When Major League Soccer held their inaugural season in 1996, the fandom was nowhere near the level it is today. Yes, there were supporter groups but they were small in number and influence.
Today the league is alive and well, drawing triple the attendance of the 1996 season in 2012 and increasing average attendance around the league from around 14,000 in the first few years to 18,807 the last season. Supporter groups are influential in most of the clubs and are responsible for helping provide good soccer atmospheres across the league.
However, with the increased number of fans comes the rise of rowdier behavior amongst some followers. While the majority of fans do not fall into these stereotypes, there are some standouts that give supporters a bad name.
One example that spans across most of the league is the “You Suck A–hole” chant. As an opposing goalkeeper prepares to restart a match with a goal kick, the supporters behind the goal will raise a cacophony of noise and then yell “You suck A–hole” as he kicks. Many teams around the league, including Sporting Kansas City, the New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders FC, have had supporters’ groups use the chant.
The league and the clubs themselves have made efforts to stifle the YSA chant. For instance, Seattle would pass out flyers before matches encouraging fans not to use the chant. New York offered the three main supporter groups $500 each match for paraphernalia and travel if they did not use the chant.
There have been more examples of rowdy fans that extend far beyond choreographed profanity. The 1906 Ultras, a supporter group for the San Jose Earthquakes, have come under controversy this season for a variety of reasons.
In April the Ultras were placed on indefinite probation after several men wearing Earthquakes scarves over their faces reportedly smashed the windshield of a Portland Timbers fan’s car on the way to the game in Portland. No arrests were made and Portland police did not press charges.
They had their tifo (choreography displayed by fans in the stands) and banner privileges revoked back in August after they unveiled an inappropriate banner in a July 27 match against Portland. The banner read “Only in PDX running over a female makes U a Victim.” The sign was a reference to an incident in April where the fans involved attacked a car because the driver had grabbed a female San Jose fan who fell out of the car afterwards.
The San Jose front office moved swiftly after the banner went up, instituting a ban on travel to away games for the group and taking away their banner, tifo and profane chant privileges. The ban was lifted Sept. 17 after the front office approved of the group’s recently reformed behavior.
With more fans in a league comes a greater chance of bad apples spoiling the bunch. The behavior shown by some fans can give the supporters as a whole a bad name, but MLS has done a very good job in curbing the rowdy behavior. In fact, MLS can be looked at as one of the better leagues in the world in terms of fan behavior.
Italy, Poland and other European countries are constantly under scrutiny for reports of racist chants and signs. Since 1924, 250 people have died in Argentina in soccer-related crimes. While MLS has some problems that need fixing regarding fan behavior, they should be given credit for not allowing lethally rowdy behavior and racism to enter the world of soccer in the United States.