MLS Road Trip Flashback: Part 1 -- The West Coast
Welcome to part 1 of my MLS Road Trip flashback. If you missed the introduction to this series, you can view that here. As always, unless otherwise noted, the photos come courtesy of the excellent Dan Perlea.
For each post, I'll highlight 1-4 of the 14 games we attended that summer in 2012. Please note that some of the quotes may not be 100 percent accurate, as I'm working off of four-year-old notes and memory at some points.
This portion of the trip went as follows:
June 15: Drive from Davis to Huntington Beach, 432 miles
June 16: Chivas USA 0 - Real Salt Lake 3
June 17: LA Galaxy 1 - Portland Timbers 0, drive from Huntington Beach to Davis, 432 miles
June 19: Drive from Davis to Seattle, 744 miles
Total: 6 days, 3 games, 6 goals, 1,608 miles
I want to start this post off with the above photo from that first game. Part of my original apprehension to committing to a career in journalism was my inability to talk to people I don't know well or at all.
When I started planning for the trip, I contacted each of the supporters groups for the games we'd be attending. For the most part, everyone was accommodating and interested in helping me out, but I was still afraid to approach fans and get their thoughts.
That fear ceased a few nights before the first game on the schedule when former Black Army 1850 president Angel Mendoza called me and told me when and where to find his group. Since that moment, Mendoza has been my favorite soccer fan in the United States.
His tailgate was, in my opinion, what soccer should be about. Fans of all ages, races, and religions were both allowed and encouraged to participate. That's Mendoza waving dual American flags -- the gray one in support of the military, the rainbow one in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. The tattooed, ear-gauged, punk rock-looking Mendoza was one of the many supporters I met on the trip who preached soccer support through love, not hate.
It was because of him that I gained the confidence to approach other fans during the team.
Immediately upon entering the tailgate, the well-coiffed figure of Jerry Jimenez appeared. Sporting a patched-up jean jacket and a New Belgium beer, Jimenez quickly took my group of six confused soccer fans aside. "Do you see those craft beers over there," Jimenez said, pointing to a cooler overflowing with more New Belgium brews. "You should drink those instead of the crap that other people brought."
I don't know what was more shocking: that a soccer fan had forked over the cash to get drunk off of quality beers, or that Jimenez was going out of his way to offer them to a few strangers who he might not see again.
The generosity didn't stop there, as Black Army drummer John Sandate met up with us the following day to give each of us Black Army scarves. Mine still hangs on my wall.
Chivas USA and their Colombian-heavy squad ("We've got more fucking Colombians than the Colombian cartel!" one supporter told me) lost that day to what was likely the apex of the Jason Kreis era Real Salt Lake squads.
But we stayed in touch with Mendoza, Jimenez, and Sandate to the point where two of the six of us again stood with Black Army in May of 2014, the last Chivas USA season before they folded. Also attending that 2014 match was Will Robinson, who had pined to meet the family of supporters after editing my pieces on them. (Side note: go read Robinson's latest Entertainment Weekly piece, wehre he reported live from the Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven plagiarism trial.) The Black Army plan to support Los Angeles Football Club, which will likely enter MLS in 2018.
A post-game party at my brother's apartment in Huntington Beach ensued after the match as I furiously typed my story in a corner, while watching my friends play caps. Somehow, the six of us and more Southern Californian locals packed into the two-bedroom unit as we drank probably more than we should have for planning to attend one game the next day and then make the drive back up to Northern California afterwards.
You can read my two pieces on the experience with Black Army here and here. I have to admit that it's somewhat weird looking back on these pieces. I remember feeling proud of what I had accomplished with them, and how well I thought they were written. Reading through them now, I wonder how I could even think that those stories were anywhere near quality work. I left out so many details and in general did a poor job of capturing the sights and the sounds of the trip. I digress, but I would love a second bite at the apple for a trip like this. Someday, I want to cover these groups correctly.
We found a much different tailgate the following day at the Galaxy match. My distinct memory is a Galaxy fan moving his Bud Light closer to his person after I approached him, signaling to me that it wasn't to be shared. I'm loathe to admit that I have, in fact, consumed a Bud Light before. We all do stupid things when we're young.
But that image sticks with me because it so much contrasts the previous one of Jimenez exuberantly sharing his much-more-expensive and much-less-urine-flavored New Belgium.
Our stadium experience was also a 180-degree turn from the previous night. The Galaxy were the only club on the trip to deny all of us press credentials. When asked for reasoning behind the lack of access, the Galaxy never responded.
My argument: anything that our trip provided was a free advertisement for the Galaxy. I should note that despite those frustrations, I have a good relationship with the club now, and several members of their media relations team went above and beyond in helping me secure interviews for my upcoming Sacramento Republic FC book.
So instead of covering the match officially, we bought supporters section tickets and figured that Perlea could bring his camera into the stadium. Sadly, security turned him around at the entrance, forcing him to return to the car with just a GoPro.
