In the interest of full disclosure, let me preface this conversation with a fact about myself: I first learned about soccer through my cousin, Jay. He came to visit us when I lived in Rexford, New York (a suburb of Albany) and he took our soccer ball and did something with it that he called a "moon ball" which was in essence him booting the ball as high as he could. It wasn't anything fancy. It wasn't juggling tricks. But my brothers and I were absolutely mystified by this magic where my cousin could take the ball and make it disappear into the sun while we ran around the lawn trying to catch it before it landed.
I had a lot to learn about the basic concepts of the game of soccer, but I remember this moment being where I grasped a key: it involved a ball, and kicking a ball.
Jay is now grown up, I'd like to think I did too though he did so way before I did. He has a wonderful family and lives in Denver. He's the dad to two great kids. They're all soccer fans, and they are all fans of the Rapids and Arsenal.
Now, I had heard a lot being made about the families that support the Rapids. Who are they? How do they fit in to the identity of the club? And it occurred to me that I, as what I would call a "hardcore supporter" (I'm a member of C38, I take time out of my life to write about the team for free and pay hundreds of dollars to cross the country just to see a single game every year if I'm lucky), had a lot of assumptions about the families who populated the Rapids games. I saw them all over the stadium, but it never crossed my mind to talk with them about what being a part of the club meant to them. I heard it all the time from my friends in C38, but never from anyone in one of the hundreds of families in the seats.
Thus, I started closest to home. I started with Jay and his two kids. We'll call them C1 and C2. C1 being the older brother and C2 being the younger though they aren't too far apart in age. Also an added bonus: C1 and C2 both play in the Rapids soccer system.
My first question was just to start a baseline by asking when they first got involved with the sport of soccer in general.
C1: I would say since I was three years old.
C2: I would probably say the same thing. We've been involved with it a while so I'd probably say three too.
Jay: Before we moved to Pennsylvania, so it was in Colorado I had just turned 10 and I started playing organized soccer. 7,8,9 I remember before organized soccer I was playing street games, pickup games. Back them it was football, baseball and soccer-what I would call a more "tackling soccer."
Out East it was much more organized, much more serious. They had a select team and travel teams, and they had a pro club called the Pennsylvania Stoners back then. The game was much more in front of me. I could go to games.
And what was it like now?
C1: It wasn't a big deal back when I was three but now it is.
C2: We are more involved in it. We started earlier. So we do more at 10 right now.
Jay, why did this sport stick with you?
Jason: Being out East I got to be around the NASL teams. There was nothing you could call a "fan base" back then, but I got to be one of the fans. Neither me nor my parents knew what the system was, but I was lucky enough that I got picked for these things and I got to travel and play in tournaments and for college I had connections from a coach that got me hooked up with Indiana. I didn't play much but I got some experience at that high level. It was what I was best at.
I had English Premier League soccer highlight shows on Sunday Nights, so I got to watch that. They would have highlights of Arsenal and some other teams.
All my friends were soccer players, but they had nothing like the access my kids have today.
C2: (Today) We got to meet the pros like Deshorn Brown and all of them and it was a really good experience.
Jay: There were 50-60 people there. That's the kind of opportunity is pretty cool.
C1: (Yesterday) Every weekend we watch Premier League. Sometimes we will wake up at 5AM or 6Am to watch Arsenal. My dad has gotten me into the Premier League.
So you're all Arsenal fans?
What's the difference between being a fan of Arsenal and being a fan of the Rapids? Do you feel differently?
C1: Of course (I feel closer to the Rapids) we go to Rapids games every weekend now.
C2: We are more involved with the Rapids. We have walked out on the field with them.
C1: I can support the Rapids better here, of course, because it's in Colorado, but for Arsenal I think I feel the same way as I do about the Rapids. I try my best to watch the matches every single weekend.
Have you been to an Arsenal game before?
C1: We saw an Arsenal game over winter break (at the Emirates).
What was the difference between a game at the Emirates and a game at DSG Park?
C2: in London there's way more passing and moving the ball around. It's a higher level. The fans are more into it.
C1: The fans show more passion for the team. I mean, the whole stadium is chanting when you're with Arsenal and in Colorado it's that one group that always chants. But this just felt more alive through the entire stadium.
Jay: The word I would use is "tribal". When you go to an Arsenal game, and you go to North London, and you're getting off the train, "Arsenal Station" is the stop. You've got a road separating the Arsenal fans and the Spurs fans and that doesn't just go back 100 plus years... it goes even before that. IF anyone neighborhood in London was playing any other... It's alive.
We went to Portland a little while ago and that was like a mini version of the feeling you get at the Emirates. Seattle yeah (it's bigger), but Portland is pretty damn amazing.
I do feel that with the Rapids I want that, but I'm not kidding myself. I think if we stuck C38 with the rest of the fans, like they did a couple games ago, (it would make) the whole stadium feel more alive.
Do you LIKE the Crazies in C38?
C1: I love it. I love all the chanting. I was blown away by the chanting and cheering in the Emirates and I wish I could be involved in that when I get older.
