Over the 24 hours from last Saturday night at 8PM, when the Portland Timbers opened their game against the Vancouver Whitecaps, until 8PM Sunday night, when T2, the Timber's USL franchise, completed its game against New Mexico United, I watched three full games of soccer at Providence Park (including the attendance record breaking 25 thousand strong crowd that watched the NWSL’s Thorns host the NC Courage Sunday afternoon).
With that much soccer, and with an eye toward the future of soccer in Nashville and in the U.S. in general, I couldn’t help but come away with a few thoughts and observations.
1. Crowds begat crowds. Excitement is infectious.
Every time I’ve gone to one of the marquee parks (I include here Atlanta, Vancouver, Portland and LAFC for my experiences), I find myself blown away again and again by what a healthy and energetic crowd can bring to the game day experience. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, we are beginning to show the potential for that type of game day experience here in Nashville, but we’ve got a ways to go in terms of crowd size and energy. If I could have one wish... no, if I could have a thousand wishes, somewhere down there would be a wish that everyone slightly interested in soccer go to a game at one of those parks (and there are others) and bring back their vision of the time of excitement it would bring. I can’t help but think such experiences help grow the experience back home.
2. For all the growth it is experiencing, women’s soccer has a ways to go, and I hope Nashville gets to help get it there.
My weekend with women’s soccer was something of a bizarre experience. On the one hand, I got to experience the largest ever crowd for an NWSL game. Over 25,000 people watching two of the top teams in the league play each other. While the size of that crowd is not at all typical when compared to women’s games in most parks, it was impossible not to think I was looking at the future. Loud, energetic supporter section, every part of the park full, and a general sense of “This is happening.”
On the other hand, I had a more sobering experience a day earlier. I happened to connect flights in Kansas City on Friday on my way to Portland and was on the same flight with the entire NC Courage team and staff. While I excitedly texted this information to a couple of my friends, I also witnessed three different people ask different NC Courage team members, all wearing NC Courage warm up gear, what type of team they were (i.e., “What sport do you play?”). The third time was the most depressing: a middle aged guy in a Sporting Kansas City shirt asked Jessica McDonald what sport she played. Watching a member of the reigning NWSL champions, and a member of the US Women’s World Cup team having to explain that she played soccer was a cringe-worthy moment. Not that a lot of people wouldn’t be equally confused by MLS teams as well, but this seemed particularly bad.
All the same, being part of that crowd made me hope once again that we see women’s soccer in Nashville’s future. It’s badass.
3. USL soccer remains a good time.
While the USL T2 crowd was small (I would guess around 1000), the game was entertaining. Clearly, when a city has an MLS team, its reserve team suffers attendance, but I would hope that I would attend more of these games if we ever house both an MLS and USL team in Nashville. It was exciting knowing some of the players from Portland’s MLS roster and others I’ve been watching over the last two seasons try to grind their way (back) into MLS sides.
Maybe, just maybe . .
4. Fan first pricing is the way to go.
I have no idea of fan friendly pricing actually works for the owners the way I read that it does, and I’m sure it’s more complex than I think, what I do know is that seeing three games in 24 hours with regular stadium pricing is a bust. No one is forcing me to buy, I know, but I also know that I would have bought a lot more at lower prices.
I’m looking directly at you, Nashville.
5. We should prepare ourselves for some political conversations along the way.
As has been widely reported and discussed here locally on social media, both the Portland and Seattle soccer scenes are having to think about political representation. In attempting to quell arguments between the right and left, a deal was worked out to ban flags representing symbols of political groups, including the Iron Front (an antifa movement) and the Proud Boys. While banning flags, both Seattle and Portland simultaneously decided to allow fans to express themselves by wearing the Iron Front symbols on their clothing or on their skin. (As an aside, folks near the Independent 107 Supporters Trust, which “fuels” the Timbers Army and the Rose City Riveters, had stencils and paint set up for anyone who wanted to paint the symbol on their shirt prior to attending).
Let’s face it: while there are a million ways to slice these questions, there are always going to be a number of seeming contradictions, primarily because every symbol is necessarily political if we stretch the definition far enough. Why, might one ask, are you banning personal freedom of expression from flags but not from t-shirts? Is a rainbow flag (certainly allowed at stands) apolitical? (The argument, which I buy, is that the rainbow is a symbol about human rights and not a traditional political stand, but, if you squint hard enough, you know it also implies a certain politics). Is the chant for equal pay at women’s games (including at the Portland-NC game) apolitical or political? While it doesn’t involve a specific “politics,” it is based on political determinants. What I’m trying to point out here is not actual contradictions in policy—since these differences can all be explained—but more, a greyness in policy since these explanations are never clear to everyone.
All in all, however, I think that’s how these things should work themselves out: not by a single iron clad policy but in a conversation between the fans, the team, and the community. Are there symbols that might be read as political but we all pretty much adhere to them? If yes, let them be. Are there flash points, in which we need to think about what we are doing? Absolutely, and at those moments, just like this current moment with the Iron Front symbolism, grey policies that encourage discussions may be enough.
Certainly, we will have moments like this in Nashville in the future, and I hope that the team’s policies help lead to healthy and thoughtful discussions. ------------------------------------
Three games, 24 hours, 9 points for Portland, and 5 takeaways for me. Not a bad day at all.
The above is an opinion piece and solely reflects the views of the author, not necessarily Speedway Soccer as a whole.