Capos in Cowtown

Ca·po - /käpō/ n. from Italian for ‘head’. 1. An important person in a criminal organization, i.e. the Mafia.  2. A soccer cheerleader.

Crew Twitter/Facebook/Reddit/Big Soccer is always a fun, positive place to spend your time online. If you’re wondering what the argument du jour is, it’s capos.

There have been a lot of mixed feelings in Columbus with #CapoDebate2017 and it’s worthwhile to get some backstory. Columbus is a soccer town with a lot of history but while there have always been supporter groups, the Nordecke is a relatively modern feature. It’s actually about the same age as the Sounders (built in 2008). This was the first true supporters section that featured multiple SGs (Supporters Groups) in one section of the field. This was seen as a huge step forward in channeling the energy of the supporters, but also led to pushback from the front office for the profanity and a famous brawl in the section between West Ham Fans and Crew Supporters. The club almost lost their sponsorship deal over it and they are constantly fined by the league when cursing by supporters is picked up by broadcast mics.

Since the start there has always been a more egalitarian streak to the section. Anybody can start a chant. The drums support whatever song is being sung the loudest. Decisions are made by committee. While the support has always been passionate, it also can be rather disorganized. There are periods of time when there’s no singing.

The arrival of Cascadia-style support to the league and American Outlaws to the national scene changed things. Crew fans have always looked down on new teams, being proud of their history in the league and seeing these upstarts claim greater soccer bona fides, but seeing such impressive support is something that has caused a lot of people in Columbus to be jealous. In 2013, things came to a head when the USA played Mexico in what turned out to be the last Dos a Cero. Usually it’s up to each city to run the supporters groups when the USMNT comes to town, but according to multiple reports at the time, the groups in Columbus were told that capos were going to brought in from out of town to run the show. A city with a history of great support without capos would be forced to have capos from Seattle, effectively AO saying, “You don’t know how to support, let us bring in some experienced pros.” Cue (justified) freakout. Despite these concerns from fans in Columbus, many consider that change to be successful. 

The second big event that is used as evidence for a capo system is the MLS Cup Final in 2015. According to multiple people there, the Timbers Army outsung the entirety of the rest of Crew Stadium while using a capo system. I was there for this and agree that the away end seemed louder and more coordinated than the Nordecke.

A week ago, a petition (aka survey) was conducted to get the general mood of the denizens of the Nordecke. Despite the name implying that one should fill it out only if change is wanted, the survey went out including its flawed required question logic, lack of verification of respondents, and use of other disincentivizing questions like asking for SG affiliation (not every Nordeckian has one) and season ticket number (again, not everyone who cares is a season ticket holder). Based on this the SGs and FO have decided to use a capo for the match against Portland (the symmetry is nice).

I think this is a poor decision not only because it ignores Crew culture, but also because of its apparent motivations. While a two week turnaround on moving to a capo system is hasty considering there was the entire off-season to implement it, the decision seems to have been made for one advertised reason and another reason that is only hinted at. The open one is that louder support will positively affect the team. We often hear that article with its logical parallel: we lose because we don’t support well enough or it will provide a decisive edge.

I think it’s a very tough argument (and I’ve heard a lot of people make it) that what happens in the stands has a major impact on what happens on the field. That is the essential frustration of being a sports fan. You devote all this time and emotional energy to something that you cannot really affect. Because of this, it is comforting to think that if you are louder, more coordinated, and more passionate as fans, then it will help the team win. It won’t.

You often have to read between the lines to get the second reason people think a capo is necessary, but it boils down to a popularity contest. There are countless twitter polls, Big Soccer and Reddit threads, and blog posts comparing soccer fanbases. They are all so silly. According to the most recent poll by American Soccer United, Providence City FC have the best fans in the country. Holy clickbait, Batman. Who has even heard of them? But some soccer fans care very deeply about the opinions of fans of teams they hate.

This tweet by the guy behind the petition sums it up for me. Stop trying to win online soccer prom king.

