Supporters Week: A celebration of the North American supporter culture

NEW YORK — At some point during a recent interview with a member of Curva Collective, an independent supporters group of the Vancouver Whitecaps, I got lazy and let slip a dirty word: “fan.”

I should’ve known better. And I do. But sometimes old habits die hard.

My interviewee, to his credit, politely answered my question. He was open and generous and he didn’t snarl at me for my verbal transgression. But he did add a footnote at the end of his response:

“I never use the word fan," he said. "I prefer supporter.

There is a difference. A fan follows the game; a supporter lives it.

And with that in mind, we begin the third annual Supporters Week here on MLSsoccer.com. It has become a special event around here, a time to examine and celebrate the continually evolving supporters culture in the United States and Canada. Even compared to the last time we had Supporters Week, back in February 2012, the landscape has changed. It’s matured and gathered speed. And it’s definitely gathered devotees.

From the increasing numbers of traveling supporters in MLS to the growth of the US national team supporters group, the American Outlaws, supporters across North America have become the lifeblood of this game. This week, we’ll introduce you to some of the capos who are leading the charge in the stands and an interesting look at the measures MLS is undertaking to make the in-stadium experience a better one for supporters, such as training stadium stewards to better manage with the unique activities and attitudes of today’s soccer supporters.

But the MLS supporter culture is taking hold not only in North America, but also abroad. This week, we’ll introduce you to a few international supporters, including one guy who works for English Premier League club Newcastle United but is a diehard Seattle Sounders supporter.

Expressing your support, of course, takes many forms. You can raise your scarf, raise your voice, and hopefully raise your side’s game a little. In North America, where the mainstream media has traditionally ignored soccer, you can also find other outlets for expression, namely, new media. Since the founding of Big Soccer many years ago, North American soccer fanatics have been having their debates via digital and social media. On Tuesday, we'll take advantage of one of the newest media when we host a Google+ Hangout with Evan Dabby, senior director of operations for MLS and the main contact for supporters at the league. 

And later this week, MLSsoccer.com senior editor Nick Firchau will dive deep into today’s vibrant culture of website commenters, and Jeremiah Oshan, host of the Nos Audietis podcast, will explore the recent proliferation of soccer podcasts, whose hosts often straddle the line between fan and journalist.

Damn. I did it again. I used fan. (Note to self: supporter... supporter... supporter.) It’s just that, for someone like me, who grew up back when North America’s soccer culture was as alternative as, well, alternative rock, the fact that we now have a loud, proud, and increasingly mainstream supporter culture is still a little hard to believe. I guess that’s why we do Supporters Week: to document and celebrate this incredible thing that’s happening right before our eyes.

We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Greg Lalas
Editor in Chief, MLSsoccer.com