No Room at the Inn

No Room at the Inn

Imagine a day when you follow your beloved Seattle team on the road. Awaiting you at the stadium is a sign blinking a neon greeting of ‘No Vacancy.Imagine a day when you, along with a legion of your fellow faithful, follow your beloved Seattle team on the road. Awaiting you at the stadium is a sign blinking a neon greeting of ‘No Vacancy.’

Now a reality check: That day may have already arrived in Major League Soccer.

At the end of this month, when Toronto FC opens the season at Columbus, more than 2,000 Canadians will cross the border for the trek to Ohio. It ought to create a sensational atmosphere for all at Crew Stadium. That’s great for the game, agreed?

Only one problem: the exchange rate apparently won’t work both ways.

That’s because BMO Field’s capacity is 20,000 spectators and it is essentially sold-out again this season, so Toronto is not in a position to reciprocate.

Supporters of the Chicago Fire requested 500 tickets for their lone trip to Ontario yet were granted only 100. And that’s sad.

As a fan from the Sounders’ NASL days, my most vivid memories were generated by the rivalries with Portland and Vancouver. Your loyalty was steeled on those occasions when you followed the team to Civic and Empire stadiums. Enduring the (mostly) playful insults of the home fans and daring to stand and support your side was a supporter’s rite of passage.

When the Whitecaps came south we all got a taste of what (we thought) it must be like in Europe. We shout: ‘Soun-ders! Soun-ders! They answer: Oogie! Oogie! Oogie! Oy! Oy! Oy! Fun times, those were.

However, as optimistic as I’ve been for this great game, I didn’t see the day coming, when stadiums would not have enough room for traveling supporters. At least not this soon.

Granted, not every MLS stadium is maxed-out like Toronto’s. Then again, elsewhere crowds are growing rapidly while at the same time the venues seem to be shrinking.

In the English Premiership, entire sections of up to 3,000 seats are allotted to the visiting team’s supporters, and even TV viewers sitting thousands of miles away can sense the event’s electricity, and it’s nearly entirely positive.

There ought to be a way to grow the game. Expanding the league is one way. Expansion may also be needed in some stadiums. Hopefully, MLS, the clubs and the various supporters clubs can come together and agree on a minimum percentage of seats to be offered to visiting fans. It would be much the same way college football accommodates travelers.

Making way for perhaps the most passionate supporters will go a long way toward building the gameday experience of all–the fans, the players and the TV viewers–in MLS.

Think Again


So emotional is the traveling supporter that he sometimes errs in making a sound decision on the purchase of merchandise. They can be suckers, and it sounds like somebody I saw in the mirror this morning.

My memories of late teen/young adulthood were jarred loose by a piece this week in the London Times, asking readers for their worst sports merchandise in their collection.

Such as paying $120 for an Arsenal teapot bearing the likeness of Juan Antonio Reyes–after he had been sent packing. Or the Leeds United child toilet. Or the FC Barcelona cigarettes, apparently inspired by the chain-smoking ways of former star and manager Johan Cruyff.

Making the purchase is one mistake. Admitting it is worse, and holding on to the item for years and years is cruel and unusual punishment for you and everyone who knows you.

I’m innocent only of the latter. My transgressions both involved a weakness for hats, although I have long since rid myself of the evidence.

Anybody remember the Sounders flat cap? Some merchandising maven conceived the idea and the hideous looking, alternately blue and white hat as an answer to Vancouver’s ever-popular white caps.

Not sure what I paid, but I do know this: I came to my senses before wearing it to a single game, home or away. Strangely, I found a Vancouver ‘whitecap’ in my closet years later. Still have it.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of it. Less than a year later, while whooping it up at the ‘Husky Hoedown’ before the 1981 Rose Bowl, I bought an oversized purple polyester UW cowboy hat. Looked good on New Year’s Eve and ugly thereafter. Michigan beat Washington, 23-6. The best decision was leaving that hat behind at LAX.

Road to Beijing


CONCACAF qualifying for the Summer Olympics begins next week in Tampa, and both Fox Soccer Channel and ESPN360.com will carry the games. The U.S. opens against Cuba Tuesday (5 p.m., Mar. 11). Gig Harbor’s Tally Hall is contending for the keeper job with the squad’s final cutdown on Sunday.

The Americans face Panama on Mar. 13 and finish the round-robin tournament against Guatemala Mar. 15. Following group play are the semifinals Mar. 20 in Nashville, with both advancing finalists earning a trip to Beijing.

There will be a little bit of everything on the TV during the next week or so.

There’s a David-Goliath F.A. Cup quarterfinal tie between Barnsley and Chelsea (FSC, Saturday, 9:30 a.m.). That same day in Premiership play there is the potential for seeing three U.S. keepers on FSC, with Blackburn (Friedl) hosting Fulham (Keller’s return?) and, later, on delay, Reading (Hahnemann) facing Man City.

The best of the bunch Sunday, after moving your clock ahead, is on GolTV. Barcelona and Villarreal, second and third in Spain, play at 1 p.m.

A single Champions League fixture remains from the Round of 16 and it’s on ESPN2 next Tuesday (Mar. 11) with Inter Milan, down 2-0 on aggregate, hosting Liverpool.

Still in MLS preseason mode, D.C. United and Houston open CONCACAF Champions League action Tuesday and Wednesday evenings on FSC. They play representatives of Jamaica and Guatemala, respectively, in the first round.

Sepp Says Ban ‘Em


FIFA president Sepp Blatter has let loose with a fusillade about rules enforcement, including a call for lifetime bans and criminal prosecutions for those who recklessly tackle and cause injury.

Blatter’s comments come on the eve of a meeting by the International Board to discuss potential changes to the laws of the game. A couple weeks ago, Arsenal’s Eduardo suffered a possible career-ending fractured fibula and dislocated ankle on a crude challenge. “Players who (dangerously tackle) intentionally should be banned from the game,” he said.

Blatter also took issue with referees who hesitate to use their cards, and stated that skilled players should receive protection from officials. “They must pay attention to the defender who wants to kick him out of the game and tell the defender that he is being watched. That is the psychology the referees must use,” he told the London Times.

Members of the International Board will be bringing their own suggestions, among them the standard use of TV replays to punish those who take a dive to draw fouls. Last fall, using such video, UEFA issued a one-match ban to AC Milan keeper Dida for flopping after being confronted by a Celtic fan on the pitch.

Throw-ins


Hope Solo notched another shutout Friday as the U.S. women beat Italy 2-0 at the Algarve Cup in Portugal. The final group match is Monday against Norway. Solo has not allowed a single goal in four starts this year…Saturday and Sunday (Mar. 8-9) mark the finals of the U.S. Youth Soccer Washington State Championship cup finals at Starfire…Ex-Husky Brandon Prideaux was waived by Colorado and then picked up by Chicago this past week…Giants Stadium or Philadelphia are the most likely venues if the U.S. national team finalizes a June 8 date with Argentina. Almost a done deal is a trip to Wembley May 28…The Victoria Highlanders, a USL premier development league team which opens in ’09, has unveiled its logo which depicts a shaggy-haired player wearing a tartan kilt (and what else, we may ask)…Fabio Capello met with England fans this week, seeking to establish ties and further understanding of what the supporters want. He heard a clear desire for David Beckham getting his 100th cap. The next opportunity is Mar. 26, a friendly with France.

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