For me the most important thing about soccer IS having that "let's have fun" by watching a sport I love while hanging out with my friends bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, tifo, drums, smoke, and chanting are all very fun and I appreciate and have taken part in the amount of work it takes to pull all that off. I think having a capo has worked out well for Cascadia and the newer clubs around the league and could work well in Columbus. But if you’re going to go against the culture that you've developed, I think you should be very clear about why you’re doing it, have a plan to be successful, and take an honest poll of the people it affects. Since it is happening, I hope it's successful.

Branding

The new Juventus logo has created a bit of a furor across twitter and I thought I'd finally write another blog post about my thoughts.

First off, why does it matter? Club crests elicit more positive and negative emotional response than almost any other type of logo. When I see my team's crest, I'm instantly in a slightly better mood and when I see our rival's, slightly more pissed off. The best and most storied crest are bound up with the history of the club and the town that they represent. That's why fans get them tattooed and players kiss the badge on their shirt. The crest is the club and it's fans.

There are tons of examples of these historical connections in crests. Liverpool wanted to honor the 96 so they put them on their crest. Barcelona display their "more than a club" motto by having their crest dominated by elements that symbolize Catalonia. Roma badge shows Romulus and Remus and the mythical founding of that city. Incorporating history of the club and the city into the badge is a way to forge a connection. It's why all the new brand launches have infographics explaining every element of the logo and what it represents (Crew's new logo launch is a great example of that).

While this trend can be taken to a silly level, the reverse of that was why I disliked the FC Cincinnati badge so much. It lacked any element that spoke to the city and that's because it was designed by a brand-minded, corporate designer, not people who are passionate about soccer. They were concerned with scalability and recognition in black and white, not immediate emotional response.

Juventus's old badge spoke to their history very well. While I don't think it's a stellar logo, its elements have meaning that come from over a hundred years of design growth.

  • Stripes - Juventus has played in black and white stripes of Notts County since 1903
  • Bull  - The symbol of the city of Torino (Toro is Italian for bull)
  • Crown - The kings of Italy hail from Turin
  • Oval - Different countries tend to have similar crest shapes (Germany favors circles and Spain and England favored shields) and Italy's is the oval (Milan, Bologna, Catania, Cagliari, etc)

The new brand removes all those in favor of a minimalist approach. The elements that they retained are a shield (created with the negative space), the stripes (again subtle), and the name. The new symbol for the club is a J, which dominates the new mark.

The reason that this is upsetting is not only because they changed something that the fans have developed a deep connection to, we all have to accept that crests will inevitably change, but because they chose branding over history and connection. This is a logo that represents a corporation not a crest that represents a club. Gone is the bull and crown that represented the city and also removed is the oval that represented its Italian-ness. It is designed to be subtle enough to put on everything without looking too much like a sports logo.

On top of the alienation fans might feel from the logo is the fact that it was launched at an exclusive event in Milan, you know the city that is home to the Juventus's two biggest rivals. The launch hashtag was in English.

The idea of club v company is a very real issue in modern football. I understand the challenge of keeping pace with your rivals and the need to maximize revenue streams but a delicate balance is needed. They are called clubs because people used to belong to them, had a stake in them. That's a very important thing to consider when branding and Juventus missed the mark with this one.

FC Cincinnati v Loisville FC - Player Ratings

I was at the game and I'm still so excited for that win. When I saw the lineup, I feared the worst. Two strikers, and four attacking midfielders against one of the best teams in USL? Even though we had a midweek game, LouCity didn't, and it was a million degrees in Nippert, FC Cincy outworked Louisville.

For those keeping score at home: 