Have you thought about going down there just to see what it's like?
Jay: We've thought about it, for sure. But from an age standpoint (I don't know if we're ready yet). You know, Arsenal has their traditions. We're all soccer fans, so we have this common thread, and we all want to find a way for the kids to learn some of the chants. These chants in England are hilarious! And it's not like "F bomb" this and that. There's a level of chanting that I think the whole stadium has got to do and I think there's got to be some of that tradition from C38 that can be transferred to the kids that's good for the kids to learn.
What games do you most look forward to when the schedule comes out?
C1: The Real Salt Lake games. They're big rivals with the Rapids and C38 gets crazy for it. Sometimes we all try to get into it. The energy at the stadium when we play Salt Lake is amazing.
Jay: And there's a Cup on the line. I like the whole Western Conference. But any Eastern team with the exception of maybe Sporting KC and the Red Bulls doesn't really excite me. Not really excited for Chivas USA either.
So then, who are the Rapids biggest rivals?
C1: Of course, Real Salt Lake. Maybe a little Sporting KC.
Jay: Portland. For sure. Anyone in the West is a potential rival, really.
C1: Or Seattle.
Jay: Dallas, absolutely. With the coach leaving...
Best game you've been to?
Jay: Eastern Conference Final 2010. With Casey, Pablo... we were right on the side of the field and when they won trophy the players came around and did a lap. Cold Cold night too.
C1: I wasn't as in to soccer as I am now, back in 2010 but I was still really happy for the Rapids, I could see the players and hear them talking. When they were going around with the trophy it was just amazing. Sporting KC in the Quarter Finals in 2011. Even though we lost there was still this energy in the stadium.
What's the atmosphere like in Colorado as compared to other places? What are we like as fans?
Jay: When we were in Portland, there was a feeling of intimidation in the environment that the Timbers Army Creates. It's intimidating because you're not part of it. It feels so different. They've got something where you're there and you know it's special. And it makes you uncomfortable when you go there as a fan of another team.
I wouldn't say that a Portland Timber fan or a Seattle fan feels uncomfortable when they come to our stadium. We're friendly fans and (DSG is) known for being a great park where folks can go. It's a great experience (no matter who you support). You guys are very welcoming.
Now, I don't know if that's a good thing, or if C38 likes that. But there is something to be said that we're very friendly happy people (in Colorado). If you're going to a game in Colorado, I don't think it's uncomfortable if you're a fan of another team. Unless you're over by the C38 group. In Portland, the entire stadium is the Timbers Army. You have to go sit in a small corner as a Rapids fan. That's also an awesome thing to be a part of.
C1: I did feel a little nervous because when dad and me were sitting right in the middle of a bunch of Timbers fans. But it wasn't bad because we didn't have a cocky attitude. And we weren't Seattle fans.
So what are Colorado Rapids fans like?
Jay: It's about knowledge. When you respect the game and you know about the game, dumb stuff doesn't happen. I think Denver Colorado is not just a top 20 area for living but I think it's one of the best sports markets in the country for its size. Rockies, Broncos, Nuggets, Hockey... big time knowledge. But we need more links between C38 and the families, things we can share between each other that's good for both of us. There is a connection. I'm there with 500 other soccer families that have kids in the Rapids system.
Now, you guys are both youth players at different levels in the Colorado Rapids youth soccer system, what's that experience like and how close do you feel to the club?
C1: The highest rank where I am is the DA (Developmental Academy), and I'm not in the DA, and if I were I'd definitely feel like I was a Rapids player. But I'm somewhere in the middle, though I do feel like a part of the Rapids family.
C2: I feel like a part of a team. I practice by the stadium everyday and I see a lot of the players so I see a lot of it and I do feel like a part of the club, not like to a crazy degree but... Our goalkeeper is coached by the pro goalkeeper trainer. That helps you know you're part of the Rapids.
And as a parent, Jay, how do the Rapids create that community and support the parents in that system?
Jay: There's a very large Rapids "club" that has all kinds of teams and levels for different interests and that's great because that means they are part of the community. But C1 isn't training at the stadium, but he's still getting a competitive level of soccer and moving up through the Rapids levels. So he's working hard to move up.
C2 practices (there at the stadium) every day. As a parent I am going there every day. I run into coaches that I know are coaching the pro team. I'm proud of both my boys for what they do. But the Rapids have a system. If you're a rec player, you feel good that you get to play for the Rapids, but if you're an Academy player, you have a feeling of being deeper into the organization.
I was talking to another father today, having lunch sitting next to Mark Burch and Kamani Hill talking about the game last night. Just very relaxed. They were very open. We walk over and there's Drew Moor, just talking about people we know. And then on the field they are playing with guys like Shane O'Neill. And there are hundreds if not thousands of fans there. When can you do that with the Broncos? That's important. It's so much more intimate.
The Rapids keep us very plugged in as parents and as families. If you have kids that play for the Rapids system you get a kind of access and a perspective that you just don't get for any other sports club.