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(Un)-Realism: Look to the Stands to Find the Problem with NYCFC

Article by Luca Morganti

Right in the swing of transfer season and meaningless preseason tournaments/cups (no one cares about you, Community Shield), we Americans are in the middle of MLS season and the dreaded playoff hunt. Because of the nauseating play, unbelievably poor/incorrect officiating, mind-boggling scheduling (three games in a week for LA Galaxy and Red Bulls with barely one real team to put forth), and Commissioner Don Gerber’s tremendous idea to let 12 out of 20 teams into said playoff tournament, NYCFC, second-to-last at the moment with three more games played, are one win and three goals difference out of a playoff position. While one might think I’d be excited for such a possibility, one might also be dead fucking wrong because this fan enjoys: A. earning positions into playoffs by being one of the best-to-middle-of-the-table teams; and B. would hate to be embarrassed on a nationally televised home-and-away.

To further distance ourselves from the playoffs, we lost (3-2) to Impact Montreal this weekend just to ensure my nightmare of losing (5-1 agg) to the Red Bulls continues to seem impossible. The ref in this match was tragic: he missed what seemed like a blatant red card on a video game slide tackle from behind as well as what was certainly a penalty, shocking considering the favorite MLS referee move is the ninja-chop-point-to-the-spot-penalty-shot.

After David Villa put the team on his back to bring us within one (2-1) with his 13th goal of the season (we have 31 in 22 matches), we concede in the 81st to make it (3-1), certainly out of our reach. But then ironically – and to inflict a bit of pain on the fans – NYCFC’s expansion-draftee-back-from-injury-not-shitty-attacker Tommy McNamara scores immediately to make it (3-2) and appear close for the last five minutes. This player is actually good when you feed him the ball around the net; help, David Villa!

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The league’s flaws don’t change this very interesting, almost universally held claim: these games are usually a blast. With the two New York baseball teams in first place late in the season, it’s amazing to see soccer consistently sellout the Bronx baseball stadium. NYCFC have drawn third highest attendance in MLS, and four of the top ten cities in attendance have firs place baseball teams. Being a passive-to-serious soccer fan makes you part of this weird, nutty minority as the fifth most popular sport (much like hockey fans in America’s fourth most popular sport) in a sports obsessed country.

But unfortunately, I feel that being a serious fan has also sucked lately – and it’s certainly not only because of the subpar play, the officiating on the pitch, or the number of Arsenal and Juventus shirts I see at matches. Ref-blaming is one of the stupidest pastimes in all of sport, but it’s a common, necessary component of MLS and CONCACAF football. You’d think that in 90 minutes, you couldn’t screw up three game-altering calls so badly, an affair fans are forced to witness week after week. Didn’t we see the Gold Cup semifinal with an American ref? You might say my sour taste is because of the team’s play, which can be further simplified to ‘expansion teams suck;’ but most MLS teams kind of suck.

So why the long face? As I wrote in my first article, the blended-ness of our fan group – New Yorkers from anywhere and everywhere – is the most beautiful part of having a team actually inside New York City. But the supporters’ groups, big and small, have really ruined that sentimental shit. Instead of being a blend of New Yorkers cheering on the boys in blue, the melting pot has boiled over. There is too much focus on how to develop the fan culture by looking at how it’s done elsewhere instead of letting it happen naturally. There is a large anti-Yankees sentiment that forces us to ignore obvious superior song choices set to the tune of “New York, New York” (I’ll always be salty about this). People ask ‘how to be an ultra’ on message boards and incorporate cultural traditions that don’t translate to 2015 New York City. Smoke bombs get innocent fans kicked out weekly, but oh, I saw a video of them doing it in Bulgaria, so it’s cool! It is reminiscent of inter-borough fighting, that “mine is better than yours”: Queens versus Brooklyn, Manhattan versus the Bronx, so on and so forth until you get all your ridiculous, hateful combinations. That is simply fucking stupid in team sports.

Why? While I love to argue that Queens is the best borough (fact – it is), trumping the other four as the most diverse county (with the most delicious food) on the blue-green planet, I don’t bring that same mentality to supporting the same team because we’re here for the same cause: New York City. We’re not talking rivalries of Mets-Yankees, Knicks-Nets, Rangers-Islanders; it’s NYCFC (in a baseball stadium), the only legitimate club in our fair city. When you have supporters clubs singing over one another or (my favorite part) not giving any indications as to when the rest of the stadium is supposed to chime in, it undermines shining moments like the compliments from players and coaching staff and this week’s great tifo for Lampard. It also exacerbates embarrassments like song sheets being handed out. It becomes more about what’s happening in the stands than what’s happening on the pitch.

Moreover, the generally un-educated fan base in America makes it miserable for the well-educated fan (hey!) and the passive fan. There is this common theme to hear fans sound like a talking head. It’s annoying to hear “there must be something off with them today!” from a season ticket holder in my section because, no, there isn’t anything off, we’re in last place, this is how last place teams play, you fucking moron. I read an ‘article’ titled “Lampard Needs to Play for NYCFC or Leave” by an alleged journalism major at a university. Needless to say, it was pure shit, but it reflects a common thought for NYCFC and the majority of underperforming teams: that one or two players can turn it around. The thought that Pirlo and Lampard – who up until two weeks ago had never played football with anyone on this team – are going to save the season is ludicrous. To be angry when it doesn’t immediately work and the constant chatter that we are in “playoff contention” (because we’re actually not) are also pipe dreams of the blind and ignorant fan to the product displayed thus far.

Maybe that’s a symptom of being in last place; you don’t want to look at what’s on the pitch, so you start to find things to blame. But I don’t think the fans should get off scot-free just because we sellout and the players and management praise how loud we are. The players and management don’t see/care what’s happening when there isn’t a match. The firing/forced resignation of the asshole-ish president of the Third Rail SC for some new asshole lady that no one seems to like is something clouding the message boards. Hearts of Oak people seem to think (snidely), “I told you so.” You can see splits in which groups are chanting and which aren’t during the game; you can hear it, too. Third Rail seems to have a crisis every week. There was a leaked tifo before Orlando City last week, causing finger-pointing not seen since the kindergarten play yard; it appears an Orlando City fan was the saboteur and thinks s/he “owned us.” Dude, you live in Orlando, which is in Florida, which is hell on earth, so relax. The fact that I know any of this drives me a little insane.

All of this petty nonsense gets in the way of watching our horrendous team on the pitch and figuring out ways we can be the emotional support system to make home field a real thing. Thankfully, there is no relegation (although I don’t see how you’d have expansion clubs in that world, either….).  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pretend it exists and have some pride to try and dig ourselves out of the basement. Hopefully, more exposure to the game will taper expectations and create a more realistic fan base, too. Everyone in the stands needs to look forward for the sake of the team; if they don’t, the bickering and novelty will wear thin, and the NYCFC we hope for and deserve will become a memory sooner than we think.