FCC - Dirty River Derby Champions 2016

The Pride - Plastic Cup Champions 2016

1: K - Mitch Hildebrandt - 90' - Held the door - 10

15: RB - McManbun - 45' - Manbun-esque - 10

3: LB - Tyler Polak - 90' - Hardworking - 10

22: CB - Austin Berry - 81' - Captain - 10

4: CB - Harrison Delbridge - 90' - Unbloodied - 10

19: CM - Corben Bone - 90' - Midfield General - 10 A MOTM

23: AM - Wiedeman - 90' - Gamewinner - 10 ⚽

10: AM - Stevenson - 71' - Influential - 10

14: RW - Omar Cummings - 87' - So good, even wide - 10

20: LW - Jimmy Mac - 90' - Top Class, needs a chant - 10

9: CF - Ugo Okoli - 63' - Ugo, Ugo, Ugo Okoli - 10 ⚽

Substitutes

24: RB - Derek Luke - 45' - End to End - 10

18: RW - Omar Mohamed - 27' - Tireless energy - 10

13: CM - Francisco Narbón - 19' - Dependable - 10

12: CB - Evan Lee - 9' - Finished it - 10

7: CF - Luke Spencer - 3' - One of our own - 10

FC Cincinnati v NY Red Bulls II - Player Ratings

This was a tough one because so many players made great individual contributions but the team as a whole played poorly. The first ten minutes of the match were particularly rough with suffocating pressure from NYRB II. There were periods where FCC looked decent in the first half but Baby Bulls were able to force four last ditch tackles in the box. Even with that, Mitch only had to make two soft saves. Second half started much better and ended up with a goal in the 61st minute. Two late goals continue a worrying trend of FCC conceding late. On to Louisville, right?

My own ratings and reason below. Add your own and leave a comment why.

1: K - Mitch Hildebrandt - 90' - For how much Red Bulls dominated on the counter, Mitch really didn't make any stellar saves. On the first goal, he lined up directly in the middle of the goal even though his wall was covering his far post. He got beaten at the near post. For the second goal he was also a shade too slow to go to the far post when the cross came in and was beaten by a nice header. Underwhelming - 3.5

15: RB - McManbun - 90' - A lot of the first half pressure came down his flank and he did his usual runs forward and back. Neither fullback had much luck moving the ball forward from the wings. Samesies - 5

3: LB - Tyler Polak - 90' - A couple dangerous giveaways in the first half, including a foul right in front of the box, and ended up with a (undeserved?) card in the 34th minute. Got his body in front of a dangerous shot in the 80' minute but directly at fault for the second goal getting outjumped. - ugh - 4 - YC

23: CB - Austin Bery - 80' - What's with our centerbacks tacking shots in the face? Manhandled at times in the playing sense as well but was able to keep it together. Played as the more forward of the two centerbacks so it was often up to other defenders to cover. Red Bulls goals happened immediately after he left the pitch. meh - 5

8: CB - Paul Nicholson - 59' - Best FCC player of the first half making charging runs to break Red Bull's press and a great one on one tackle in the 25'. Made a second inch-perfect tackle in the box in the 39'. not bad. - 7 - YC

6_Walker.png

6: CM - Kenney Walker - 14' - Got an early clearance and then a tackle on the ensuing cross. Went off early. - NR

19: CM - Corben Bone - 90' - Wasn't as much of an influence on the game as he usually is. The midfield had a lot of trouble taking the ball forward from the defense. He created a couple key passes and one nice through ball to Cummings but was outpressed. off night - 5

RW: 10 - Eric Stevenson - 71' - Much less effective on the wing in the first half than when he played more centrally in the second half. Was good at tracking back but often didn't make the tackle in that position. out of sorts - 5

20: LW - Jimmy Mac - 90' - Multiple crosses in the first half that were just out of reach of their target. Ended up on the end of a Cummings cross (mistaken shot?) for goal. Good composure. Dancing - 7.5 - ⚽ MOTM

14: CF - Omar Cummings - 90' - Played very well in his deeper lying striker role in the first half, creating multiple chances inlcuding two for Okoli, but at the expense of midfield stability. Was shifted to the wings in the second half where he showed strength and came in to create the cross for the goal. Hook - 7 - A

9: CF - Sean Okoli - 90' - Wasted two chances in the first half and was very close to a goal in the 56'. Combined twice with flicks to Omar in the box in the second, one for the pre-assist. Put his body on the line when challenging the keeper and ended up with a bloody nose. Some good, some bad - 6

Substitutions

4: CB - Harrison Delbridge - 76' - For a player that was supposed to be sick, he came in and made some amazing tackles, including a last-ditch in the 26' and 41'. Got called for the foul incorrectly that led to the first goal. Hard to knock him for the good shift for a bad call - 7

