The California Clasico and the "P-Word": My Summer of Soccer Winds Down in the Bay
STANFORD -- What an amazing summer of soccer it's been. Yes, I know that summer only officially started one week ago, but once temperatures exceed triple digits, everyone starts calling it summer. And I don't disagree with that.
Somehow, I made it. 12 live games in 25 days. Some numbers from my gauntlet of soccer:
3: The amount of states I saw games in -- California, Nevada, and Washington.
5: The number of different competitions I witnessed live -- U.S. Open Cup, United Soccer League, Copa America, Premier Development League, Major League Soccer.
7: The amount of different venues I watched games in -- Bonney Field, Levi's Stadium, Greater Nevada Field, CenturyLink Field, Starfire Sports Complex, Burlingame High School, and Stanford Stadium.
37: The number of goals scored in the 12 games I attended. Highest scoring: Chile 7 - Mexico 0. Lowest scoring: Sacramento Republic FC 1 - Real Monarchs SLC 0. Average goals: 3.08.
2,749.2: Miles driven according to Google Maps. Shortest drive: 36.8 miles round trip from Davis to Bonney Field. Longest drive: 1,498 miles round trip from Davis to CenturyLink Field. Average miles per day: 110.
Before we get into the California Clasico, I want to first address the PDL game I went to the night before: the Bay Area derby of Burlingame Dragons FC vs. San Francisco City FC.
I've always been an advocate of supporting your local soccer club, but Friday's derby was my first experience at an actual PDL match. I've covered PDL teams (and NPSL, USASA, and so on) before in the U.S. Open Cup, but never before in a league match.
The level of play was hit or miss, but that can be said of most soccer games in this country. For every bad pass, there was Burlingame completing 10 or 15 passes in a row en route to a shot. For ever botched clearance, there was a skillful one v one opportunity for San Francisco's wingers.
The speed of play was quick, and the crowd didn't disappoint with 1,707 in attendance. Before the match, I met up with Burlingame Dragons president, and former SF City FC general manager, Jordan Gardner to talk about the success of his club. You can read my story here.
Behind Gardner, Burlingame have drawn some of the best crowds in the PDL, sporting an average 2,523 through four home games, including a season-opening number of 4,000. The match was a close affair, concluding with a 2-1 home victory for the Dragons, moving them into second place in the PDL Western Conference with a 5-4-1 record.
A few thoughts from the match:
Jamael Cox was named man-of-the-match for his one goal, one assist performance, as he tallied his fifth league goal this year from the spot. In addition to getting on the score sheet, Cox was dangerous all night, showing speed and skill from wide positions. This was my second time seeing Cox play -- the other came when I witnessed the Dragons lose 3-1 to Sacramento Gold FC in the first round of the Open Cup. I have no idea if Cox can do it at a higher level or a faster pace, but to me, he seems like the exact type of player that slips through the scouting network in our country. He reminded me of Mike Grella, and you'll never believe this, but the 24-year-old former Tampa Bay Rowdie didn't play college soccer at a major program. If I were a USL team, I'd be looking at Cox right now.
There was actually a good amount of media at the game. I was sitting with my family, but spotted and spoke to Tommy Hodul, Robert Jonas, Colin Etnire, and Sean Steffan. Although, if we're being honest, Steffan was probably there just to shout ridiculous things at mascots. Regardless, it's great to see soccer at any level getting the coverage it deserves. You can read Jonas' recap of the match here and Etnire's here.
As always, apologies for the quality of my photography (iPhones rule) but if you look closely on the above photo, you'll see that SF City FC captain Danny Kirkland followed Michael Bradley's lead and sported a rainbow armband for the match. In the wake of Orlando, it's the little things like this that give me faith in individual's love for one another. It was also Pride Weekend in San Francisco, and City supporters came out Sunday to support both their club and human rights. As always, love wins.
That being said, one area where love didn't win was at the California Clasico the following night. As per usual, the match was intense on the field, ending with a late Gooney-inspired goal from Chad Barrett. Not only was the soccer entertaining, but Quincy Amarikwa and Jelle Van Damme engaged in what seemed like a wrestling match, leading my dad to comment that Van Damme was playing rugby.
Unfortunately, some off-the-field antics ruined the excellent spectacle, in my opinion. While we were treated to excellent tifo from both sides of the stadium, we were also forced to listen to the dreaded "p-word" chant from the fans on the side of the stadium shown above.
That chant started fairly quietly, but more and more of the stadium joined in on each ensuing goal kick, until the noise was overwhelming. Not only was that disappointing to hear, but it seemed especially tone deaf given the aforementioned Orlando and Pride Week. It also overshadowed the amazing military tributes both at halftime of the match, and during the walk-out when the San Jose Ultras displayed the banner at the top of this post.
"I don't think there's any place for that in the game of soccer," Earthquakes midfielder Shea Salinas told reporters after the game. "It's not something as players we condone or approve of. I was not very proud to see that happen at one of our home games."
For every bit that Salinas isn't proud to hear that, I'm proud of Salinas for speaking up. Too many players, fans, and team executives stand idly by while others use hate speech in public areas with seemingly no repercussions.
Thankfully, the Earthquakes quickly followed suit, releasing the following statement: "We are extremely disappointed and shocked at the behavior of a portion of our fan base during our match tonight at Stanford Stadium. As an organization, we do not tolerate or condone this type of speech at our matches. It violates the Earthquakes and Major League Soccer's Fan Code of Conduct and any fan found in violation of this code is subject to expulsion and further punishment.
"We pride ourselves on creating an inclusive and family-friendly environment for all fans. We will take an immediate leadership role in combating this type of behavior for the rest of the season and beyond."
As an organization, hopefully they'll make similar strides like Sacramento Republic FC has recently done. Among others, Republic VP of Communications Erika Bjork has actually confronted "p-word" offenders in person to educate them on the cause.
But whether it's due to a lack of education, or genuine malice, this chant has no place in our game. The beautiful game. The game of inclusion.
I leave you with the traveling Galaxy fans.