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Jared Fialko

A Futbol Future?

Posted February 24, 2013

Railhawks Photo

I’m sure I’m not taking a wild shot in the dark when I say that soccer probably isn’t high on everyone’s sports totem pole. In fact, I bet there are several of you who have bust out a Daniel Tosh-esque rant on the game from time to time.

If that’s somewhat similar to your opinion, I hope I don’t lose you for the remainder of this blog. I enjoy the game. I grew up playing the game. I even lasted past the reversible jerseys, soccer moms in minivans hauling half the team around, and the whose turn is it to bring the orange slices and Gatorade phase. Don’t get me wrong, I will never protest that I was any good, at any stage of development, I don’t even recall if I cracked the starting lineup at Senior Night of my high school finale! I own an Arsenal jersey, albeit I cannot wear it regularly anymore, thanks a lot, Robin Van Persie.

So, color me excited when I see a Major League Soccer team visit the Triangle. If you missed it, the Vancouver Whitecaps visited WakeMed Soccer Park on Sunday for preseason play with the Carolina Railhawks. It’s nothing new, of course the Railhawks stunned the MLS champion L.A. Galaxy in the past. However, it’s hard to put aside the feeling that this wasn’t a glimpse at the future too. Professional soccer at the highest level’s been talked about before, but every year the rumblings seem to get a bit louder.

“The end goal is to get better every year and grow professional soccer in the Triangle,” said Carolina Railhawks President Curt Johnson. “To bring a championship back to the Triangle, certainly.”

It’s not an overnight process, and no one is going to pretend that it will be. On the whole, the MLS has failed to succeed in the Southeast. Both Florida franchises in Miami and Tampa Bay were 86’d in 2001 and there’s been currently no presence along the East Coast further south than Philadelphia. Typically, the league looks for venues that can house 20,000-25,000. The facilities at WakeMed are on their way though. The $7 million dollar upgrades now offer 10,000 seats, a party deck, four additional suites, and improved concessions and amenities.  Johnson says ultimately the fans and the owners will decide what level the ‘Hawks will play at.

“More importantly, the growth in partnerships, in terms of sponsorships, season tickets, and overall attendance growth,” Johnson said. “We doubled our attendance.”

There’s no denying that the interest is here. And growing.

“The passion for the sport at all levels is here,” Johnson said. “You see the success stories around the country, in certain marketplaces selling out regularly. Seattle averaged more than 40,000 a game during the regular season over the last couple of years. There’s no reason a similar level of success can’t happen here.”

Meaning the Whitecaps and Galaxy could become regular visitors in regular season affairs, as opposed to just special events.

“We’re just scratching the surface,” said Johnson.

Could Major League Soccer lie underneath? I, personally, hope so.

Currently listening to: The Black Keys, “Little Black Submarines”

9 Comments

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  • readme Feb 25, 1:29 p.m.

    I should add that while I think soccer is a complete bore, zzzzzz, I do enjoy watching the UNC women's team completely annihilate any team in their way. That is awesome.

  • rmeltonwpsinc Feb 25, 12:53 p.m.

    First off Jared...burn that #20 Arsenal jersey. If he doesn't want to be a Gunner, then let him go. I will proudly wear my #9 Podolski or my #10 Wilshere and support the side.

    I enjoy watching the BPL, UEFA Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup & Capital One cup matches. I also keep up with the USMNT and USWNT. We have to remember that the rest of the world has like 100 years headstart on the US regarding interest in the sport. Will we ever get there? In all honesty, probably not in my lifetime.

    But there are things that the US can do. First, I agree with Paul (even if he is a Blue), we have to get on the world schedule. That would make things so much easier in regards to loans, transfers and scheduling internationals. I also think this would help our USMNT with training. Also, we do need to keep developing players. The US is more than just Howard, Dempsey and Bradley. We have Brad Friedel @ Spurs, Brad Guzan @ Villa, Danny Potts @ West Ham, Jermaine Jones @ Schalke and Jozy Altidore @ Alkmaar, just to name a few. We probably have 20 or so players playing in Europe right now at various levels. Could we say that 20 years ago? We are getting there. Finally, I love that Jurgen Klinsmann was named USMNT coach. He understands the world game.

    Anyone who doesn't like futbol can reduce it to the lowest denominator. I mean, isn't tennis just hitting a ball back and forth until someone misses, isn't golf just hitting a ball in a hole or isn't basketball just shooting the ball into the basket?

    For those of us who love the beautiful game, it's much more than just kicking a ball around. A nil-nil draw can be a great game with lots of action.

    So...go watch a Railhawks game or catch a college game in the area. Understand that the quality is not on Europe's level (hey, the Bulls or Mudcats are not MLB), but supporting local futbol develops interest which develops talent.

  • kornfan2448 Feb 25, 11:30 a.m.