13: CM - Francisco Narbón - 31' - Came on in the second half but I honestly don't remember seeing him do much. Didn't he have a shot that went over? Incognito - 5 - YC

23: RW - Andrew Wiedeman - 19' - Came on in a period in the game when we were stuck between being solid and pushing for a second. - 5.5

12: CB - Evan Lee - 9' - Came on when the ship went down but not directly at fault for either goal. - 5.5

18: RW - Omar Mohamed - 90' - Came on in extra time but the game was already over. Too late - NR

Supporter Culture Response

I’m sure some of you have already seen this article from the New York Times titled The Dark Side of American Soccer Culture. When I read through it the first time I was flabbergasted. How could such a reputable paper publish something so off the mark with so little evidence to back it up?

“For the stunted American male, frustrated with the changing demographics of the country and gripped by the belief that his days on top are coming to an end, there may be no form of pornography more satisfying than watching a bunch of hard-drinking, pub-singing soccer fans with thick brogues beat the hell out of one another.” This is the opening line and it seems so bizarre and at odds with any experience I've had at soccer. Nobody I know is excited about fan violence and most soccer fans I meet tend to be young, white, middle-class, males of a progressive mindset forming groups with planks about inclusion and anti-bigotry.

The article breaks down into two broad sections: middle-class Americans appropriating European working-class culture and some of its violent and racist tendencies and the divide between those same white middle-class suburban soccer supporters and the Latino community.

It seems a shocking logical leap to point to violent and racist acts perpetrated by hooligans (do those really still exist) in the current Euros or a Paris subway and say, "well these groups share some things so they must have these ideologies as well." Let’s be clear, the author saw or heard nothing at the one Sounders game that he went to that he could point to as overt racism, bigotry, or actual violence. He used as secondary evidence Bill Buford's Among the Thugs, a book describing hooliganism in the 80's that I believe has taken a fair amount of artistic liberty when recounting events. 

I do think the part of the culture that fetishizes hooliganism and appropriates working class political violence is silly but, other than the odd fight, this isn't a huge problem that soccer is dealing with. (FYI covering your face with a bandana makes you look like a lost cattlerustler, not a fearsome aggro supporter. Have some self-respect.) Hooliganism in Europe seems to be more associated with people who saw soccer as a vehicle to act out in lawless behavior as opposed to something integral to it. In America it's something that looks cool.

The second part of the article talks about American soccer's issue with Latinos, an area with more real concerns. It's easy but amateur to conflate Latino with Mexican, but that kind of dogwhistle language Trump would use actually has real meaning in international soccer. The USMNT is literally playing Mexico. We want to beat the Mexicans. This is tough one to divide and I feel a bit of pause using the word Mexican due to the pejorative way it is often used. Nationalism tends to toe a fine line with racism and it is something that fans need to be vigilant about but we're nowhere near shoving people off of trains because of their race.

On the club side, for a sport that Don Garber claims has a 30-35% Hispanic fanbase, soccer does have a diversity problem. There tends to be a segregation between supporters groups with at least one per city specifically Hispanic, like La Turbina Amarilla in Columbus. The vast majority of front office staff and leadership in the supporters groups are lacking in diversity. In Cincinnati the issue is partially shown by the rather homogeneous crowd and that the club doesn't have any Spanish language outreach or communiques. While this is a new club and the Spanish-speaking community is smaller in Cincinnati, this seems a key demographic to miss. (Reminder that Hispanic Heritage month starts in September.)

On the whole soccer polices itself well. In Cincinnati racist or sexist chants are shut down, violence hasn't happened, and their are rules against all forms bigotry. I love this. These things are part of the reason why I was originally drawn to soccer. It doesn't have as much of the macho culture that pervades the NFL. It does tend to be a progressive environment with great people. The continuing struggle in this culture from front offices and SGs is with positive things like reaching out to the Spanish-speaking or LGBTQ community or women. That is the direction the sport needs to travel.

 

I would love to hear your thoughts about this, especially if you are a Spanish speaker or if you've had a different experience than mine.