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It's no secret that I'm a Major League Soccer hater. I wish I weren't, but I am. This country is so full of soccer-bashers that anyone who possesses any love for the beautiful game should be an out-and-out booster of the sport at all levels (never mind that the play is subpar; it's soccer, dammit, so go watch the game, little Jimmy, while your mother and I have a minute together in her Astro Van), but the truth is, I can't bring myself to give a shit.
Every time I've suffered through watching an MLS game in person, I've immediately gone home and turned on Fox Sports World to catch some well-played footie from across the pond. And as for watching MLS on television, forget it. That's like going to Whole Foods for some fancy fromage, carefully pondering all the well-crafted, extra-stinky ones, then settling on Cheez Whiz from the 7-Eleven across the street. As any football fanatic knows, the MLS's level of play is inferior to that of any of the European leagues. All the true talent in American soccer goes to Europe to play -- and please do not present Landon Donovan as an exception to this rule, because not only does he blow, but he has a forehead the size of a billboard.
But this season, MLS promises, this is the season that fans like me are supposed to come around. Why? A slew of reasons. For one, the L.A. Galaxy (owned by Denver googleplex-anaire Phil Anschutz) signed David Beckham, and he and his wife, Upwardly Mobile Spice, are coming to America in July to give the league a little glitz and glamour, as well as some of Beckham's more sophisticated play. MLS has also partnered with the German professional soccer league, the Bundesliga, and the Krauts are going to help us with everything from lighting to filming the games better. In return, we just have to promise not to bomb them.
There's even reason to be excited about MLS here in Colorado. The Rapids have partnered with Arsenal, one of the best soccer teams in the world, and Stan Kroenke -- a man who owns the Pepsi Center, the Nuggets, the Avalanche, the Rapids, a unicorn and two of your children -- recently purchased a 10 percent share of that club. He also helped build the incredible new Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, the mammoth soccer-specific stadium surrounded by immaculate playing fields for the public that opened on April 7. If there's one thing that Kroenke and Anschutz are not, it's stupid. Clearly, they're banking on this whole soccer thing working to their advantage.
It certainly looked like they were on to something last weekend. Despite below-freezing temperatures, thousands of fans flocked to the Dick to take in the Rapids' home opener. I was one of them, having accepted an invitation from the Centennial Firm -- a rabid Rapids supporter group pulled together from such legendary fans as the River Ratz -- to toss aside my MLS hatred and join them in section 114. Drums, horns, scarves, face paint, a guy with a skeleton mask and a trumpet -- I was shocked to see how into it they all were. But I was soon swept up by their passion, and the next thing I knew, I was jumping up and down with them, chanting the ubiquitous soccer ole-ole chant and feeling like a right old bloke from the bleachers of some match in the East End.
And then the game started. Although my illusion was quickly shattered, that didn't matter to the C-Firm. These die-hards were on their feet the entire time, cheering on the Rapids, jeering on D.C. United. When the home team scored, they produced a giant banner that covered the entire section, and we percolated beneath it like boiling water, bringing it to rippling life. And while the C-Firm's signature anthem is pretty tame -- to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In," they sing "We are the Firm, we are the Firm, we are the Centennial Firm, we will stand and cheer for the Rapids, we are the Centennial Firm!" -- the group has a good slogan in "Taking a FIRM stand against apathy." And in honor of the Rapids' new home, they have a great cheer: "Give me a D. Give me an I. Give me a C. Give me a K. Give me an S. What does that spell? Dicks-Dicks-Dicks!" Just try to sit in section 114 and not smile when they do that one. Fortunately, these fans care more for the whole experience than for the quality of the soccer being played.
By halftime, the Rapids were up 2-0 (they eventually won 2-1), and I was freezing. The snot pouring out of my nose had crystallized into a greenish mustache, signaling that it was time to go. As I headed out, I realized that while this may not be the best soccer in the world -- and it isn't -- it's a hell of a lot more fun when experienced with crazy fans like those in the Firm. And as I heard the stadium announcer introduce an Arsenal official who'd be presenting the Rapids with a commemorative sculpture of a cannon -- Arsenal's insignia -- to celebrate their partnership, I couldn't help but feel positive about the future of MLS.
But I'd feel a lot more positive if Arsenal would just give us Thierry Henri instead.