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Could Washington Be the American London?


Metropolitan Washington DC has quickly grown from a Southern accented backwater which happened to be the nation’s capitol before A/C, to perhaps the most cosmopolitan and public transit friendly metropolitan area in the United States. The area that contains the nation’s capital as well as a vibrant private sector also boasts a more vibrant culture around football than any other in the country. With many immigrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America, the DC Metro area has a leg up on developing talent over just about any other US area.

Other areas including (but not limited to) Chicagoland, New Jersey, Southern California, St Louis and South Florida do develop their fair share of capable amateurs and professionals. But the DC area stands apart not only in its development of players from immigrant communities, but also because of the local support and infrastructure in the region related to the game.

DC United has been the most successful franchise in MLS since the league’s inception. With great intensity of fan support than any other franchise that began play in the league’s first decade, better local media penetration than any other MLS side, better access to the games through public transit and more international achievements than the rest of the league’s teams combined, United is without question except from very biased fans, the signature team of Major League Soccer. In fact, to steal another team’s slogan, United is the true gold standard for MLS and the professional game in America.

As someone who has worked my entire adult life either in or with the public sector, Washington DC was for many years like a second home to me. I know the area like the back of my hand, and believe the cultural and ethnic makeup of the area is a large reason why DC United is so successful (the stadium controversy not withstanding) and why the area provides the most fertile proving grounds for the game both professional and amateur in the United States.

Consider the capital of the United Kingdom, the country we take perhaps too much of our footballing inspiration from: Football support isn’t as a fanatical in London as it is in English parts further north, but club sides of different sizes and quality exist throughout the city and its surrounding areas. Washington DC represents the closest facsimile we have to London in the United States: a national capital, a global cosmopolitan mix of peoples  and very good public transit. New York City also comes close but the area is in many ways too busy and public transit not good enough in parts of New Jersey to represent the same model.

Much of London’s footballing support is local even though some front runners in the city prefer to cheer on Manchester United or Liverpool. The point is that Washington DC is developing neighborhood support for what are essentially neighborhood sides. New York has the same potential thanks to the Red Bulls and with FC New York entering USL-1 play next year as well as PDL sides spread across Northern New Jersey and Long Island. But the Washington area is further along also because of the fantastic success of local colleges and the fertile ground they provides for PDL and USL sides.

The Washington/Baltimore Metro area currently has the best supported US based MLS team, two USL-2 teams and several top college programs as well as PDL sides that feed off the local colleges. Here is a list and the part of the region they represent.

DC United

United, the most successful professional club in the United States draws fans from all over the region and as far south as Florida whose MLS teams were contracted in 2001.

Real Maryland

The USL-2 club operates out of Montgomery County drawing a largely suburban Maryland audience. The team also has the best TV coverage for any USL-2 side.

Crystal Palace USA

Based just outside Baltimore and affiliated ironically with London’s oldest professional club, Palace USA has developed a following in just four seasons of active play.

Northern Virginia Royals

A PDL side based in Manassas that has been highly successful since its inception the club’s 1998 inception. The Royals draw fans largely from Fairfax County, and has developed through the years a relationship with DC United. Troy Perkins in fact was loaned to the Royals from United when he was backing up Nicky Rimando in 2004.

Fredricksburg Gunners

About 45 miles south of Washington DC but much closer to the suburban sprawl of Northern Virginia, this club began PDL play in 2006.

The WPS Washington Freedom and the USL W-League’s Northern Virginia Majestics support the local woman’s game as do countless college programs.


Richmond Kickers

The former US Open Cup Champions are just over an hours drive from the District of Columbia, but much closer to some of Virginia suburbs. The former A-League power which featured among other Dwayne DeRosario and has also won the US Open Cup, now plays in USL-2.

Williamsburg Legacy

Founded in 2002 and plays in the PDL

Hampton Roads Piranhas

The successor team to the longtime A-League Virginia Beach franchise.


Among the most successful college soccer programs in the nation, the University of Maryland is located inside the Capital Beltway in College Park. Other major college soccer programs in the area include George Mason, Georgetown, America, Howard, James Madison, Maryland-Baltimore County,  and Navy. The powerful Virginia Cavilers and William& Mary programs are not far from Washington DC either.

With so many local club and college sides to support, many playing at a very high level in their respective leagues, the Washington DC metropolitan area has proven it can support the game at a level previously unknown in the United States.  The DC area can provide a model having a massive Major League franchise complimented by several smaller local club and amateur sides in neighborhoods and father flung parts of the metropolitan area.

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  1. Max

    May 24, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Southern California has much better USL and PDL clubs. Think about the players who have featured for Bakersfield Brigade, Hollywood United, Orange County Blue Star and Ventura County. MLS rosters are littered with PDL players from Southern California. Heck even Juergen Klinsmann and Eric Wynalda ended their respective playing careers in the PDL ranks in SoCal.

    But the lack of public transit and movement of fans makes it very different than London or even most big US urban areas. So perhaps that’s why you use the DC example.

    Look up any PDL club from Southern California on wilipedia and you’d be shocked by some of names of the former players. Obviously the latest sensation is Anton Peterlin signed by Everton after two PDL seasons with Ventura County.

