Castillo: After Valentine's Day, need MLS friends? Here are some tips

In this post-Valentine’s Day world, I’m here to help try to play matchmaker – not romantically, really, but to help anyone who’s a grown-up and looking for in-real-life MLS Soccer Friends.

Sports friendships are pretty great to form as an adult-ish person, after all. They give you an excuse to gather at random times, often over foods cooked on hot stones, accompanied by a frosty beverage. You’ve already agreed on tribal affiliations and colors, and you can skip a lot of small talk and get right to the important stuff: yelling at or about grown men whose job it is to kick a ball. Cathartic!

Shared struggles, triumphs, rituals, and victories that strengthen a communal bond – that’s the kind of thing that kept us alive in prehistoric times. So if you’re looking for a soccer crew, it’s cool – that’s just centuries of human conditioning sparking your primal urges. Clearly, you should feed them.

Yet talking to randos once you’re past playground age can be a little awkward, especially, sometimes, if you're trying to geek out over North American soccer. So in the service of folks who tweet me asking about this, let’s see how other fans found their real-life buddies to watch MLS and our national teams. Here are some suggestions.

Join a rec league

Obviously, your teammates come ready with an affinity for the game. And since many of these rec leagues are basically about grabbing drinks afterwards, this is a good time to get to know them better.

This is how Tiffany French, an FC Dallas fan now living in Florida, came to the Dallas Beer Guardians fold. “A lady named Debra was looking for a team to join, so the league assigned her to our team. Our team was the worst in the co-ed league. We were mostly focused on drinking after the game, but we had fun,” she recalls.

Guess what? Debra turned out to be a season-ticket holder and seven-year member of the DBG.

“We joined her in the beer garden [at Toyota Stadium] for a game and fell in love with the atmosphere there, and I became a season ticket-holder in the beer garden,” French continues. “We've been good friends ever since, and have traveled together to Seattle for an FCD away game and to San Antonio for a US men’s national team game.”

Go to a bar to watch a game, or literally just show up to a supporters’ group get-together

It’s another obvious choice, but as opposed to a rec league, this involves very little physical activity, and perhaps even a little less social anxiety, given the amount of liquid courage on tap. And if you don’t drink, that’s fine; enough people are likely doing that so that they'll be in a gregarious mood.

But seriously, check out the site of your preferred MLS team – or for the national teams, the site for your local American Outlaws chapter – and look for listings for partner pubs. Even if you live far from your team of choice, look for your local soccer bars and ask them to show MLS.  (After all, there’s even a Portland Timbers bar in Tokyo. You never know.)

For supporters’ group meetings, you can start with the list on your team’s site, though as fan bases grow, not all groups will be listed there. (Internet searching will turn up the rest.)

Sara McNally, a Seattle Sounders fans, remembers how she decided to take the plunge after sporadic years of attending matches. Finally, one day she and her sister attended a Sounders 2 match, and sat in the Emerald City Supporters section.

“Next we sat in the supporter section at a first team match at CenturyLink and I felt like, ‘I belong here.’ I joined ECS and waded into Sounders Twitter to meet people,” she recalls. One day, she says she worked up the courage to attend a pre-match meet-up at Seattle's Merchants Cafe.

“I met a bunch of great people that night and it snowballed from there as I attended more social events,” McNally says. “I also started volunteering on tifo, which was a great way to meet people and work on something creative.”

Check out fan podcast tapings and other team-adjacent events

This one’s getting into the meta weeds a bit, but social media and other internet stuff will turn up fan events that don’t necessarily correspond with a match. Emily Cummings – the artist behind @MLSWatercolors – wound up making more Sounders-fan friends by happening upon a taping of the fan podcast Sonarfeed.

“I had been a Sounders season ticket-holder for a few years and wanted to be best friends with everyone in the stadium, but my circle of acquaintances didn't really extend beyond the people in the seats right around mine. I mentioned this to a coworker and he told me about how his brother and a couple buddies got together in a local bar on Monday nights to live-stream a podcast called Sonarfeed,” she says. “[I saw] that there were people I followed on Twitter that went to watch live and hang out. I was a little nervous going to my first one, but I was met with hugs all around and felt so immediately included! Now I go about once a month and it feels like a family."

