I fell in love with Major League Soccer a couple of years ago, and recently, I have found myself infatuated with the many fan bases across American soccer.
Personally, I have the utmost respect for all American soccer fans who follow their team. The travelling and dedication is simply remarkable. It really doesn’t get the coverage it deserves and that has motivated me to start this adventure. As a British football or soccer fan, whatever you want to call it, it really gets under my skin when people over here criticise American fandom without realising the lengths supporters go to in order to support their team.
During my adventure, I want to speak to as many fans as possible, so I can learn about the US soccer culture. Not just Major League Soccer fan bases, I’d love to delve even deeper.
I won’t delay you any further, let’s get right into it…
I am going to begin with Tim Fontenault’s (@Tim_Fontenault) story. I’m sure you’ll love it. He is a die hard Orlando City fan from Connecticut and, well, even home games are quite the mission – as you would expect.
New England Revolution made the most ‘geographical’ sense to Tim, but he never got into supporting the team. He also insists he would never have been able to root for a team from New York, or New Jersey for that matter.
In the end, it was Orlando City and the Brazilian superstar, Kaka, who captured his heart in 2015:
“Supporting Orlando kind of came naturally. Kaka is my all-time favourite player. I rooted for the team early on in 2015, and I found them fun to watch. Then in May I took a trip to Florida I had planned to celebrate my graduation and see my best friend. We had to hit up an Orlando game, so we stood in the Wall and watched Orlando get their first home win, a 4-0 rout of LA Galaxy, the reigning MLS champions.”
There’s another reason why Orlando City means a great deal to Tim. As well as his friend moving to Orlando – During his time at the University of Connecticut, the club added three of his friends to their roster: Josh Ford, Tony Cascio and Cyle Larin.
The university has also provided Major League Soccer with other names such as Andre Blake, Kwame Awuah and Jake Nerwinski. Tim roots for these guys when they aren’t facing the purple of Orlando, and that sounds pretty fair.
I’m sure you can imagine, seeing Cyle Larin and Kaka both score, in person, during Orlando’s win over LA Galaxy was extra special for Tim.
“Singing with the Ruckus, watching Larin and Kaka score, being part of that special day, that was it. I was hooked. I’ve been a die hard ever since.”
Going to see Orlando play home matches is pretty much an away game due to his location. However, some of Orlando’s road matches come closer to home.
“I’ve hardly missed an Orlando City match in the Northeast (at New England, NYCFC and NY Red Bulls). Oftentimes, I’ve brought first-time attendees for their first soccer game. Every time, I’ve been one of the few people in purple in the stadium. But for me, those are my home games.”
One of the biggest differences between the English and Americans (No, not the Football/Soccer debate) is the totally different fandom and matchday experiences they have to offer.
Fans in England are what could be described as tribe-like. Fans are kept apart at all costs. Whereas, across the pond, it seems like the American soccer culture is much more welcoming and what could be considered a celebration and a great day out.
Tim told me about his experiences when coming across fans of the opposition during his travels: “Opposing fans always make the game more fun. Everyone is so respectful of someone clad in the opposing team’s gear.
“We always get talking. I tell them I’m an Orlando fan from Connecticut. I didn’t fly in for a vacation; I drove in that day. They always love hearing that and we buy each other beer.”
The last away game Tim attended was the 3-0 defeat in Montreal which saw manager Jason Kreis lose his job. Being in attendance required a six-hour drive with his cousin who had never attended a soccer game before.
Here’s how the experience went down, in Tim’s own words:
“My cousin (who had never been to a soccer game) and I drove up for the night. After a six-hour drive, we spent the day in Montreal and made our way to the game. Impact matches are cool, because they have happy hour in the stadium two hours before kick-off. As we were hanging out having a few beers, we met a group of about 20 Orlando fans who made the trip up from Florida. We got to talking — connecting over our love for Orlando — and they had the usual excited reaction when I told them about being from Connecticut. They urged us to meet up with them after the match.
“The match ended up being a 3-0 loss in the pouring rain (and Jason Kreis’ last match). We met our fellow Orlando fans where they suggested: the team bus outside the stadium. After spending a few minutes with the Orlando players — each of whom stopped to shake hands and thank everyone for the support in another country, even through hard times), we all left together, making our way back to Downtown Montreal, where we walked around, shared stories and sat down for dinner and drinks together. It was a special night.”
The vibe around American soccer seems cool to me. The idea of a road trip and hanging around, sharing a beer with people you’ve never met but share many interests with is a brilliant concept. It’s also one that’s pretty unique, or just different to how things work in Europe – especially the UK.
Tim makes the effort to visit Florida, but it’s the away games which provide him with the opportunity to see his team. At the end of the day, any time you step inside a stadium and see your team is a special occasion.
“For me, those away games are the home games. They’re incredibly special to me, and they’re my best chance to see Orlando.
“Of course, I always try to go to Florida at least once a year. This year, it was a five-day vacation and a disappointing loss to Atlanta, but I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.”
I have loved hearing about Tim’s story, it is certainly unique. I mean, there can’t be that many Orlando City fans in Connecticut, right?
I’d also like to thank Tim for his time and telling me about his experiences so I could put this piece together. If you would like to follow him on Twitter, you can do so here – @Tim_Fontenault
Written by Luke Beaumont – (@_LukeBeaumont)