchise. Groups have sprung up in Atlanta, in Orlando, in Miami, and even in Birmingham, AL to try to gain the attention of MLS. And while each of these locales do offer something that MLS does not have yet –primarily a Southeastern team– we must recognize that while there is no “top division” soccer in the Southeast we are loaded with teams on the lower end of the pyramid.
Yes, it would be great to have a Southeastern derby game between a team from Atlanta and a team from Nashville. But there are already teams playing there. Sure a three-way Florida derby match between Orlando, Tampa Bay, and Miami would be intriguing. But Orlando City just won the NASL –in their first year.
We see the success of teams in Chattanooga, in Carolina, in Orlando and wonder why MLS is all hot and bothered over a second New York team while leaving a gaping hole in our region. The usual thought is that if America is a throwball country, than the Southeast is the throwball Mecca. But another deeper problem is an apparent case of MLS-snobbery that I have seen permeate through the minds of some Southern football supporters. It’s MLS or it isn’t real.
What I love about the group over at ATLwantsMLS.com is that they are playing the game on both fronts. They support the Silverbacks proudly. I’m sure other groups are the same, but of all the This-City-Wants-MLS groups in the South I have had the most dealings with them.
Looking at the attendance numbers for the teams in Southern Florida, we can see that there is a reason MLS pulled out of there once. If they want them back, they need to start showing for the lower division teams.
Meanwhile Orlando City SC has, in a single year, set, tied, or broken numerous USL attendance records. Then there is the strange case of
Birmingham, AL. They claim to want an MLS team, but the closest team to Birmingham is in Huntsville. Sure they –technically Hoover– hosted this years College Cup, but it was in an older stadium. On the other hand, Montgomery, AL has put huge money into building local soccer arenas. Birmingham has given its citizens no team to support. So why should they get rewarded with an MLS team when they haven’t proven their worth with even an NPSL team?
We have all seen the hashtags (#ICareAboutMLS, #WhyAmericanSoccer, #GrowTheGame), but we also need to support local. Do I want an MLS team located closer than 15 hours away from me? Absolutely, but it may not happen for another 10-15 years. So we can either complain about it, or show up to our NASL, NPSL, or USL teams and support them.
Leaving them with low attendance numbers, because they are not in MLS, is no better than the Eurosnobs who won’t watch MLS because it is not as good as EPL/La Liga/Serie A/whatever league they compare. Attendance matters, and when the top drawing soccer team in the SE –from the numbers I’ve seen– is a team in the third tier of the pyramid, in one of the smaller markets, I can only imagine what teams in Atlanta, Miami, Nashville, and New Orleans could potentially draw.
Does the Southeastern United States want an MLS team? Apparently. Does the Southeastern United States need an MLS team to prove they are a footballing land? No. Football exists here. It’s time to show the rest of the country that we #SupportLocalSoccer. Otherwise MLS will never take notice.