and I know I am in the minority here -- our core fans are the only ones who matter. They are the ones I end up talking to at the hotels where the broadcast crew stays before the weekend ESPN2 games. They're the ones I end up buying a beer or 10 after the game, and sometimes they buy me one ... or 20.
They aren't like the guy who saw me in the Chicago airport and asked me if I was a fireman when I was playing for the Fire. They aren't like the people who are there for the first time, with their noses buried in a program so they can learn about their team and the game. It's not that I don't have time for them; growing to love the game is just a process that needs to happen naturally.
This is about the fans with the drums in San Jose, the fans hanging over the railing screaming profanities in New York, the Screaming Eagles in D.C. who make the RFK Stadium stands bounce. It's about the Galaxians, the Barnburners and the Crew fans. (Except for the guy in Columbus with the bullhorn. That guy needs to bring it down a notch. FYI: I do have a sister and those are fighting words.)
This is about the people who recognize you on the street and know your name. It's not that I get offended if somebody doesn't know my name. As a soccer player you get used to that, but it sure is cool when people do know you. Those are the people with whom we have a connection, as if we are in this thing together and have a mutual understanding that soccer isn't there yet.
This is a message to all of the general managers: As much as you think you've done for those core people, those are the fans who have stuck it out and they're still coming to games, and we've got to figure out a way to give something back. When I was in San Jose last weekend, I saw some of the same people from Year One. They care about their players. At the end of the day, they're affected by the result, and we should do something for them.
Season tickets are one thing. If I were a GM, and knew that somebody had been coming to my games the whole time, for all nine years, I'd give them two more tickets. I'd just send them in the mail and say, "Bring two friends." It's an investment to get them to share their experience and their love for the team. I might even give them a box, let them bring some friends and enjoy the game.
Or, we could do something out of the ordinary and just buy those fans a beer. I'm going to go after a sponsor, and when I come to town for an ESPN2 game, I would love to invite 10-15 fans, pick a bar and buy them a beer. I'm sure Rob Stone and Lorrie Fair would love to do that, too. Maybe we could go to the home team's post-game party. We'll buy the fans a beer and we'll talk soccer.
Consider this an informal announcement that I'm going to try to figure out a way to do this. Details will be announced at some point, but I'm working on it.
As far as kids go, obviously, the beer thing is not a good idea, and kids are a very big part of the equation. Let's just let the kids decide if they want to be there. The best way that we can make the experience better for them is by helping them learn something and making them part of the event. Kids want to see a good game, and they want to get someone's autograph, and our players are great at providing both of those things. Kids need something to talk about. They need to be able to say, "Wasn't it cool when Landon Donovan did that?" Really, we don't need to 'sell' soccer to kids. We need to let the game sell itself.
You see, we have a great opportunity to be a part of a very unique time. Our fans now know our names, and it's time we start doing a better job of learning theirs, because there will come a time when that might not be possible.
For now, we should just buy 'em a beer.
This week's matchup: D.C. United at MetroStars, 4 p.m. ET on ESPN2
The cool thing about the MetroStars and D.C. United going up against each other is the coaching. So far this year we have already seen some great games in terms of management, and this week it's D.C.'s Peter Nowak vs. the MetroStars' Bob Bradley. These two worked together as the brain trust of the Chicago Fire for the club's first five years, Nowak the captain and Bradley the coach. When you ask them about it neither one of them will deny that they had a special relationship. Neither will deny that they both learned a lot from each other. Now they square off in this week's ESPN2 game Saturday at Giants Stadium.
New York is still a team in the making. Last year was a tough one by Bradley's standards. The MetroStars made the playoffs but were unable to win a trophy, losing out to Chicago in the U.S.`Open Cup Final (at home, no less) and bowing out to New England early in the MLS Cup playoffs. The MetroStars' fans may be used to that kind of season, but Bob Bradley is not. Bradley is a perfectionist. His teams always play with heart, and Bradley's style is at times demanding on his players but it works, most of the time.
Nowak is a little different. He too, is a bit of a perfectionist, but he also is a nitpicker. When I interviewed him two weeks ago in the locker room at RFK after the final practice before the opening game of the season, I watched him clean up the mess his players had made from the breakfast table.
With his hands, he scooped up bagel crumbs off the table and threw them in the trash can while we finished our conversation. This came after Nowak gave a long speech about professionalism and accountability.
"Would you make a mess like this in your home?" he asked. "I don't think so.
"This is our home. We need to treat it as such."
With Nowak in charge, discipline and pride are pretty much automatic.
One more note about the MetroStars: I can't figure out if they were that good in their opener or if Columbus was that bad. They got great goals from their forward line of John Wolyniec and Mike Magee, and with added insurance from midfielder Amado Guevara, they got a fairly convincing victory. This game against D.C. will be a better test.
This game will be worth watching. Luckily, I will have a pretty good seat.
Not a bad half in Los Angeles. He showed some speed and agility, which leads me to believe that in his debut, there was a little more to that ankle injury. Will he start? Let's put it this way: He is the only forward on the roster who hasn't scored yet. Based on that, do you think he deserves to start? I don't. This is professional soccer. Nobody should have anything given to him. It has to be earned. Freddy knows that. Sorry mainstream America, but you're going to have to wait for his first start a little longer.
Former U.S. international forward Eric Wynalda scored the first goal in MLS history, and is currently the analyst on RadioShack's Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its teams.