    As far as New York, the support is spotty for most clubs. Media penetration is low and general interest in soccer minimal. DC and LA are the two hot beds no doubt, but unlike Kartik, I believe LA is the place and DC runs second.

  2. Vnice

    May 24, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Well, truthfully, I don’t think ANY city will ever be the US version of London. The US is spread out and diverse, and soccer will probably never be as big (but let’s keep dreaming it does).

    But, the bigger point is…no US city *should* be like London. I think our American-ness is a strength. Let’s not compare ourselves to England anymore. Let’s just try and promote the game, period, and just be ourselves.

  3. ideas man

    May 24, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    i resent the comment that support in London isn’t as fanatical, you need to come here seriously. Without London support Man u and liverpool would be nowhere it is true that until the success of those two in the mid/late 60s (and to a lesser extent munich) the biggest clubs in terms of fanbase were the London big 3.

    Northern clubs don’t sell out when they are in the prem (Wigan, Blackburn, Bolton, boro), whenever a London club is the demand is unbelievably high, hence why it may not seem that there is passion at Arsenal or Chelsea. Arsenal could easily sell out 100,000 the fact is most of our working class and yougn fans get priced out so our home games are a middle class entertainment fest.

    And i think you should look at premier league squads more or less every team has 1-2 Londoners, it is the real football heartland of England and the most passionate place. Millwall a 3rd tier club took 50,000 fans to wembley today and lost to scunthorpe who took 10,000…

  4. Cavan

    May 24, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    as has been said many times before, all the land surrounding RFK is owned by the National Park Service. Therefore, it would require an Act of Congress to build a new stadium there. Local land issues are not exactly Congress’s highest priority. It would take years to get any Act and there would a high chance that it wouldn’t involve a soccer stadium.

  5. Geoff

    May 24, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    I’d give Southern California much much more credit and the LA Galaxy on top of that even further. I won’t even begin to say that Los Angeles is at all like London, the two cities may as well be polar opposites, however, I would say it is a strong contestant for best soccer community given the fact that many hispanic immigrants make their home in LA… and not just Mexican immigrants either. LA hosts large Argentinian, Brazilian, Costa Rican, and other South American populations as well.

    And then there’s California as a whole, which as we all know currently has 3 professional soccer teams and a fourth in a few years if the San Diego Flash have their way. No other state can say that.

  6. Ric

    May 24, 2009 at 9:27 am

    also, give credit to the NY/NJ area for Seton Hall University for having a successful program under Manny Schellscheidt, and some recent (Seton Hall Prep) and long-term (St. Benedict’s Prep) high school successes. St. Benedict’s, for example, has turned out guys like Berhalter, Tab Ramos, Reyna, Villegas, and more recently Gabe Ferrari.

    And let’s not give grief to the NY/NJ area for public transit in New Jersey. NJTransit is actually pretty widespread, and with the MTA and the Port Authority gets the job done.


    May 24, 2009 at 8:49 am

    Yes and give NYC a little more credit, because all these teams exist basically within a 10 mile radius of each other. You mentioned Hampton Roads and Richmond Kickers, brother, thats a 2 hour drive south of DC????? Are you kidding me? That’s not London, thats driving to France.

    PS. PCFC, you forgot to mention SJU.

  8. PCFC

    May 24, 2009 at 12:32 am

    You forget that NYC has a Brooklyn PDL side called the Brooklyn Knights. With RBNY, BK Knights, LI Rough Rider, Westchester Flames, NJ Rangers, and the Newark side (not including the chance for a second MLS squad), I’d give NYC a lil’ more credit.

  9. GJ

    May 23, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    Can they destroy RFK and build a SSS there?

  10. adam

    May 23, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    great piece.

    i don’t know why more big cities don’t have a scattering of PDL or NPSL clubs in the neighborhoods which can clearly support some sort of amateur or semi professional soccer. dc is far far ahead of the game when it comes to this.

  11. eplnfl

    May 23, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Good for the DC area, I hope they get the soccer specific stadium that DC United deserve!

    As to Chicagoland, we in the Windy City have purchased over 40,000 tickets for the USA v. Honduras qualification game on June 6. We all know that if the US plays Mexico or Poland Soldier’s Field would be sold out but with fans of the visitors. That many people for a game against Honduras is outstanding. This tells me that interest in the WC and the USMNT has sky rocketed. Just last fall there were only 11,000 fans for the semi-final round game vs. T&T. Now that game was at Toyota Park ( more on that some other time) and on a week night. It would seem to me that US Soccer has turned a page.

    Also, I might add that several big names of US Soccer call Chicago home Brian McBride, Brad Guzan, and Jonathan Spector. Jay DeMerit is from Wisconsin and attended school at UIC right here in Chicago.

    When I grew up soccer in Chicago was played in park leagues organized on an ethnic group basis throughout the city. Watching the games on many a summer Sunday created an interest in the game that only was able to blossom for me many years later. Let’s not forget that Chicago has hosted the opening game of the WC held in the US in 94.

    So, good for DC and for the Windy City the hometown of the USSF!

  12. Vnice

    May 23, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Further proof that United need to stay in DC forever. Fuck a fancy stadium…built it no frills with some suites and get it done.

    Why can’t they build in the RFK parking lot?

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