The 2016 Major League Soccer season is in full swing. Coaches are scribbling Xs and Os in notebooks and players are picking out the cleats that will bulge the back of the net or the gloves to make a key save.
But the fans – we have our own set of preparations when it comes down to game time. It's time to start setting out the perfect scarf, the luckiest jersey, and, of course, the beer to get the season started.
As the creator of the Free Beer Movement, I'd say that the marriage of soccer and a great brew are a personal passion. So I've paired each teams with a local brew that reflects some element of the team, the coaches, the players, and/or the fans.
Be warned: There are terrible puns ahead, and likely even worse analysis. But otherwise, it's just 20 honest-to-goodness suggestions of what each team might be as a craft beer.
Cheers to a great season!
"Big Box Make Magic" Belgian Dubbel - Solemn Oath Brewery (Naperville, IL)
Here's a quick nod to Naperville, the city that hosted the Fire for a couple of years, and the site of my personal first MLS match. This American brewery is influenced by a European style; sound like something you're undertaking Fire fans? Here's to hoping that Veljko Paunović can make magic.
"Surette" Saison - Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project (Denver, CO)
It would probably be a bit of a stretch to call Pablo Mastroeni's mustache a crooked stave (RIP, #PabloStache), but we'll start there. Meanwhile, USMNT keeper Tim Howard has wound up between the sticks in Commerce City, and the departure of fan favorite Clint Irwin to Toronto FC is doing nothing to temper those whispers. Let's make this a sure thing rapidly, ok?
Columbus Crew SC
"Glory" American Wheat Ale - Land Grant Brewing Co. (Columbus, OH)
After the 2015 MLS Cup final in Columbus, I stopped by Land Grant and was presented with the last two cans of this limited-release beer from one of their brewers. It proved so popular, thankfully, that they're going to brew more for the 2016 season. This is great because it's definitely one of the better #SoccerSpecificSuds I've had. It's light, yet hoppy, and tastes just right in a pair of heart-shaped hands.
"Raised By Wolves" Aromatic Pale Ale - Right Proper Brewing Co. (Washington, D.C.)
Of course this a Benny Olsen reference. D.C. United has found its way back from the brink, and the Wolfman is responsible for the Black and Red's resurgence. He's just gotta find the right, proper way to get the four-time MLS Cup champions back there. (Get it?)
"Bourbon-Barrel Temptress" Imperial Milk Stout aged in Oak Bourbon Barrels - Lakewood Brewing Co. (Garland, TX)
Oscar Pareja is brewing up something special in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, and so is Lakewood in another suburb, Garland. If you thought FC Dallas were dangerous last year, then age this squad another MLS season and see what you get. It's tempting to consider them one of the league's most intoxicating sides.
"Free Kick" Blonde Ale - 8th Wonder Brewing Co. (Houston, TX)
This brewing company, 8th Wonder, is named after BBVA Compass Arena's neglected neighbor, the Astrodome. But more importantly they have a beer named after a soccer thing! That makes is a shoe-in (pun intended--they always are). Wait ... This name is because of some local kombucha? I don't care what you say. It's a soccer beer.
"Golden Road" Hefeweizen - Golden Road Brewing Co. (Los Angeles, CA)
To say that 2015 was a disappointment would be an understatement for the five-time MLS Cup champions. Call it a post-Donovan Depression in the Galaxy era. The Carson faithful have got a new challenge in LAFC in the coming years, but they're certainly making a whole lotta moves that are keeping the limelight on them.
Bruce Arena is one of the league's most experienced coaches so whatever he's thinking, he's got a plan. Will it be a "Golden Road" to success once again? Stay tuned.
"Fin du Monde" Tripel-Style Golden Ale - Unibroue (Chambly, Quebec, Canada)
It was almost the end of the world, but Didier Drogba announced he was resisting the siren call of his old club Chelsea. I don't know why they were worried at all, since they just re-signed CONCACAF Champions League hero Cameron Porter.
New England Revolution
"Fort Point" Pale Ale - Trillium Brewing Co. (Boston, MA)
Sure, Revs fans are looking forward to one day having a shiny new stadium, but meanwhile, they can enjoy this shiny brewery comparison. Their beers are amazing and actually in Boston! Here's to those in "The Fort" who trudge down to Foxborough every darn game. Cheers!
New York City FC
"Global Warmer" Amber Ale - Sixpoint Brewery (Brooklyn, NY)
Let's be frank ... NYCFC's first season was wild. Now the sky blue faithful have their fingers crossed that the Patrick Vieira era will bring about a change in climate and a high-water mark for the club.
