On Home Field Advantage, Again

Thursday, August 12, 2010 | View Comments
Aug. 10, 2010 - East Rutherford, New Jersey, United States of America - 10 August 2010 - Fans celebrate during the first International Friendly at The New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.Brazil defeat the USA 2-0.

Grant at Some Canadian Guys brought up one of my pet issues today: the continued inability of the US National Team to draw a crowd that gives the feel of a true "home" environment. The Brazil game is the impetus of course, with the conclusion drawn that USMNT fans were outnumbered by Brazil fans at the New Meadowlands on Tuesday night.

I wasn't there, so I can't say for sure, but it looked/sounded to me via ESPN like there were plenty of US-backers in the stadium; whether the breakout was 50/50, 60/40, or something worse/better, I'm not sure it really matters. The fact that Americans were able to make a ruckus and be heard at a game in the US involving one of the world's most popular teams is a clear step in a positive direction.

Because, let's face it: even without the front-running that is a natural part of the deal with soccer in America, immigrants, children of immigrants, and even those further down the line are more likely to spend their entertainment dollars on an international friendly than Americans just coming to the sport or who did so without the framework of familial tradition. In other words, USMNT fans are not as culturally inclined to value a game like Tuesday's as highly as Brazilians.

The same goes for fans of the Mexican National Team living in the US; when the USMNT plays Mexico at an easily-accessible venue, an overwhelming majority of the crowd is going to be of Mexican descent. I don't see this as a failing on the part of US fans as much as it is a credit to the commitment of El Tri's; without an unbroken tradition of support passed down from parent to child, which there can hardly be considering the American history prior to 1990, US supporters just can't compete with Mexico for numbers.

So while USA-Brazil on American soil wasn't the home game we all wanted it to be, it does show the support is growing. Part of the draw was Brazil; if the Americans had been playing a lesser team in New Jersey midweek, I'm sure the number would have been reduced dramatically. But this is a baby step process, not something that will change overnight. For all of the talk about the modern attention span, Americans are still slow to change their habits. We should recognize a 50/50 crowd on a Tuesday night in a 75k+ capacity stadium for what it is: improvement.

And I'll take issue with Grant over his headline: "U.S.A. still waiting for that true home game." Does Columbus not count? Sure, it's a third the size of the New Meadowlands, and it takes some controls on the part of US Soccer to ensure a partisan crowd for the US, but it still represents a true home game. Call it "cheating" if you want, but I see no problem with manipulating the system, within the rules mind you, to gain a home field advantage in World Cup qualifying when it's clear that the stadium would be 90% Mexico fans without doing so.

I want a change to happen overnight, I really do. I don't want to know that every time the US plays Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, Argentina, etc. on American soil our boys will be booed by a large portion of the crowd while the visitors are feted as conquering heroes. But wanting it to change does not justify righteous anger or forgive pointless whining. It is what it is, and small steps are better than no steps.

Grant wonders how a nation of immigrants that turns so many newcomers into proud patriots can find it so hard to fill up a stadium with a majority supporting its own national team. There's a point of logic there, but Grant is looking at it from the wrong angle; while many of those immigrants are happy to be here and proud to call themselves American, they're also supremely proud of their roots. Soccer is a bridge to those roots, a way to celebrate their the culture they left behind when they left home for a new start. This reality is why it's hardly common for the next generation to switch allegiances to the USMNT, despite spending all or most of their lives here.

The Brazilian population of the US is much smaller than the Mexican one; but with passion just as fervent and the match set in the country's most populous metropolitan area, a large Brazilian contingent was a foregone conclusion.

Augmented by Americans who just like Brazil, of course.

Nevertheless, I'm going to throw on my rose-colored glasses and view Tuesday's night's crowd as a small improvement. Besides, only time will turn the tide; we've only been respectable for the last 25 years. It takes much longer than that to grow the roots that lead to sold out stadiums of passionate supporters in a country filled with people cheering for the other team.

Apologies, since much of this is covered ground. I just couldn't help myself.

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