MLS 101: Supporters Groups
This week’s MLS 101 focuses on the supporters groups of MLS and the unique culture surrounding them. One of the cooler aspects of Major League Soccer is the prominence of supporters groups – organizations of fans that work in unison to represent the club by providing an exciting atmosphere at matches through chants and songs, and displays of banners, signs and flags, and promoting the club in the local community. These types of groups originated in European and South American soccer, or more specifically, Italy in the 1960s, whenultras (fanatical supporters) began showing passion for their teams through tifo (choreographed displays of banners, streamers and the occasional flares) and songs and chants.
In Portland, the Timbers Army has proudly represented the Timbers at the second-division level for years. If you’ve seen a game at PGE Park over the past decade, you’ve absolutely noticed them singing and making noise for 90 straight minutes at the north end of the stadium.
As the Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps ascend to MLS next season, the Timbers Army and Vancouver Southsiders join a prestigious collection of supporters groups who go to great lengths to show their enthusiasm. Given the arduousness of the two incoming groups at the lower levels of North American soccer, there is no doubt that they’ll fit right in in MLS.
Section 8 Chicago is an independent supporters association for the Chicago Fire, encompassing a number of affiliate groups, including Barn Burners 1871, Sector Latino, Ultras Red-Side and Mike Ditka Street Crew. S8C got its name based on where its members stood at the club’s original stadium. The group once produced one of the largest fan-produced flags in professional sports history, an 80-yard long by 25-yard high banner reading “Megabandera.” Section 8 also produced this animated bit of tifo for a game against Seattle in September.
Legión 1908 is an international group of fans that supports both Chivas USA and the team’s parent club in Mexico, C.D. Guadalajara. Legión Kalifas, which is the Los Angeles-based faction of the international Legión 1908, boasts 1,500 registered members. They sing and sway behind the goal in Section 122 at home games. Chivas USA is also supported by the Union Ultras, which is the official supporters group of the club, with 150 members who support Chivas USA exclusively (and not the Mexican club). The ‘Union’ in the name pays tribute to the original name of Chivas Guadalajara.
While the Rapids have had supporters groups come and go over their 15-year history, the most recent groups to claim top dog are the Pid Army and the Bulldog Supporters Group. The groups combine to fill the Rapids Supporters Terrace on the north end of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. The Pid Army was formed in 2010 as a result of a merger between the two oldest Rapids supporters groups – Centennial-Firm and the North Corner Council.
Prior to the 2008 season, “The North End” stands immediately behind the goal at Columbus Crew Stadium were demolished and replaced by a permanent concert stage. As a result, the team’s three supporters groups – The Crew Supporters Union, The Hudson Street Hooligans and La Turbina Amarilla – put aside their differences and formed the “Nordecke,” which loosely translated is German for ‘north corner.’ Their new location in the northeast corner of the stadium provides one of the loudest places in the league for corner kicks. The large contingency of the Nordecke that began traveling together to support the team’s away matches is known as NorOnTour.
United have two primary supporters groups, including one of the league’s most prominent, The Screaming Eagles. The Eagles, whose sections are known as “The Nest” and “The Perch” at RFK Stadium, have more than 1,100 active members who are active on the community outreach front as well as in support of the U.S. Men’s National Team. La Barra Brava is another of the club’s supporters groups, founded by Bolivian immigrants in support of original United players Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno. Within MLS, the Barra is known for its drum circles at halftime of home matches. In 2005, suspended United player Christian Gomez actually joined the Barra Brava at an away match in New Jersey, playing a drum during the second half in support of the team.
FC Dallas has both a team-sponsored, official supporters group in FCD Nation (formerly Hoops Nation), as well as independent groups The Inferno and La Raza Latina, which date back to the club’s beginning in 1996. The name Inferno relates to the days when the team was known as the Dallas Burn. The Inferno also provides a dozen local recreational soccer clubs for their fans to play on around the Dallas area.
Named after one of the fiercest military organizations in Texas history, the Texian Army is the primary supporters group of the Dynamo. Located in the south end of Robertson Stadium, the independent group began to organize in 2005 as word leaked that the San Jose Earthquakes would be relocating to Houston. Another prominent group is El Batallón, which occupies the north end of the stadium and caters itself to the club’s bilingual fans.
