Needed: more fans in L.A. like these (still cheering on Seattle in the waning moments of Wednesday’s game even with the Sounders dead and buried at 4-0). (AP Photo)As I lined up to take the shuttle bus at the Rose Bowl after last Saturday’s Galaxy-Barcelona exhibition game, I chatted with three teenage fans about their experience.
The trio were Galaxy fans and often attended games at Home Depot Center.
But on this night – just for one evening they insisted – they were Barcelona fans, their bare chests daubed in the club’s colors and carrying flags signifying their allegiance.
The conversation became more striking after seeing the frenzied 67,000 in attendance Wednesday night in Seattle for the Sounders game against the European champions.
Many came to see visiting Barcelona, but they were cheering for the home Sounders.
“They were amazing,” French striker Thierry Henry, who seems likely to join MLS after his career with Barca winds down, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “It reminded me of Europe. They were really cheering for the Sounders. We were definitely the away team.
“It’s a tremendous atmosphere. They made it difficult for us in the first half.”
In contrast, Barca fans easily outnumbered Galaxy supporters among the 93,000-plus in attendance at the Rose Bowl.
Why the difference?
After seeing the fanaticism in Seattle first hand earlier this season it was something I anticipated and asked MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who on Tuesday marked his 10th year guiding the league’s business fortunes, about at the half of Saturday’s game:
“I don’t think there’s any one reason,” he said. “It’s a perfect storm of a lot of things that have worked – branding, the right team on the field, the right stadium environment, the right sort of authenticity that exists from start to finish and there was a lot of pent-up demand – there’s not a lot of competition in that market. But I feel good that we’re moving in the right direction in almost every one of our markets.”
Perhaps, but it makes me – and other journalists – wonder about the long-term effect this summer of soccer with its incredible attendances ultimately means for MLS.
Thanks to the Riot Squad and Angel City Brigade, the Galaxy certainly has that kind of support. There’s just not as many of them as in Seattle. Even the rank and file supporters in Seattle outside of hard-core fan groups certainly look and sound more into soccer than their counterparts among the affluent/celebrity crowd that appear to populate the stadium at Galaxy games. And their loyalty to the Sounders is more unwavering than that of Galaxy fans apparently.
Is their hope Southern California fans will eventually match the fanaticism of those in the Pacific Northwest in similar numbers? Will that “authenticity” Garber spoke about ever exist here?
“Two years ago we didn’t have the L.A. Riot Squad and have the Galaxians (I’m guessing he really means the Angel City Brigade here) like they are now either so the sport is slowly building up its core. The international following has sort of taken off with incredible, incredible speed, faster than we thought it would. This summer of soccer has attracted almost two million spectators, many of those games are games that we’ve promoted and most of those games have been against our teams. So if we can start participating against those teams like we are now and playing somewhat (evenly with them) then I think slowly that core fan base is going to grow and then you’ll start seeing some of that core fan base transfer over.”
Well, I hope he’s right, but I’m not convinced, especially here in LA.
Still, Garber pointed to the recent furor over David Beckham as proof that more and more people are feeling passionately about the Galaxy as opposed to the visiting European team:
“He creates drama every one of our fans go to expect. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. And we have people now that care about what goes on on our fields and I’d rather deal with people having challenges and issues with some of the things that take place on the field than not care at all. … It’s been one of the biggest stories in professional sports right around the world and that’s a good thing for Major League Soccer.”
Many of you who read this blog I would consider hard-core fans. What do you think about Garber’s comments? Will we ever see fans cheering for the Galaxy or Chivas USA with the kind of enthusiasm (and in the numbers) seen in Seattle? Sound off in the comments section below.