    Have to admit, not a huge fan, but have been tempted to go catch a Railhawks game. Hoping that watching it live may make it more attractive. Going to a Durham Bulls game is one of my favorite things to do and I love the sport of baseball, but I can honestly say that I can not remember the last time I watched an entire game on television. I'm willing to give anything a chance, but even if I don't enjoy it, I'm not going to degrade it, I just won't go to games or watch it.

  • charlies Feb 25, 9:21 a.m.

    Jared,
    We are getting there in the US. The changes have been subtle over the last 40+ years that I have been doing this futbol thing. We, now, have a viable top pro league that have great stadiums and s in those great stadiums' seats on a game to game basis. The Triangle produces many great youth players (both boys and girls) that play at the top of the next level. In fact, it is, probably, the sport that produces the most top level Division I athletes from this area, no matter how you analyze the data. It is a continuing growing sport that has finally settled into its niche and that NICHE is growing. I, for one, am looking for continued growth....here and elsewhere across the country! Thanks for putting your sentiments into words! Charlie Slagle

  • paulmichaelowens Feb 25, 9:18 a.m.

    Good blog. I think the comments are a reflection of the attitude towards the sport, as it stands with 4 so far, 1 hater, 1 big fan, 1 supporter, and a passing plus 1.

    Myself, a person who has played, been a certified ref, and Chelsea fan, I also watch the GAME.

    Because it is a game. The attitude of the hater, is like the one who hates on NASCAR, "cars driving in circles". If you don't truly understand the sport, you cannot appreciate it. If you don't understand what a it really takes to play the game, (can you run for 90 minutes?), the skill entailed in dribbling (watch Lionel Messi), and just try and kick the ball in the goal, now do it again with a team defending. A 0-0 can be an awesome game, if you can appreciate and understand fundamentals, which just goes to show why celebrations of goals are so passionate.

    The hurdles that the US needs to get over is a REAL development problem, such as good programs for the youth, (major clubs outside the US all have youth programs), a real dedicated tiered division structure (MSL > NASL? > USL? ), and also a MATCHING schedule to the rest of the world.

    I think the Railhawks are generating buzz in the Triangle and it will take support to make them grow. Obviously the facilities are good enough for the US Teams to play on, but a dedicated stadium should be built, with the Wake Med park be a training ground. There is quite a bit of good land right near the airport that could be developed.

    I like RVP, he is on my fantasy team and wish he hadn't gone to P-U, but it demonstrates the need for World Class strikers. Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard represent the US well, but we need more like them. Michael Bradley is getting there, but is improving.

    What is needed is better coverage of the sport on a broader range of channels and streaming media.

  • immaannoid Feb 25, 8:26 a.m.

    It's interesting to hear people berate soccer/football/futbol, but think hockey is a sport. Yeah, right.

    It would be great to have real pro-soccer in the US and Triangle. Premiership clubs already support development leagues in the US (Chelsea in this area), so it's not hard to imagine that there will soon be a decent league in the US.

  • readme Feb 24, 11:57 p.m.

    I've watched many games of varying skill levels. I've played it a lot growing up. And I can sincerely say it is by far the most boring sport to watch. I realize I am in the minoroty here seeing as how the rest of the world is obsessed. But after years of reflection, I've concluded that this time, for certain, everyone ELSE is crazy. It is just plain horrible. The only entertaining parts to watch are the flopping and whiny crybaby stuff and the 15 seconds of hihlights that might be exciting enough to make the news. At least with golf they are always showing people taking shots. Golf is more fun to watch. That is sad. And all this before I even go on a rant about vuvuzelas. We haven't forgotten those.

  • 903 mens national championships Feb 24, 10:57 p.m.

    If I want to watch soccer, I'll watch my kids or whatever Spanish or English games are on cable. The quality of the mls is like watching the d-league instead of the nba...not good.

  • charlesboyer Feb 24, 8:31 p.m.

    You'd be surprised how many football fans there are around the Triangle. No, not as much as Europe, South America or Mexico, but there are indeed a good number who appreciate the game and look forward to the PL, La Liga, and Serie A action as well as the CL and World Cup. I see jerseys from the different English and Spanish clubs all around, and maybe even more often from the Primera League as well. Games are on in bars and some around town even specialize in showing the fixtures.

    As for RVP, he's doing quite well, sad as it may be to you Gooners. He's going to do something in May he would have never done in a Gunners shirt: lift the silver for the Barclay's Premier League. He also has a good chance to at least pull a double with the FA Cup -- United can and should beat anyone left in the tournament -- and maybe, just maybe pull off a treble with the Champions League. Arsenal didn't offer him any real hope of ever doing any of that, and I don't blame him a bit for wanting to play for a team that sets their sights higher than a 4th place finish on the table.

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