The DEFEND Cleveland Show

Cleveland’s Night of Soccer



About a month ago I learned I’d be heading to the shores of Lake Erie to attend a sporting event for the first time since September 12th, 1999 and the not so glorious return of the Browns.1  This time the stadium would not only sport a different name, First Energy Stadium, but I’d be going to watch the European brand of football with an international friendly between the United States and Belgium.  My level of excitement for the event was mixed leading up to it. Paying fifty dollars for a ticket to what is an exhibition match – fuck you Ticketmaster and your stupid fees –  isn’t something I normally would subscribe to. I’ve often voiced my disdain over the cost of preseason tickets for the Browns that season ticket holders are hooked into, and know an exhibition futball match isn’t much different.  Nonetheless it isn’t often you get the opportunity to see a team as talented as the emerging European Football giant Belgium, live and in person, let alone in Cleveland.  I’ve been to MLS games before, but in terms of skill differential, Belgium is the Major Leagues and MLS is college baseball. A fun novelty, but nothing really to marvel at.  To further set the table for you, I am a huge soccer fan, but not necessarily a vocal supporter of the United States Mens National Team (USMNT).  I root for them in major tournaments, but fail to follow them in the interim.  They’re just not that fun to watch and their only real appeal to me is that it is one of the few times as an American I get to root for my national team as the underdog.

Despite my tempered optimism, seven of my friends and I ponied up the fifty dollars for some decent seats and on match day made our way to the Blind Pig on West 6th about two hours before the game to begin some early celebrating.  I don’t own any USMNT gear2 and briefly thought about sporting one of my random soccer jerseys, but decided against it.  I was made to regret this decision rather immediately.  As I parked near the stadium, making it through the cluster fuck that downtown traffic has become due to multiple streets being blocked for movie productions, and the fact that the Indians were also playing the Reds at Progressive Field, my eyes were quickly flooded with a wave of red, white and blue.  And those who weren’t donning USMNT gear had their favorite soccer teams jerseys on. I literally was one of the lone people not repping soccer as a sport in some way or another with my wardrobe choice.  Even my girlfriend had an England David Beckham shirt on.

Being a soccer fan in America is at times an insular experience.  I can go to any sports bar and expect to see the major American sports on TV and engage most of the patrons in some sort of dialogue in regards to it, but this is not so with soccer.  So to see a sea of soccer fanatics, and trust me people were pumped, was a sight of beauty.  I’ve never tailgated or pre-gamed for a Browns game, but I imagine it isn’t all that different.  I had a beer immediately handed to me after pushing through a packed to the brim Blind Pig to find my friends, and upon completion of that beer, I was immediately given a second. No questions asked.  “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! chants randomly were breaking out at the bar and in the streets.  A large contingent of the American Outlaws, the USMNT supporter group (think Dawg Pound meets Browns Backers), were partying it up at the Blind Pig.  Big American hats, people draped in American flags, and plenty of stars and striped bandannas were all in view.    The beer and surrounding fervor was contagious and upon leaving the bar I was actually expecting a USMNT win, which my rational mind would have happily otherwise told me was pure lunacy.

The walk to the stadium allowed me to take in the demographics of the crowd that would be attending this match.  It was mainly males in their 20s, much like me, but you had an older contingent who brought their kids and an immigrant contingent who were culturally familiar with soccer there as well.  I had what I think to be a pair of young brothers behind me throughout the match who started off the game intensely supporting Clint Dempsey, the USMNT most notable player, and ended the game repeating the clever joke over and over that one of them invented about how the referee needed to be substituted.  There was a great turnout for the game, around 27,000, but the largely unfilled upper deck of the stadium dwarfed that accomplishment and gave the match a somewhat empty feel despite the crowd being so amped.  It would have been nice to see this match at a venue more fitting for that size crowd, but in Cleveland your options are limited.  The crowd in general was loud and attentive, but USMNT gave them little hope throughout the match.  The 4-2 score was actually generous to them and Belgium’s superiority was blatant to even a casual observer. In fact, if it weren’t for a poor job by the referee it could have easily been 6-2.  The fans in my vicinity had reasonable expectations of our home nation though and no one was all too disappointed.  Instead of focusing on the inferiority of our side we instead oohed and awed at the talent on the pitch for the Belgium side.  It was a display of the beautiful game that will probably not be beheld in Cleveland again for awhile.  Soccer has come a long way in this country, but it obviously still has miles to go.


-Joe Mastrantoni


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  1. Editor’s Note – Joe roots for and supports the Browns as his #1 football team of course, it’s just that he, like Mike James (said Editor), knows that watching games at the stadium isn’t worth it for a multitude of reasons which most notably begins with the fact that it’s far better to watch the games on television at home, especially if you actually want to “watch” the game. No offense to those who just like to be publicly drunk and shout obscenities both for and against their team, that’s their prerogative, but they also represent the second most significant factor as to why watching the Browns is better on television at home. []
  2. Or anything with an American flag on it, actually. []

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Posted by on May 30 2013. Filed under Featured, Hands Down, Man's Down. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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