American soccer has always suffered from a lack of cultural identity.
First, it was a lack of culture altogether. Stadiums were barely halfway full, the noise made was mediocre at best, and the team couldn’t win.
Since then, our problem with fan culture has evolved into an entirely new one. Some will argue that the situation has improved, and there is evidence to suggest that: Attendance is higher than in the past, the American Outlaws — United States’ largest soccer supporter group — has over 200 chapters nationwide, and finally there seems to be some coordination with chants emerging at games.
However, many of these chants have been stolen from other nations — particularly in South America and Europe — and the resulting imitations have turned the fearsome booming songs of foreign nations into weak counterfeits that fail to inspire a national team equally devoid of creativity on the field.
This is not a piece attacking supporter groups for borrowing chants. Trading traditions and songs was a hallmark of soccer long before the American Outlaws. It would be wrong not to mention that formats, tunes, and everything in between have been shared between supporters on an intercity and international level. The issue is our supporters’ failure to do these chants justice in their recreation of them. They often come out meek and tame, and fail to create any sort of atmosphere.
Perhaps the biggest issue with our supporter culture is that American soccer has refused to integrate the classic American traditions and chants from football, basketball, and baseball. These chants have created loud, passion-filled stadiums around the country, yet the supporters of US Soccer continue to attempt to weakly recreate a “greatest hits” of songs from outside the continent. Unsurprisingly, these replica songs have not created a winning culture. The U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) has continuously lost friendlies and competitive home games alike, often in front of crowds split 50/50 (at best) between American and “away” fans, such as in the Stars and Stripes 2-0 defeat to Brazil this September, in which the stadium was 2/3 Brazil fans.
So why not change things up? If having the team come on to the field to Enter Sandman can create a goosebump-inducing atmosphere for Virginia Tech why wouldn’t it be able to do the same for the USMNT? Are fútbol and football really that different? I believe that the spark that will pull 102,000 fans to Bryant-Denny stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (where the football stadium’s capacity exceeds the town’s population) is the same one that will bring 25,000 supporters to Burnley (a northern English town that isn’t even the UK’s 100th most-populated population center.)
So lets roll out some of America’s tried and tested traditions from college football and basketball. If we are mocked by others for being different, so be it. Millwall created one of the Premier League’s best atmospheres 30 years ago by embracing the slogan “nobody likes us, and we don’t care.” What’s to say we can’t do the same? Looking to our roots will provide us far more culture then attempting to recreate a foreign one.