New York Red Bulls
"Red Rye Returning" Rye Ale - Carton Brewing Co. (Atlantic Highlands, NJ)
The "Ginger Ninja" Dax McCarty just landed himself a contract extension, so to celebrate the Red Bulls, I chose a beer that honors their carton-to-carton midfielder. The New Jersey club also has a pretty strong commitment to Homegrowns (with a league-leading 11 on their roster, currently) and a handful of them grew up relatively close the Atlantic Highlands' brewery. (Not that all of them can even legally enjoy a pint yet, however.)
Orlando City SC
"O-Town" Brown Ale - Orlando Brewing Co. (Orlando, FL)
Orlando's oldest brewery is also certified organic. That's also how the Lions have built their club from USL to MLS. The brewery's brown ale has a bit of an English twist on it, just like the club in the hands of owner, and now president, Phil Rawlins. (If all else fails just make a caipirinha … because Kaká.)
"SaisonHands" - Tired Hands Brewing Co. (Ardmore, PA)
Is this a joke about the multitude of 'keepers that have sat between the pipes? Nah. The Union brought in Earnie Stewart, a steal of a pickup from AZ Alkmaar, to be their sporting director. From the SuperDraft forward this is going to be a hands-on experience for the former USMNT midfielder. You have to hand it to Philly; they made a good choice. Let's give them a hand. Okay, I'm done. I'm tired.
"MASSIVE!" Barleywine Ale - Gigantic Brewing (Portland, OR)
There's a lot of pressure to pick a beer match for Portland for a number of reasons. These folks know their suds, and they're the reigning MLS Cup champions. How do you pick a beer that satisfies the masses?
Well, you can take a shot at their conquered MLS Cup foes, Columbus Crew SC, of course. The Columbus side often invokes "Be Massive" as a team slogan, and what a gigantic way to recognize the Timbers' victory over them than with a brew with this name. It's basically the modern-day version of the Timbers drinking out of a skull mug a la Genghis Khan.
However, we'd be remiss if we didn't also mention the partnership between Widmer Brewing Co. and the Timbers, which goes back nearly 15 years. Previously they've brewed up a kölsch ("Green & Gold"), and a Caleb Porter ("Big Hearts and Brass Balls"). Now their hefeweizen is "the Official Craft Beer of the Portland Timbers."
Real Salt Lake
"Labyrinth" Black Ale - Uinta Brewing Co. (Salt Lake City, UT)
RSL fans might feel a little lost right now. In 2015, the club missed out on the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in eight years. While these are black days for the Claret and Cobalt, the return of fan favorite Yura Movsisyan could bring some light at the end of the maze.
San Jose Earthquakes
"Brew Free or Die" IPA - 21st Amendment Brewing Co (San Leandro, CA)
I'll be honest: I chose this beer because it sounded the most like "Goonies Never Say Die." But it's a great beer from a great brewery. It's time to figure out who we have to call to get 21st on tap at North America's largest outdoor bar.
"Dark Star" Imperial Oatmeal Stout - Fremont Brewing Co. (Seattle, WA)
This is another pressure pick, as Seattle is also a highly regarded beer town. I was in Seattle for #DecisionDay 2015, and on my trip I stopped at Fremont. Their whole lineup was super impressive, but "Dark Star" and the bourbon-barrel aged version were top notch.
So who is the Dark Star of the Sounders in 2016? Fingers crossed it's Jordan Morris, who, if he lives up to his potential, could do wonders for club and country. No pressure, kid.
"Sporting Saison" Farmhouse Ale - Boulevard Brewing Co. (Kansas City, MO)
Boulevard's slogan in its partnership with SKC is "Hometown Team, Hometown Beer," and "Sporting Saison" is brewed to honor the ties between the brewery, the city it calls home, and this team. It's been three years since MLS Cup glory, but just one from the U.S. Open Cup. What will this "saison" bring for Sporting?
"Motley Cru" Sour Red Ale Aged in Oak with Ontario Pinot Noir Grapes - Bellwoods Brewery (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore were kind of like Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, and Tommy Lee for the Reds in 2015, when they led the club to its first playoff appearance ever. TFC fans might be a little sour that the Whitecaps and Montreal Impact both made deeper playoff runs in 2015. But with the "Atomic Ant" Giovinco, the reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP, back for 2016, there are plenty reasons to be optimistic. It doesn't hurt that this brewery is just a goal kick's distance (that's a measurement, right?) from BMO Field.
"Passive Aggressive" Dry Hopped Pale Ale - Brassneck Brewery (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
Every Canadian I've ever met has been super nice, but as we saw in 2015, there's an aggressive side to the 'Caps. Okay, so Carl Robinson is Welsh, but whoa, that guy is animated. And if the 'Caps are going to make a deeper MLS Cup Playoffs run they're going to have to be more aggressive than passive.
There you have it. If your favorite MLS teams were a craft beer, what would they be and why? Let us know in the comments.
Dan Wiersema is the founder of the Free Beer Movement. Follow him on Twitter at @FreeBeerMovemnt