November 23, 2008
by Charles Cuttone
Cup game needs a home side
CARSON, Calif.---Like most things in LA, they are pretty laid back about their sports out here.
Visiting New York Red Bulls fans helped create much of the atmosphere at the Home Depot Center on Sunday.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Good thing then, that MLS imported some real fans from New York and Columbus to give The Home Depot Center some real soccer atmosphere. Other wise the place would have been pretty quiet, and that would have been a shame given the performance the Crew and the Red Bulls put on.
There was an announced sellout of 27,000 but there were nowhere near that many actually in the house. That’s understandable. Neither of the home teams, Chivas USA or the LA Galaxy, were in the Cup. The Galaxy’s only chance this year, perhaps, was to use some of those empty seats.
Oh, the fans cheered and applauded when necessary, like after each of the four goals. But the real atmosphere of a championship was lacking, except in two corners of the end zone.
The Red Bulls fans clearly won the chanting contest over the Crew supporters, who outnumbered the New Yorkers , but not by many. There also was a little knot of Dynamo fans.
That’s why MLS needs to do away with neutral site games. That apparently is on the league’s radar, but not anytime in the immediate future. It is a logistics problem as much as anything else. Until all the teams control their own stadiums and can open up a playing date on a week’s notice, it’s going to be impossible to do that.
Still, it is something that MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the league is thinking about. In fact, revamping the entire playoff system has been discussed by the board of governors in an effort to make the games more compelling.
Having a team play at home would ensure a good crowd. Maybe not a sellout in a football stadium, but a “real” full house in any of the soccer stadiums. When New England hosted the cup at Gillette Stadium in 2001, more than 60,000 attended, mostly rooting for the home side. The home field advantage did not help. The Revs still lost.
Making the move to a home site is best for the game. Soccer is not the National Football League, never will be. And championship games should be attended by a team’s fans. Ok, if the game was in Columbus on Sunday, the Crew fans would have far outnumbered the Red Bulls fans, and maybe the chants of “We all hate the yellow football team” would have been drowned out, but then there would have been 20,000 or so fans in the place who really cared about the outcome of the game.
Everywhere in the world soccer is considered the game of the people. By shifting the championship game to one of the home cities, MLS would be giving the game back to the people.