Editor’s Note: Spencer Abel examines the aesthetic of soccer support in today’s stadiums and reflects on the broader interest for soccer in America.
The aesthetic of soccer has a persuasive power that’s able to knock the reason out of a spectator. In American soccer, that aesthetic is blunt.
Catching a full 90 minutes of soccer in the United States often leads to confusion and a possible existential crisis. Despite MLS having been in operation for 24 years, many stadiums function as part-time homes for soccer teams. NYCFC plays at Yankee Stadium, the New England Revolution plays in the shadow of the Patriots, and Seattle Sounders still need to ask permission to their city’s American football franchise for the use of their stadium.
Even the clubs that have soccer-specific arenas like Montreal need to occasionally use other stadiums when capacity threatens to exceed their zealously humble abodes.
If you do find yourself in one of MLS’ many soccer-specific stadiums plagued by dwarfism, you’ll note that the atmosphere is more akin to a Sunday picnic than a professional sporting event. Spectators are comprised of families and youth soccer teams. Hot dogs and nachos are consumed in great quantity and conversations regarding non-soccer related topics abound as attendees work out their gluteal muscles for 90 minutes plus stoppage time.
Head to the other end of the Americas and like water, soccer spins in the opposite direction.
In Argentina, church and stadium propriety are nearly synonymous, with a few expletive exceptions. On a recent pilgrimage to Estadio Monumental, home of River Plate, I saw what it was to act in a holy manner among 65,000 of River’s closest devotees.
Fans sacrificed their bodies by standing for the entirety of the match. When they weren’t singing and jumping in unison, they would worship in silence. Between the crowded masses of delirium, there was no space for talk of happenings outside the pitch. When silence nor songs of glory were apt, the pews of Estadio Monumental would rain down spells on the opposing players in the form of derogatory language usually about their mothers.
Yet the most awe-inspiring moment wasn’t courtesy of the width of River Plate’s songbook or our proximity to the moon. It was the barbed wire. In the US, such wire is used to deter thieves. Yet in the home of River Plate, it’s called into use because Los Millonarios can’t seem to contain their love.
Uninhibited passion has a way of persuading believers to climb fences.
Every country south of the US has bathed themselves in the sweat and tears of utter fandom for decades. Supporting a soccer club is a form of monogamy that gets divorced less often than even the most compatible of marriages. Perhaps there is something in the water that makes our fellow Americans to the south rabid with fanaticism.
We ask ourselves why the US squad didn’t qualify for the World Cup. The coaches are blamed, players lampooned, and federation mocked. But for me, I blame the barbed wire; or lack thereof.