Supporters Week: For fans, no "off" in offseason

Soccer’s a year-round passion for league’s die-hards

Tim Hall did not want to hear about soccer. At
least for a couple of months.

That’s how the current MLS offseason started for Hall, a
member of the Empire Supporters Club, after watching his New York Red Bulls
endure a gut-wrenching MLS Cup Playoffs elimination last year at the hands of
the San Jose Earthquakes.

“That stung quite a bit,” Hall told MLSsoccer.com. “But once
the calendar turns to January and the weather becomes a little warmer, the
blood starts to get up again and you start to feel it. And the drum beat is
starting in your head, both figuratively and literally.”

In actuality the drum beat never stopped since that match
last November. If MLS players can afford to take a breather during the winter
months, the same can’t be said for fans like Hall.

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Take January’s MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore – an event which
felt like a matchday supporters section. Hall called it the highlight of an
offseason which included USMNT watch parties, a summit with the RBNY front
office and the creation of the ESC’s newest T-shirts and flags.

“It wasn’t a long offseason,” said former Section 8
president Ben Burton following a four-hour meeting with the Chicago Fire front
office on Wednesday. “You’d think it would be because [the Fire] didn’t make the
playoffs. But things for us never really slowed down.”

Burton’s offseason was even more intense. It consisted of a
Section 8 annual general meeting, regular monthly public supporters meetings, a
2010 MLS Cup watch party and two charity events in which Section 8 collected
several thousands of dollars and hundreds of pounds of food for a local Chicago
depository. They are also currently fundraising for tifo.  

All the work has turned out to be well worth it, especially
since Section 8 has sold more season tickets for 2011 than for any previous
campaign.

The down time is that much more gratifying if you have an
MLS Cup trophy in tow. Matt Baumgartner of the Colorado Rapids’ Bulldog
Supporters Club knows what that’s like.

The Anschutz trophy has been on tour in Colorado since the
Rapids’ title conquest last November. Baumgartner helped organize a trophy
showing in Colorado Springs and attended others, including one at the recent
Colorado Avalanche vs. Edmonton Oilers hockey game at the Pepsi Center. Along
with 81 other Rapids supporters, soccer fans claimed one of the seating
sections and brought their supporter culture to the NHL.

“We brought our flags and banners,” he said. “Besides some
stares and glares from people for whom it wasn’t normal, some people came over
to join our section. We had all the soccer chants and then switched them up for
some of the Avs players so it wasn’t a Rapids fest. It got people’s attention.”

Real Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson got the attention of
one RSL supporter on Christmas Eve. Denzel Eslinger, who also runs the
RSLSoapBox.com blog, ran into the Canadian doing some late gift shopping at a
local Best Buy.

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“I was there picking up a couple of last minute items and
he’s there in line,” Eslinger said. “I asked him how the contract negotiations
were going.”

Johnson eventually did re-up on his RSL contract, as did a
few other teammates. The player transactions and CONCACAF Champions League preparations
made the time go by fast for supporters of the Claret-and-Cobalt.

“For me, there isn’t an offseason,” Deslinger said. “There’s
so much going on and more info for fans to follow. It made the offseason a
little more bearable.”

Time flew by for Houston Dynamo season ticket holder Devika
Kombacher. She may not be involved in a supporters group, but she had an
equally busy offseason that included a new jersey unveiling, new stadium
groundbreaking, new player introductions and a new move to the Eastern Conference – all in a matter of a couple of months.

“Change after change after change makes the time go fast and
we have an early start date at home this year,” she said. “The offseason came
earlier but it was faster, fuller and busier.”

With so many fresh developments surrounding her club, excuse
Kombacher’s enthusiasm when she says that the MLS Cup championship “in our sights”
and that the Dynamo are “ready to crush the Eastern conference.”

After all, it’s that time of year again. Every fan base is
brimming with optimism and all 18 teams think they can win a title. The
offseason is over.