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The 12th Man

An amazing crowd turns out to make noise at DSGP for the Western Conference final. Could it have done more?

MLS: Western Conference Championship-Seattle Sounders at Colorado Rapids Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The crowd at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, like the fans of most sports in most cities, waxes and wanes with the success or failure of the team. Even the mightiest teams will sometimes have below average crowds: check the noise levels, or lack thereof, at a Lakers game, or at Chelsea. In a nascent sport like soccer in America, some crowds have been embarrassingly small and silent, such as Dallas or New England in a bad year, while others, particularly MLS 2.0 and 3.0 expansion teams like Seattle and Orlando, sell out big arenas and make a lot of noise.

The Colorado Rapids fans were fantastic on this past Sunday for our semi-final matchup against the Sounders. They were the best I’ve ever seen in Commerce City. Just an absolute din of epic proportions. I was in Seattle, a crowd, literally, twice as big, and there were many times when Rapids fans were almost as loud as Seattle. We were proud.

Every seat was taken (as it should be) and the fans made a tremendous racket. Check out this great video from Abbie Mood. Make sure to turn the sound up.

The stands were loud. The crowd was into it. It was phenomenal.

Until, well, it wasn’t. From the 75th minute on, nobody really brought the noise. Not even C38.* Half of the West side sat on their butts through the end of the game: I was the only person in my section on my feet. Pablo had to wave his arms to pump up the crowd late on. And at the end of the game, there were too many people headed for the parking lot, probably rushing home to catch the Broncos game.

Not enough fans stuck around to salute the club. Our club: a bunch of guys, some of whom make a middle class wage, and LITERALLY bleed for the badge on the front of the shirt. After a full season of battle, they were greeted by many, but not enough, hardcore fans, thanking them for a year’s worth of thrilling games and impressive wins. Yeah, we were heartbroken and we were cold, but more of us should have stayed, too.

I’m not mad at our fans, just a little sad. Sports culture, and American culture, are a little standoffish, a little dispassionate. On the bus home with Stout Street Bulldog SG, I heard a couple people essentially say, ‘Hey, at least the Broncos are on later.’

The Rapids are still part of the overall ‘Sports culture’ of America; where you are a fan of, but not a part of, the club. Rapids fans are still, 21 years into the clubs history, existing culturally as ‘fans’, but not ‘supporters’. A fan cheers; a supporter sings. A fan sits and stands; a supporter stands. A fan switches to the other local teams; the Nuggets, the Broncos, DU hockey; when the seasons change or the team is inept enough; a supporter starts counting the days until the team reports to camp in February.

This is normal and not horrible. Look at any MLS 1.0 team and notice that they, too, still have a fan base that is a ‘work in progress.’ Teams like DC United and the New England Revolution are hamstrung by awful, decrepit facilities that suppress crowd energy and overall passion for soccer. Teams like the Rapids, Chicago Fire, and FC Dallas battle suburban stadiums that somewhat dictate who their supporters are and how likely they are to come out in weekday traffic. And Seattle, for whatever you think of their wonderful atmosphere, still play football on plastic grass and can get bumped from their facility on a given day by hand-egg throwball.

The Rapids will need a few more years of outreach to downtown millenials, a few years of winning football, and strong organizational support of Centennial 38, Stout Street Bulldog, and any additional supporters groups that may spring up, in order to get there. It will be a project that will take decades. I will be there for the movement.

You should be too. Be a part of the noise next year. Stand more. Scream more. Make up a cheer with the people in your section. Grow the game by making it a unique sporting event in Colorado, and not just ‘a soccer game’. Supporter culture is about turning soccer into an event unlike any other in the sports landscape here. We were a 12th man on that field, and I was super-damn proud, until we weren’t, and I wasn’t. But I know that we’ll have other chances. Let’s all take those chances together.

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* C38 are the beating heart of DSGP. And that heart was pretty broken by that Jordan Morris goal. I could see from my seats the C38 faithful, mouths agape, faces strained, watching our offense fruitlessly run about from minute 57 on. They cheered, but not loudly, because it was hard to find something to cheer for. It was understandable, but it also wasn’t ideal. I can hardly be critical, because they were so fantastic all game and all season. But everybody, C38 included, kind of fell apart after Morris kicked us in the nuts.