Stream of Consciousness: FC Dallas at Sporting Kansas City

The encyclopedia says Stream of Consciousness is “a narrative mode that seeks to portray an individual's point of view by giving the written equivalent of the character's thought processes.” In other words, DJ watches games, and writes down whatever comes to mind. Sometimes prescient, sometimes odd, almost always entertaining.

In the W.C. Fields classic The International House, Professor Quail, intending to fly to Kansas City, somehow ends up in China. When someone suggests to him that he may be lost, he utters the immortal line:

“Kansas City is lost, I am here!”

Driving to away games is the only time there is an advantage to living in Oklahoma City while supporting for FC Dallas. Cutting 200 miles off the drive is nice. Still, despite the three hour head start, I somehow managed to be the next-to-last of our traveling group of Inferno members to arrive at Livestrong Sporting Park. The last group to arrive would have beaten me there, but for some reason their GPS tried to send them to Arrowhead Stadium. One of the satellites clearly hasn’t had a software update since 2007.

As always, the folks from the Kansas City supporters group, The Cauldron, were welcoming and gracious. They invited us to their tailgate party, swapped friendly insults with us, shared their beer, and generally made us feel at home. This is not a universal phenomenon in the world of soccer, of course. In most countries, opposing supporter groups are more likely to trade blows than beer.

Our soccer culture has developed differently. In the United States, to be a soccer fan is to be a lonely island in a sea of indifference. We grew up desperately searching for soccer (if I may mix my metaphors a bit) like a thirsty man seeking water. We are not picky about which oasis we find.

So, when we find other people who share our obsession, our first impulse is to befriend them, not to beat them with a blunt object. When I see the Cauldron, or any other MLS supporters group, I don’t see enemies, I see friends who root for a different team. I’ve had similar experiences with supporters groups from Colorado, New England, Chicago, San Jose, heck even Houston. The few times the Inferno has had a bit of trouble in Houston, it hasn’t been with the Supporters, but with small groups of young punks who think wearing the same color shirt makes them tough guys.

Half the time, when you meet the supporters of other teams, either on the road or at Pizza Hut Park, you already know them from BigSoccer or Sam’s Army. It’s like a big extended family of soccer nerds, no matter where you go in the League. For those of us of a certain age (though we’d never say it out loud) in some corner of our minds we’re fans of MLS as much as of our own teams. That’s because we remember the old days, when there was no soccer. If you’re old enough, you’ve lived through the implosion of the NASL and 40 years of failing to qualify for the World Cup. Having a successful, stable league and a strong National Team, well, it’s hard to even describe how nice it is. That’s why we don’t have time to hate other Supporters; we’re too busy looking around wondering if this is all actually for real.

Speaking of things you can’t believe are real . . . have you been to Livestrong Sporting Park? I can’t say enough good things about this place. Of the new, Soccer Specific Stadia in MLS, I’ve only been to Pizza Hut Park and Toyota Park in Chicago before this. Both of which are terrific, mind you, but LSP is something else.

Among the things that stood out (and it’s a long list) I’ll mention the food and the security staff.

I’ve never been to any stadium or arena with so much restaurant quality food. I particularly recommend “La Cantina” over by Section 121. The taco platter has two soft-tortillas stuffed full with pulled pork, lettuce, tomato, onions, jalapenos, and, get this, fresh cilantro. Can you even do that; is that even allowed? The Burrito was so big I don’t see how anyone make it from their seat at half time, stand in line, buy it, and then actually finish it in time for the second half whistle. And the lines, while long, moved very quickly, so that’s not the barrier in this drill. That’s just one big burrito. Of course, it being Kansas City, you’re going to get some prime barbecue, and even the pizza looked and tasted like it had never seen a freezer. And this discussion doesn’t even include the three, yes three, other restaurants/buffets available to season ticket holders.

In case you haven’t heard, stadium security is a serious issue in more than a few venues in MLS. Not just for opposing fans, but for home supporters as well. Our friends in Chicago and New England particularly have shared horror stories about security nightmares that range from careless laxity to actual brutality. It’s a different story in Kansas City. The personnel that watched over The Inferno were friendly, courteous, and professional. They were firm when it came to having us follow their rules, but never bullying or hostile.

Personally, I enjoyed the pat-down so much I went back for seconds. But I digress.

The only thing in the entire facility that wasn’t up-to-par was the actual playing surface. But, for a brand new park, that’s not totally unexpected. Clearly they’ve done the best they can do, and if you have a lawn, you know new grass is tricky, even without 22 grown men chopping it up on a weekly basis. I feel pretty sure this time next year they’ll have the third best surface in MLS (Pizza Hut Park Stadium and Pizza Hut Park Field # 1 being top of the list).

The game itself was one for the ages, after a while. It was utterly uninspiring, if not downright discouraging, for the first 70 minutes. Down 2-0, getting some chances but not finishing them, maybe a bit tired (and with some justification, having had to spend an extra day in Toronto), the boys could have just folded up the proverbial tent and let this one go. In fact, I think it was the expectation of pretty much all of us in the stands that the real goal for the upcoming week was to have a strong, rested starting XI for the US Open Cup semifinal Tuesday in Seattle. And, despite having made the long drive to KC, most of the Inferno members present would gladly have agreed to trade a loss on Saturday for a win on Tuesday.

But that’s not how this team rolls, as the young people say. In the 70th, Capi Hernandez sent in a free kick from the left side. About four guys converged on the cross, but really I don’t think anyone touched it before it just kind of, well, floated by Jimmy Nielsen. Ugo Ihemelu may have gotten a slight touch on the ball, but I’ve watched the replay a half-dozen times and still can’t tell.

