Even with the whiplash nature that comes with following the Colorado Rapids (so bad on the road, but so good at home), the treatment that the staff gave my boys and me this past Saturday goes a long way into turning this Rapids' supporter into an outright homer.
So pray for me.
My season ticket representative, Cody Clough, emailed me on Tuesday and asked me if I would like to be featured as Season Ticket Member of the Match.
When I became a season ticket member in 2014, my boys were in elementary school and had opportunities to go out on the field before games to participate in races or to hold the flag before the security measures took effect to take those pregame festivities away. So we thought the days of being on the field were done.
We arrived at the lobby of Dick's Sporting Goods Park at around 5:45 and within five minutes, Nyegel arrived (I wish I knew his last name), telling us he would be the one who would show us where we needed to go. I asked him how long he'd been with the Rapids. "About a month. And you're my first Season Ticket member of the match." I respond, "looks like we'll be breaking each other in."
He took us down to the field where we gingerly took steps on the grass. "That's Kentucky Bluegrass," but it felt like a carpet. Even so, my boys were born in Kentucky and that's my adopted home, so we felt even more of a connection to the MLS team we've adopted.
The first one on the pitch was Zac MacMath, to which one of my boys, an aspiring goalkeeper, greeted him with a "Hey, Zac!" "Hey, guys!” he responded. “How are you? Are you supposed to be out here?" I assured him we were. He was satisfied, and got to work. I leaned over to Nyegel and told him, "you know, I've always admired MacMath. He knew Tim Howard was coming, but proceeded to play at a high level and conducted himself with pure class after Howard came." There's no doubt MacMath could start for other clubs and be successful. Even so, I'm glad he's stayed around. His conduct since Howard's arrival has been a great lesson to my boys on how to handle unfair circumstances with great character.
Then Howard came. Then the entire team. From the stands, these players demonstrate an athleticism. Up close, it's obviously magnified. Then it was Nyegel's turn to lean in and say, "these guys look much bigger up close." Then, with a rather pregnant pause, he finished his thought: "... except for Saeid." We had to laugh. As someone whose rather diminutive himself (5'7 1/2"), shorter players fascinate me. Saeid has a motor that drives the midfield, and is a splendid addition to the squad.
Then, two ladies approached us, whom we found out would be interviewing us on the field before the game. Again, super nice, super friendly, and walked us through every question they would ask. Not only that, they took time (well, the time they had) to get to know us and really were thankful for our support of the team.
"So, boys. Who is your favorite player?"
Daniel: "Alan Gordon."
David: "Caleb Calvert" (they share the same number on their respective soccer teams).
They didn't ask my favorite player, but it's Marlon Hairston, former University of Louisville star.
As we talked about this, it's amazing how, when it comes to fandom, these players begin to feel like an extended family. Sometimes functional, sometimes dysfunctional, but family. Like the time when our family ran into Jared Watts at DIA in May of last year. I was wearing my Rapids hat, and one of my boys was wearing a Rapids shirt. Jared saw us and we saw him, and he saw we were fans--and he seemed genuinely grateful for our support as well, not taking that support for granted.
As for the interview, we got through it. I had the pleasure of sharing my two favorite moments as a Rapids fan:
- The Rapids winning leg two of the 2016 Western Conference Semifinals--thank you, Mr. Howard.
- The game where the fans stood at the 24th minute to honor and remember Kortne Ford's mom.
Afterwards, they gave us a very nice black and white picture of Dick's Sporting Goods Park with the signatures of all the Rapids players.
It's here that we see the full picture of supporting a team. Millions support the NFL, college sports, and such. But soccer fans are a special subculture. When soccer fans meet on the street or in a store, an immediate bond develops. It’s as if you realize you're not alone in your support. Your particular team may struggle, but the bond you have as a soccer supporter and (more specifically) a Colorado Rapids supporter, helps heal the whiplash that comes from 'great at home' to 'terrible on the road.'
I've been called the Resident Rapids Positivist. Guilty as charged. I try to find any little thing to hold on to that provides hope for a turnaround when the team is struggling. And I'm aware that diehard Rapids fans risk being taken advantage of because the higher-ups know that we will stay true regardless of how badly the team does.
However, I'm thankful for the Rapids family. For Cody, for Nyegel, for the Burgundy Wave crew, for C38 and all the supporters! I'm thankful for the discussion boards which provide forums to rejoice and tee off on the team all at the same time (at least there's passion - apathy is dangerous for a fanbase).
One last thing: I made a Colorado Rapids convert. His name is Neil and we go way back to when he was a member of a church I pastored in Lexington, Kentucky. He wanted an MLS team and a friend with whom he could support. You cannot accuse him for jumping on the bandwagon since the Rapids were last in the conference. That's what it takes - more supporters coming on board.
Let's get the word out. It's a great family of which to be a part.
Editor’s Note: Matt didn’t tell any of us that he was going to be STH of the match - a pretty cool surprise!