Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Proper Stadium

DC United supporters should be issued a warning prior to heading to Chester, Pennsylvania. Going to PPL Park will make you angry. Not because of anything about the stadium per se, but because the Park is a cruel demonstration of what soccer fans in the Washington DC area have no meaningful hope for: a beautiful soccer-specific facility.

The performance of the U.S. Men's National Team did not warrant a four hour commute on a Tuesday night and few thought it was worth a trip of any length as we were joined by a paltry number of Uncle Sam's Army and a slightly larger group of Colombian partisans. But that did not matter. PPL Park is the best place I've seen a soccer game in the United States. The sight lines are amazing and the proximity to the action on the field is remarkable:

And Philly Union's fans have to love the team they come out to support. At halftime a series of moronic skirmishes relating to U.S. and Colombian flags in our section drove my daughter and I to the team store. While looking through the kid's merchandise, my daughter looked up to see Danny Califf standing with his wife flipping through team gear. Califf seemed to enjoy interacting with fans and answering questions and Califf was warmly received. Nevertheless, despite Califf's presence, knowing that she could get one thing in the store, my daughter picked out a matted photo of Fred to take home. I have no idea why she picked Fred's picture -- I would hope that it was because she has met him repeatedly and he has always been extremely friendly (unlikely, as she kept referring to the picture as a map and we had watched two hours of Dora the Explorer on the way up) -- but I am beaming with pride regardless.

I am now probably fully ensconced within the anti-Bob Bradley camp, even while recognizing that most of my complaints are ridiculous. Tuesday did nothing to sway my thoughts. The first half was a droll mess with a bizarre 4 - 1 - 4 -1 formation that was horribly organized. Most of Colombia's defense was composed not of their players but of the wanderings of Brek Shea and congestion with Edu, Bradley, Jones, and Holden trying to get out of each other's way. The experimentation with a new lineup did not seem terribly sincere and a switch to the more comfortable 4-4-2 in the second half seemed to confirm that the first half was just a straw man.

Regardless, Jermaine Jones is as good as advertised. His game on Tuesday night was the personification of a box to box midfielder. Jones set up attacks both through prescient long balls forward into dangerous space and with possession up to the goal box. And he also tracked back to close down on Colombia's admittedly anemic attack. The folks we were with reported that the game got much better when the second half opened up, but we were hanging out in the team store and by the time we got back to our seats the game was disintegrating again. Absurd dives on the field and feigned nationalistic pugilism in the stands marred the last fifteen minutes of the game.

Neither team left its supporters with much to be excited about, but it was still a good experience. And outside of the minor bellyaching, the only real complaint I had coming out of the stadium was the Sons of Ben's ruinous insistence on supporting their sides with profanity-laced chants. The claims that this is an issue about preserving the freedom of supporters to express themselves as they see fit are absolutely moronic. The issue is respect. Both for your fellow supporters and for the integrity of the game. The f-bomb doesn't need to be sung in unison to show that you are behind your team. This isn't junior high. The constant swearing is embarrassing to other fans -- particularly parents who quickly tire of telling their children that the chants are inappropriate -- but, more importantly, it reflects poorly on the franchise as a whole. After having sat through a game in PPL, I cannot understand why anyone would argue the point that the cursing is appropriate. It is functionally the equivalent of taking a dump or vomiting in the stands, it demeans the incredible gift that Philadelphia-area soccer fans have been awarded.

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