Find yourself in a geographically niche group, somehow, and reach out

Here’s how Danish MLS fan Henrik Loenne found like-minded folks in Copenhagen: the last World Cup, unsurprisingly. “Many Danish journalists were interested in the US both because of [then-head-coach] Jürgen Klinsmann and this music video featuring Alexi Lalas,” he says. “Being one of few people to follow US soccer and MLS for many years in Denmark, I discussed the US with many of them and eventually I agreed with two of them to meet for the first US game.”

As it turns out, this was no World Cup fling, however. “I realized this could be something resembling a friendship,” Loenne says of his rapport with one other journo in particular. “When I asked him if he wanted to meet and watch another game it almost felt like a date, but we have been friends since.”

In other words, don’t let geographical distance from your squad get you down. Just think — if you’re a budding Atlanta United fan in Sydney, Australia, there’s a new supporters’ group there that would welcome new members.

Take a chance on a season ticket

If you’re feeling pretty committed to your team already, and you live in the market, buying a ticket package or season ticket means you’ll likely develop a rapport with your seat neighbors, since you’ll likely be seeing them every time. That’s how New York Red Bulls fan Brian Murray wound up with a best buddy.

“First season, we exchange pleasantries for the first few games. Then he had extra tickets he wasn't using for a Man City vs. Chelsea game at Yankee Stadium. I didn't know his name or his sons but that didn't stop me from accepting them. Got his phone number. Started texting,” Murray recalls.

The friendship grew from there. “We've met up at the Jersey Shore. Our wives text each other and don't even involve us anymore. I've attended his son Aidan's soccer games,” he says. “We have off-season meetings where we grab dinner or drinks to catch up and because we miss each other.”

Get on forums and, yes, Soccer Twitter.

As much as we love to clown these things, sorry, we just can’t escape them. And they’re legitimate places to make a friendship leap from online to real-world meat-space. Just take the case of Tyler O’Brien Whitesides, a Rapids fan in Denver. Not only did he meet his wife through soccer Twitter, but his eventual wedding party, too, came from the same source.

“I actually had three of my groomsmen from my wedding that I had met on Twitter through my Rapids away trips, their trips here, or projected trips — @FCJaybird, @the16thdoc, and @mkstnr,” he says.

Actually, there’s a further twist! “I am slightly ashamed to admit that I had never officially met @mkstnr or @the16thdoc in person prior to my wedding, but have had numerous Facetime calls, Xbox live sessions, and other ways people communicate in long-distance relationships,” he continues. “That may seem crazy, but I considered both my best friends, so I made them my groomsmen – I speak to them more than I do to most of my close family.” Now, they track their adventures through the hashtag #MajorLeagueFriendships, a group that’s growing and welcome to new friends.

No promises, but sometimes, this leads to actual romance

They say some of the best relationships are borne out of friendships, so you never know what you might find in the stands or beer garden.

“I remember going to my first game right after turning 18, in June 2004, to see some young gun named Freddy Adu take on my hometown Dallas Burn. By chance, my tickets were next to ‘the Inferno’ supporters’ group and the rest was history,” says Daniel Robertson, now digital content and social media manager for FC Dallas. It’s among the milieu of the [now-defunct] Inferno that he met his eventual wife.

And FC Dallas has also spawned at least one intra-league long-distance romance of late, between heads of different teams’ supporters groups. “So we met last year at Independent Supporters Council, in Chicago, but didn't even really talk until September when the question of the Supporters Shield winner came into play,” says Bailey Brown, of the Dallas Beer Guardians.

Steven Ferrezza, of the New York Red Bulls’ Empire Supporters Club, had housed the Shield for most of the year. “As the keeper of the Shield, it was my job to get it to whichever team won it next,” he says. “Luckily, I work for Delta Air Lines, so it was easy for me to fly it wherever it needed to go.”

They first got in touch about the logistics of getting the Shield to Portland or Los Angeles at the end of last season, and it worked out this way. But Ferrezza decided to use the Delta perks to visit Dallas for some barbecue. The rest is the stuff of soccer friendship-turned-romance lore.

So whatever your situation on Valentine’s Day, there’s someone else out there who’s ready to geek out with you. Take a deep breath and put yourself out there – and if anything, you can always talk to me about soccer on Twitter.