Prawn Sandwich America

I spent most of Saturday in Stanford for the Chelsea-Club America friendly (click for highlights). I’d planned to write a story about how many Americans, with their disposable incomes and satellite connections to their clubs, have defied the “prawn sandwich brigade” label to become rabid and vocal supporters of teams abroad, even despite their upper-middle class origins. But the game turned out to be a confirmation of any English fan’s complaints about increasingly sterile experiences watching football.

When I first started as a soccer fan last year, the style of MLS fan groups was confusing to no end, assuming as I did that England was the gold standard for all things soccer in the US. Clearly MLS aspired to be the Premiership and MLS fans a New World version of the Kop. For a lesson on why this isn’t true, Saturday’s game was second to none.

Chelsea’s self-vaunted supporters, with the exception of a small drunk and shirtless group waving a Drogba sign, largely stood still and produced the best atmosphere void this side of single-A baseball. On the rare occasions they bothered to chant, the Chelsea end stuck to a single rudimentary number with all the wit of “USA! USA!” and none of even that standby’s excitement. Despite jamming their end and getting most of the casual and neutral support in a crowd 47,000 strong, the noise was coming from elsewhere.

At the opposite side of the stadium, America’s supporters crowded in early from their boisterous parking lot tune-ups to unleash pre-game sound and a Beckhamesque confetti shower as the teams took the field. If their bleachers weren’t packed with fans, they were overflowing with all of the Latin accoutrement that’s become standard for most MLS fan groups: drums, horns, flags, massive banners, chants, tifo, jumping, and even fireworks. The eyes of my friends, mostly all brand-new to the game, continually flicked up to the top deck where the biggest groups of America supporters stood.

Traditions obviously differ from team to team and between leagues, but Saturday was a clear instance of why the Latin style has captured American stadiums, even for English sympathizers like me.

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