Kansas City Wizards
The main supporters groups of the Wizards stand in a section known as “The Cauldron.” The name comes from the metal pots used in witchcraft. Within the section are a number of groups, most notably the Hillcrest Syndicate, which serves as the vocal leader of The Cauldron. Other groups, such as Southern Voodoo, American Outlaws and the Yardbirds, help make up the section. The official song of The Cauldron is “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Stop Us Now” by Kansas City-based band Blackpool Lights.
Los Angeles Galaxy
The Galaxy has four main supporters groups: L.A. Riot Squad, Angel City Brigade, Galaxians and Ultimate Fan Organization. All four groups are multicultural groups recognized by the Galaxy organization for the exciting and fun atmosphere they provide at the Home Depot Center. The Galaxians were the original supporters group, founded by members of Sam’s Army (the official supporters group of the U.S. Men’s National Team) in 1996.
New England Revolution
The Revolution’s main supporters group is the Midnight Riders, named in honor of the famous rides of Paul Revere and William Dawes, who announced the departure of the British during the American Revolution. The Midnight Riders, along with the Rev Army, another Revolution supporters group, occupy “The Fort,” the north end of Gillette Stadium.
New York Red Bulls
The Empire Supporters Club is the oldest supporters club in MLS, started by members of the New York City Firm, the supporters group for the New York Centaurs of the old A-League. The ESC sings their songs in both English and Spanish and stands in Section 101, in the middle of the three sections at Red Bull Arena known as the “South Ward.” For most away games and USMNT games, the ESC organizes viewing parties and road trips.
Sons of Ben, named for the iconic Ben Franklin, is the primary supporters group for the Union. The group was actually formed before the announcement of the MLS awarding Philadelphia a franchise, and the Sons of Ben helped drive interest for the new franchise through a season-ticket drive in 2007. The group, which also supports local PDL clubs Reading United and Harrisburg City Islanders, annually puts on the ‘Help Kick Hunger’ philanthropic effort.
Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake has five official supporters groups, most of which sit in the south stands of Rio Tinto Stadium. The Loyalists are the primary group but Rogue Cavaliers Brigade is the only independent, multi-ethnic groups and is known for its tailgates before RSL matches. Section 26 is another group that supports the club, recognized for the ReALE Salt Lake Home Brew competition they put on each year. The Royal Pride is one of the newer supporters groups for Real Salt Lake and it focuses much of its efforts on assisting the local community through charity events. La Barra Real is the fifth of the official supporters groups.
San Jose Earthquakes
The 1906 Ultras are an independent supporters group for the ‘Quakes, formed when the San Jose Ultras, an Earthquakes supporters group, and the 1906 Supporters Club of the California Victory, a defunct USL First Division squad, merged. The 1906 Ultras work in conjunction with other supporters groups Soccer Silicon Valley and The Casbah to provide an intense atmosphere. The Earthquakes organization also sponsors an official supporters group called Club Quake, of which many in the other supporters groups are members.
Emerald City Supporters is the primary supporters group for the Sounders, occupying sections 121-123 at Qwest Field. The group boasts a membership exceeding 2,000 and originated while the team was still in the USL First Division, though the numbers were below 100 in those days. Gorilla FC is another supporters group that focuses on being anti-racist and anti-sexist, as well as helping out in community outreach. In the spring of 2010, the group had the help of three Sounders players as it raised over $20,000 of funds to help Haiti earthquake victims.
The Red Patch Boys is the officially-recognized supporters group of Toronto FC, with their name paying homage to the Red Patch Devils, the nickname of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division that fought in World War II. Founded in 2006, the same time Toronto FC joined MLS, the RPBs have a tradition of showering opposing players with red and white streamers during corner kicks. The U-Sector, which has been around since 2000, when it supported the Toronto Lynx of the USL, is an independent supporters group that leads the entire south stands at BMO Field in chants during games. A rowdier alternative to the RPBs, the U-Sector often brings a large contingent to Toronto FC away matches in Columbus, Chicago and New England.