BALTIMORE -- It’s probably a bit tough to wrap your head around if you’re not a die-hard MLS fan.
You’ve taken a Thursday off of work, maybe you’ve even fibbed your way out of your shift. You and your friends load into a bus, taking a lengthy morning ride up or down I-95. This isn’t your typical “away day” though – you’re not heading to a stadium, there’s no game to watch. You’re headed for a convention center.
Several hundred fans did make the trek again this year -- at the 2016 MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore, a sizable throng of MLS supporters claimed a chunk of the ballroom, filling the air with chants, light-hearted jabs and the same sort of raucous noise that they display in their respective home stadiums.
For those in attendance -- many of whom said they make the trip every year – missing the annual event wasn’t ever an option.
“It’s a community, man, a community,” said Philadelphia Union supporter Ryan Dietz. “It’s such a brotherhood – I was in the military, and that was my favorite thing about the military. It’s the same thing here; everyone’s in the same fight. Even when you’re a Union fan, and at times you go through some tough [expletive], you still go through it together, and that’s why we’re here.”
Dietz also stressed the importance of introducing the Union’s fan culture - which, he noted, could be the best in MLS – to the Union’s draft picks. It seemed to be a sentiment shared by most in attendance; Philly fans were joined by a enclave of D.C. United supporters and equally sizable contingents from both New York-area teams, making for a colorful and lively scene throughout the event.
The draft is MLS’ first publicly-attended get-together of the new year, a chance for supporters to warm up their vocal chords after a brief off-season. As soon as the fans entered the ballroom, the barbs started.
Red Bulls fans brought their Supporters’ Shield, hoisting it overhead as they burst out in song; Philly fans responded with an impromptu chant of their own – “where’s-your dinner-plate (clap clap clap-clap-clap)." There were the usual barbs directed at United fans – “RFK is falling down, falling down, falling down,” to which D.C.’s supporters responded by quietly raising four fingers, alluding to their quartet of MLS Cups.
Among the most vocal in attendance were NYCFC’s fans; the blue-clad supporters burst out in cheer when, after working out a trade with Chicago, they got their man – Wake Forest midfielder Jack Harrison.
“We’re here to support our club and our city. We’re friends – more than that, we’re family,” said one NYCFC supporter, who also managed to fit in a quick shot at the New York-area’s other MLS franchise. “We’re here to support the team that truly represents New York. We knew our front office was going to make a smart decision.”
The vibe was overwhelmingly positive. After a Philly fan was spotted chowing down on cheese fries, NYCFC supporters started a chant of their own “we-want-cheese-fries.” The Union fan obliged, embarking on an impromptu good-will mission, sharing his pre-draft snack with supporters from multiple clubs. With no standings to obsess over, no on-the-field action to argue about, fans seemed content in sharing the experience with each other and with their side’s newest members.
“It’s fun. It’s a fun day, it’s a chance to show support to guys who are embarking on a new journey,” said United supporter Donald Wine. “These are college kids, or kids that are pretty young that are about to join this new fraternity. And we want to let them know – especially the guys we end up picking – that they’re part of that fraternity and they can expect to be supported.”