Twenty years ago this month I started posting MetroStars (one of the original MLS clubs) news and tidbits to my personal website. From this modest beginning grew BigSoccer, which thru the late 90s and much of the 00s was the largest community of American soccer fans on the web. The time has finally came for me to say goodbye and move on to new endeavours.
Our little BigSoccer community has played a small but meaningful part in the success of soccer in the United States. On our site supporters organized for teams not yet franchised and stadiums not yet built. Players, coaches, and league officials connected directly (publicly and secretly) with their fans. People even got married.
The 2002 World Cup in Japan/Korea stands out as watershed moment for many American soccer fans, including myself. BigSoccer has received a lot of touching tributes this week, but none moved me as much as this story about that 2002 World Cup run and our coach, Bruce Arena:
People sometimes refer to the USA/Mexico match in Columbus on Feb 28, 2001 as "The Woodstock of American Soccer". Unlike today, with SuperCapos flying in from Seattle to lead [the American Outlaw's] version of the Hitlerjugend via a loudspeaker system while millions watch on TV, it was a spontaneous assemblage of fans from all over the US who sold out the stadium as individuals, one ticket at a time.
The one common thread running through the unexpected crowds filling Columbus bars and the 18 hour pregame parking lot was your BigSoccer alias. It was like nobody had an actual name. People just introduced themselves as "(screen name)" and guys would smile and say "great to finally meet you".
Sadly the post game threads disappeared long ago in one of the many crashes over the following 18 months as BS was repeatedly overwhelmed by a crush of users no one could have anticipated, but there were literally hundreds and hundreds of posts where people listed dozens and dozens of screen names they had met in CBus.
In a very real sense it was the dawn of a feeling of community in American soccer, the idea that the days when being a soccer fan made you the weirdo at the party were coming to a close. To borrow a phrase, it was the end of the beginning.
Strangely – or maybe not – it was Bruce Arena who provided the punctuation.
When the US team arrived at their hotel in South Korea for the World Cup a year later, there was some snafu with the reservations or something so while the USSF travel gerbils huddled with the management and SK/J officials, il Bruce sat down at one of those pre-laptop-and-wifi era lobby computers and got on the Internet.
Several observers walked by and noted that the place he logged into, after 14 hours in airports, airplanes and buses, was BigSoccer.
I love soccer. My grandpa and I argued about Chinaglia as Cosmos season ticket holders. My brother and I cheer for Flamengo even when they're breaking our hearts. The MetroStars/Red Bulls alienated me into the arms of NYCFC. The World Cup takes over my life every four years with blessings (and egg sandwiches) from the missus. And for some unknown reason I support Watford.
Most importantly, my kids and their kids will get to enjoy top flight domestic competition from here on out.
It's been a great 20 years to be a soccer fan in America.
PS: That quote above is courtesy of Bill Archer and you must read his regular teardowns of FIFA, which he has been publishing for nearly as many years as this corruption investigation was secretly going down.