I was lucky enough to be able to go solely as a fan to Tuesday’s USA vs. Honduras match in Boca Raton, FL. No press box, no laptop, no live tweeting the match. Just an MB90 Jersey, my AO scarf, and a well-worn American flag bandanna. In keeping with that, I wanted to write a bit on the fan experience of the match and it’s reflection on the state of soccer in South Florida.
As you know, the match ended in a 1-1 draw, with Honduras equalizing late by way of a Maynor Figueroa header. Jermaine Jones played 90 minutes at center back, and Jozy Altidore scored a much-needed goal. That’s not going to be my focus here though. If you’re interested in a recap, check out some good ones here and here.
I aim to look at the fan experience. By and large, it was very positive. The announced attendance was 14,805, which is not bad at all for a meaningless Tuesday night friendly. It was perhaps not the best visual in the 30,000-seat FAU stadium, but I’m not sure a stadium that size would be filled in any U.S. city for this match.
Of the 14,000 that were in attendance, it stuck out that they were almost all fairly serious fans. Almost everyone I saw was in some sort of actual jersey, and many had flags, scarves, and face paint. Not only that, but almost everyone was on their feet during scoring chances. The entire lower bowl, not just the American Outlaws, was standing each time the U.S. had an opportunity in front of goal.
Further, by my estimate, the fans were about 80% USA supporters. That’s incredible, given the large Honduran population in South Florida. I can remember going to a USA vs. Honduras World Cup qualifier in Washington D.C. about a decade ago, and realizing that Honduras supporters outnumbered USA fans nearly 2 to 1. That was a World Cup qualifier. This was a post-World Cup friendly. A lot has changed for the USMNT in 10 years.
On the downside, there were some serious issues with parking and the venue. After my three-hour drive from Orlando, I waited in traffic on campus from 6:15 to 7:50 p.m. to park . Of course, at that point they still had the audacity to charge me $20 for the spot. Not cool FAU/U.S. Soccer. I finally made it to the stadium just after kickoff.
Of course, U.S. soccer is in no danger of losing me as a fan. However, they need to be courting the casual fan. If I were your average South Florida man who hasn’t been to a soccer game in years, and I attended Tuesday night, I would be in no hurry to ever attend another soccer match again. That’s bad news.
People love football and baseball in America as much for the gameday experience as for the on field product. U.S. soccer should spend the extra money and put in the thought to promote responsible tailgating, after-parties, and make parking and travel as convenient for the fans as possible.
All that said, I was very impressed with the turnout and the support of the fans at the match. And it wasn’t just the American Outlaws either. Just 10 years ago, they would have been lucky to get 8,000 people in that stadium, and 4,000 of them would have been Honduran. To say ‘Soccer has arrived’ is cliche, but there can be no doubt that the game has grown a huge amount in a very short period of time here in the USA.