Either way, nobody in the Inferno even realized there was a goal until about 30 seconds after it happened. We were distracted at that particular moment by a couple of nearby SKC fans who were trying (unsuccessfully) to be menacing and clever all at the same time. Amateurs. The one lady was wearing a KC Royals jersey. Really . . . who does that?

Then all the sudden we see our guys walking back to midfield, and we realized they had scored. It was kind of bizarre. There was an emotional disconnect that I’m not used to when my team pulls one back late in the game. You can’t really go nuts over a goal that you completely missed seeing, right?

Then, a few minutes later, Teal Bunbury gets tossed out of the game in the 75th minute. Hold on a sec. We’ve got a chance here. Hmmm . . . .

Being a long time fan of this team, and somewhat of a pessimist, I was pretty happy with a consolation goal, and hopeful though not expectant for an equalizer. But I’d forgotten what a resilient and aggressive group of players we’re dealing with this season. Still, when it got to the 88th minute, no one thought we were getting anything out of this game. Even the pack of Boy Scouts in the section below us were looking up and talking trash to us. (Apparently all that stuff in the oath doesn’t apply to out-of-town soccer fans). Still, our guys were battling, playing hard, and getting some chances. I wouldn’t have been too depressed over a 2-1 loss on the road. That’s life, you know.

Then it happened.

Brek gets loose on the left wing, beats a marker, and sends in a cross. Maicon Santos heads it home. 2-2.

There have been a few times in my life when I went so berserk over a goal that I thought I was literally going to pass out. The first time it ever happened was during the USA-Portugal game at World Cup 2002. It happened Saturday at Livestrong Sporting Park. My mind was all but blown. What a scene it was: twenty five travelling FC Dallas supporters going mental while 18,500 Sporting Kansas City fans go quiet.

And I do mean quiet. Dead. Solid. Quiet.

The silence was so palpable it nearly became a sentient life form. The silence was so profound it may have registered on the Richter scale. One couldn’t help but put a hand to one’s ears and make with that super-snarky gesture that means, anywhere you go on the planet, “Hey, I don’t hear you guys, what happened?” Childish, I know, but I am unapologetic.

Seriously though, I had never in my life heard a stadium go that silent, that fast.

Well, at least for another three minutes anyway.

Because, in a play that looked almost like an instant replay of the tying goal, Brek again got loose on the left, again shook a marker (actually, his marker didn’t even try to shut him down; what was he thinking?), and again played a perfect cross. This time to Bobby Warshaw, who headed home not just the game-winner, but also his first professional goal. Way to pick you spot, kid.

If I thought I was going to faint after the tying goal, I thought I might just expire completely after the winner. It was so unexpected, so unlikely, so late in the game, that it bordered on the surreal. I literally couldn’t believe it was happening. Not like, “Gee, I can’t believe that”. No, I mean I LITERALLY COULDN’T BELIEVE WHAT WAS HAPPENING. It took at least five seconds for my conscious mind to register that I had really seen what I had just seen. My subconscious, however, must have caught on straightaway, because my body already jumping up and down, high-fiving, and screaming so loud that, even now (Monday), I still haven’t fully recovered my voice.

There is a certain emotion, captured so nicely by the German word schadenfreude, in which one takes great joy in the misfortunes of others. In general, I find this emotion to be base and vulgar; beneath me, if you will. I go to great pains, normally, never to find pleasure in the travails of my fellow human beings.

Except for when I’m at an away game when my team scores a late winner. Then I’m okay with it. And Dear Lord forgive me I did so enjoy looking around and drinking in the stunned and sickened faces of the Kansas City faithful that night. I drank it up like nectar of the soccer gods, and it tasted good. Those good folks were giving us a hard time all night, and seeing their reactions to losing in the 94th minute was probably the most enjoyable part of what was a very enjoyable weekend.

Of course, I don’t mind for one second having abuse hurled at me by fans of the opposite team. It’s part of the whole road trip experience. I like it, in fact; it amuses me. I appreciate it. I want the other fans to be passionate enough to give the Inferno a hard time. I don’t want to be pelted by foreign objects and suffer blunt force trauma or anything like that, but you know what I mean.

I’m talking about what the Inferno got from the crowd at LSP. They did a nice job. It was high quality smack talk. Not mean and ugly and threatening; just good old fashioned soccer smack. Not real-world hostility, like Arabs and Jews in the Middle East (or the Old Firm Derby for that matter), but that special brand of sports hostility, given and taken in the spirit of the game. Its part of what makes going to live athletic events so much fun. When their team was ahead 2-0, they were giving us some serious stick, and it was enhancing their enjoyment of the game, and I say good for them.

But karma’s a bitch ain’t it? Drive safely, everyone. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

It was a great result on a great weekend. Sunday morning we were given a tour of the entire stadium by none other than the great Sam Pierron. Sam has been the biggest fan of the Kansas City MLS franchise since before said franchise even had a name. Now he’s in charge of Special Projects for the team. If you are planning a trip to KC for a game, give him a call. He’s good people.

Speaking of good people, I love the Inferno with all my heart. A better class of people you cannot imagine. What’s more fun that enjoying soccer with an intelligent, funny, sensible, generous, fearless, slightly insane group of fellow travelers like them? Nothing. Not a thing. Not in this life anyway.

See you for the next one, folks.