MLS fans share how they found their long-distance soccer-team loves

The easiest way to become a fan of an MLS team, of course, is proximity. If you live where an MLS team plays, you can go the stadium, take in the atmosphere, and immediately brand yourself a fan by game’s end by purchasing a scarf or jersey.

But not all fans of teams in the league live near those teams, of course. Some took their allegiances with them when they moved to new locales, while some selected teams based on other factors than geography. And in rare cases, some fans relocated to where their favorite teams play, not believing the old adage that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

We found five fans whose MLS allegiances, hometowns, and current locations don't all line up so predictably. Here are their stories of fandom.

Zach Christodoulides

Lives In: Austin, Texas
Supports: Portland Timbers

The 21-year-old Christodoulides, a producer at Austin sports talk radio station the Horn, lives and breathes soccer. His day job includes manning the dials for The Throw-In, the station’s weekly soccer show. But there’s not currently a local soccer team to root for in Austin proper.

In high school, he cheered for the hometown Austin Aztex, seeing them more often than his own high school team in the land that launched Friday Night Lights. But the latest iteration of the Aztex are on an indefinite hiatus from the USL, and unlike most Texan MLS fans, he says he couldn’t connect with either FC Dallas or the Houston Dynamo.

Last summer, after attending Copa America Centenario matches in Houston, Christodoulides yearned to find an MLS team to call his own. On a summer trip to Portland with his family, he found the Timbers. “The streets were filled of fans decked out in Timbers regalia," he recalls. "It was the first time I had seen that level of passion since my trips to Houston nearly a month before.” He instantly became hooked, and eventually made a road trip back to Houston in the fall to see his new love face the Dynamo.

“This season, I have made an effort to catch all of their preseason games, and I’m glad to say I’m happy with what I see,” he says. The next step in his fandom? A pilgrimage to Providence Park this summer, as well as a trip to CenturyLink Field to see the Timbers play their rivals, the Seattle Sounders, who he’s already calling the “Flounders.”

Jordan LaFrance

Lives In: New Orleans
Supports: D.C. United

LaFrance, age 27, played soccer during middle school and began gravitating toward watching soccer on TV around that time. He started with Premier League games, but several years later, discovered MLS and its “more normal” starting times, as he describes them.

Back then, he remembers, D.C. United was experiencing what he calls the team’s “second golden age," culminating with a 2004 MLS Cup victory over the Kansas City Wizards. Even though LaFrance had no geographic ties to the team, the winning and the black-and-red jerseys were enough for him. The 2004 Eastern Conference final match against New England galvanized his fandom, and the team’s dedication to developing young players has given him a long-term, “slow-burn realization” that he made the right choice.

And finally, he's got something of a hometown connection to celebrate. Of course, that's New Orleans native (and former member of the city’s NPSL team, the New Orleans Jesters) Patrick Mullins, who found his way to United last summer. Now, LaFrance is trying to get fellow New Orleanians to join him in supporting Mullins and the team, and this season, he’s looking to make the journey to RFK Stadium in its final season.

Karah Marshall

Lives In: Clermont, Florida
Supports: Sporting Kansas City

Marshall, age 31, found Sporting Kansas City six years ago through her husband, Stephen. They were young parents to a one-year-old, living in Leavenworth, Kansas, and he’d been a fan of the team since the Arrowhead Stadium days. As she recalls, he was so excited by the re-brand from the Wizards to Sporting Kansas City that he immediately purchased two season tickets. "I did not know a soccer ball from a volleyball," she says, "and I certainly had no interest whatsoever in learning the ins and outs of the game, let alone attending the matches regularly."

That changed over the course of the 2011 season. She remembers coming around as she enjoyed the electricity of the game-day atmosphere, and ultimately the disappointment she felt when the team lost the Western Conference finals to the Dynamo. That all led to her recognition that fandom had “ceased to be his thing," she says of her husband, "and instead, became our thing.”

Though work and studies brought them to Central Florida — specifically, to a suburb of Orlando — she doesn’t foresee herself switching light blue for Orlando City's purple. She notes that their game-day ritual has now changed from “tailgating with our Sporting family in the lots” to “pouring pints at home while our three kids run circles around the living room.” Though they miss live soccer, and plan to venture out to Orlando City Stadium later this year, she pledges, “I’ll wear my SKC colors proudly, regardless of who’s on the pitch.”

Mark Dancer

Lives In: Nashville, Tennessee
Supports: FC Dallas

When Dancer, now 40, was living in Fort Smith, Arkansas, he and a group of friends wanted to see live MLS action — and the closest team, FC Dallas, was 250 miles away. In 2005, when the team opened up Toyota Stadium in Frisco, it brought them just a little bit closer. That, combined with the team’s rebranding from Dallas Burn to the new moniker, further piqued Dancer's interes. Finally, he made an initial journey to the new stadium in 2007, with that long-in-the-making guys' weekend following the next year.

Now Dancer lives in Nashville, working as a research analyst, but he’s still keeping his allegiance to the Texas team. He and his friends still build an annual “guys’ weekend” around an FC Dallas match, and occasionally, they even venture beyond the familiar confines of Toyota Stadium to catch games.

“Through random chance, one of the guys from our group and I both ended up at the 2014 MLS All-Star Game,” he recalls. Thanks to winning an EA SPORTS contest, and thanks to the friend vacationing in the Pacific Northwest, they both found themselves in Providence Park that year watching MLS’ best face Bayern Munich.

And this year, they’ll also celebrate the U.S. Men’s National Team as a group, as Dancer plays host to his friends, visiting his new hometown, to see the Yanks play in the Gold Cup in July.

Cody Byers

Lives In: Marietta, Georgia (via Walker, Louisiana)
Supports: Atlanta United

Byers, age 24, grew up in the heart of college football country, 20 miles from the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. But he loved soccer from an early age -- and his first MLS choice, which he now attributes to a “youthful mistake,” was the LA Galaxy. “I saw LA Galaxy and connected LA with the state abbreviation for Louisiana," he says. "I soon realized that mistake, but figured they were as good as any choice since I had none nearby.” While he eventually enjoyed watching their run of championships, he still wanted a real-life, local community with whom he could talk soccer.

He then found the Major League Soccer Discussion Group, a Facebook group founded in 2013. Byers got in on the ground floor of the group, now boasting close to 20,000 members, and became one of its administrators. By 2015, when Atlanta announced it was bringing a team to MLS, he decided to set his Galaxy allegiance aside in favor of a team from his region.

Byers joined Atlanta United supporters’ group Terminus Legion even though he lived two states over. And upon graduating from Southeast Louisiana University, decided he needed to be closer to his team -- so he moved to Marietta, an Atlanta suburb.

Relocating has allowed him to get up close and personal with the team, going to the inaugural kit unveiling and training-ground opening ceremonies. “It was something I didn’t know I needed until I experienced it first-hand,” he says. “Now that I have it, I don’t know if I could go without it in the future.”

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