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New York Times Article Adds to Tough Year for MLS Supporters Groups

There is a light side of American soccer culture as well, it just doesn't get talked about as much.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a tough season so far for MLS based supporters groups. The year started off with a league-wide uproar when MLS banned Matthew Parsons, a leading member of DC United's District Ultras supporters group. Parsons was banned from all MLS venues for the 2016 season due to "possession and ignition of illegal smoke device on RFK Stadium Property". The team and league lacked clarity on where their rules apply and which specific items are banned all the while marketing MLS' most passionate supporters to showcase the league's unique sporting environment. The ban caused other groups around MLS to stand with the District Ultras showcasing pro-Parson tifos in their own stadiums while fans in DC issued a "Smoke Break" from supporting United. Overall, it was a tough start to the year for the supporters -€” but that would improve, right?

Wrong. Back in Toronto the Inebriatti had a wrench put into their away day plans. After damage was caused to Montreal's Saputo Stadium in 2015 the group lost their supporters privileges to start the 2016 season including two matches at home. However, on the eve of the 2nd leg of the Voyageurs Cup match in Montreal, the group was given only 36 hours notice that they would not be allowed in to the stadium. Despite already serving their punishment at the start of the season, the group was not given enough notice before the June 8th match. It wasn't included in the original list of games they were being sanctioned, and any travel arrangements made would have been a waste of money. The game also fell mid week meaning anyone travelling would have also had to have made vacation plans, another inconvenience to the supporters.

And now we turn to Seattle, who house one of the largest and most passionate fan bases in the league. This week both Seattle fans and MLS fans are under fire from an article in the New York Times. In the article titled "The Dark Side of American Soccer Culture" written by Jay Caspian Kang, Kang tries to draw loose parallels between the unruly hooligans of European soccer and the fan experience in MLS. Kang, who bases his first-hand research off attending two Sounders games, paints the league in broad strokes comparing them to racist groups found in Europe.

Commissioner of the league Don Garber, immediately stepped in and shut down Kang's article citing lack of sources. "I'm just so disappointed by the lack of professionalism, the lack of research and the recklessness of it. Nobody interviewed anybody from the Sounders. Nobody interviewed anybody from the league. It was just poor journalism."

While nobody from the club was reached out to, the Times did spend two hours with the Emerald City Supporters leadership, one of the Sounder's supporters groups -€” however you wouldn't know that reading the article. You also wouldn't know that Kang was invited to talk to the La Barra Fuerza Verde, the Latino subgroup of the ECS, but turned them down.

While Kang continues to defend his article to supporters in 140 characters or less he has yet to substantiate his claims through conversation. Kang recently turned down an appearance on weekly American soccer podcast DUMMY, but continued to fight for his article through email as the host George Quraishi read on last week's podcast:

"95% of the angry people who tweeted at me are white dudes in supporter groups and that the response that I've received both privately and on social media from people of colour is drastically different. This is always the case when you write about race, this just seems like a bit more of a loud hornet's nest than usual".

So there you have it. Take a breath, it's been a bit of a tough year so far. Its pretty clear to me that the league, management, and journalists only have a surface understanding of supporters groups. While a number of us are a part of and contribute to these groups, we have a deeper understanding of the dedication it takes to run them and stereotypes that need to be fought off. Supporters groups are far more than just flags and songs and negative snippets in the newspaper -€” which is why I'm going to end this piece on a positive note.

I compiled a list of positive initiatives the Toronto groups do within the community and have been doing for years. These contributions are part of what make supporters group great but it's a truer reflection of who they are -€” and they don't nearly get enough credit for it. Below are some of their stories that you should know about.

The Red Patch Boys are tremendously active within the community with nine consecutive years of support of the Terry Fox Foundation. In 2015 the group raised $1,600 to bring their total lifetime contribution to over $22,000. This year the RPB have also raised $500 in relief efforts for those affected by the Fort McMurray fires as well as helping to pay for a young soccer player's rep fees when they were unable to self-finance.

The Kings in the North have run canned good drives at their annual Christmas Party and have hosted developmentally delayed children at games. Their most recent contribution was providing a gift pack to Murphy Malone, who TFC recently signed to a one-day contract. Murphy suffers from a heart defect that results in his heart not oxygenating properly.

U-Sector is also involved in a Christmas drive collecting toys for the community of Malvern, a region in the north east area of the city where a number of their members grew up. Finally, the Inebriatti recently organised a blood drive event last April showcasing they really do bleed red while supporting a cause in need.

This year has seen the negative, and often mishandled perspective on supporters groups magnified in the news. It is important for casual fans and passionate fans alike to keep these positives in mind, and speak to them when possible. These groups don't just mobilise for club and country, but for community as well and we would be doing them a service to remember that in years like this.