As Perlea squeezed through the mobs of the Angel City Brigade, taking photos and videos with his tiny camera, security confronted him. While he was told outside the stadium that a GoPro was fine, inside the stadium, he was given the opposite instruction.
Furious, Perlea took to Twitter to vent. All we wanted were images of the action. Eventually we were met by a Galaxy PR representative, who agreed to credential Perlea. I don't remember much of the game because of those events, but Perlea was excited to photograph David Beckham, who was playing in his final MLS season for the Galaxy. You can read my original story on the experience here.
Since this match, I've often thought about the incident in the grand scheme of soccer coverage in the United States. I still don't know the reason we weren't credentialed for the game, but if I had to guess, it was due to the fact that I was only at the game for a college project. In their eyes, they probably thought that I could have acted in an unprofessional manner or not been familiar with some sort of press etiquette.
Whatever the reasoning, I think the decision was incorrect. Soccer, and MLS in particular, already struggles enough to garner coverage in this country. When someone is offering to write about or photograph your team, you should accept that offer. If even just one person consumes the work from that particular game, and then chooses to buy a single ticket for a single game because of that work, isn't that a net win for the club involved? I'm not in PR, but that seems like the strategy most prudent to me, and one that I've witnessed most often with the successful smaller market clubs in the United States. In particular, Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake, and the Portland Timbers excel at this, and it's reflected in the crowds that pack their stadiums.
Good on that PR rep, Lisa Bregman, for making the decision during the match to allow Perlea to retrieve his camera from the car and snap some quality photos.
Luckily, that was a day game, so we sprinted to the car after the final whistle to speed up to Davis. As I was typing up a story, I don't remember much from the drive, but the one image I do remember is that of Perlea purchasing the largest water bottle available at a gas station, then immediately sprinting out of the car when we reached Davis to evacuate his bladder. When I asked him why he drank so much water, he just shrugged. He would soon learn to not consume as many fluids on the road.
Next stop: Seattle. We'd all seen the amazing Sounders' crowds on TV. Would they live up in person?
Before the match, we stopped at Golazo headquarters downtown. Now out of business, Golazo was honestly my favorite energy drink in college. I mean, it was the only one I drank, but still. On the advice of one of their employees, Jorge Perea, we began concocting "Golazoritas" -- tequila mixed with Golazo -- to pregame nights out on the town later on the trip.
Golazo's signature mango-limon flavor was the only thing I ever drank when I needed a pick-me-up on those endless drives. Back then, the company had big plans to enter the soccer market, expanding all throughout the West Coast. For one reason or another, however, they closed up shop in late 2015, much to the disappointment of my friends and I. We still sport the electric green shirts they gave us for making the trip up.
Golazo headquarters featured an indoor soccer arena set in front of a massive concrete wall, used as a backdrop for projecting a massive screen during soccer watch parties. For some reason, a highlight video of us playing soccer at their HQ still exists on the Internet. Don't watch it. The company generously stocked up my 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid with about eight cases of their drinks to fuel us during the trip. It was a classy move from a classy organization that I'm sorry isn't around anymore.
After the little bit of footy we played, and some Pike Place fish throwing of course, we headed closer to the stadium for pre-game action. The website's other writer, Jake Coburn, partied with the Emerald City Supporters, while I met up at Fado Irish Pub to hang out with Gorilla FC.
One of the lesser known supporters groups in the country, Gorilla FC piqued my interested -- why was there a dude dressed up in a gorilla suit supporting the Sounders? Pictured below: said gorilla and my brother, Matt.
The short of it: Gorilla FC originally started as a men's soccer team spelled "Guerrilla FC" (but allegedly pronounced in a way that rhymes with "tortilla") as sort of a counterculture soccer supporter movement. And then one day someone showed up in a gorilla suit as a play on words. They named the gorilla "Civ," after the lead singer of New York hardcore punk band Gorilla Biscuits.
Gorilla FC, like Black Army, identifies as one of the many anti-fascism "antifa" groups around the country. Clearly lubricated quite well, the gorilla grabbed my ass in the stadium, causing me to throw my pen and notebook at least 20 feet in the air.
Here's Coburn's stories on hitting up downtown Seattle before the match and on his experiences with the Emerald City Supporters. I wrote about the aforementioned Golazo HQ visit as well as Gorilla FC. Four stories from one city was a great start for the website, but sadly inexperience and laziness soon overcame most future storytelling.
Patrick Ianni's scissor kickI recall that Sounders game as mostly a drab affair other than and the ensuing roar of the 46,932 in attendance. That goal replayed on loop later that night while the bartenders at Garagebilliards served us Golazoritas. We had been let into the bar that consisted of endless bowling alleys and pool tables through the VIP entrance as one of the owners of Golazo, Alex Rosenast, told us to head there after the game. Drinks were on Rosenast, the original manager for Pearl Jam.
But we had an early night, after all, the three of us continuing on the trip had to begin the roughly 2,000 mile drive to Milwaukee the following day -- a drive that I believe caused the inevitable burnout that made the final product of our work somewhat disappointing.