Much is made about the culture of American soccer, a hybrid of collegiate sports, other worldwide soccer cultures and more traditional American sports. The scarves, the chanting, the odd combination of “supporters’ sections” next door to corporate suites, are at once less than their component parts and yet uniquely American.
Soccer fans, me included, have thought that American soccer would be much better off with the same level of all-consuming passion that we see from other fans around the globe . But, passion aside, I hope I’ll never see scenes here like the ones that fans saw in Buenos Aires last Saturday.
Boca Juniors and River Plate met in the finals of the Copa Libertadores for the first time. This derby regularly tops the list of soccer’s greatest rivalries, a match for the continental championship, and soccer fans across the globe were tuning in.
What they saw was riot coverage.
On the way to the River Plate’s stadium, the Boca Juniors team bus was attacked by River Plate fans, who smashed the windows and tear-gassed the Boca players. Boca captain Pablo Pérez was hospitalized with glass in his eye. The team bus driver fainted, and a team official had to take the wheel.
CONMEBOL, the South American governing body, tried to force Boca to play, pushing back the kickoff, then rescheduling the match for Sunday. Ultimately officials were forced to call off the game, which will be played Dec. 9 in Madrid, an extremely neutral site.
Fan violence is not uncommon in Argentina. In 2013, the country instituted a blanket ban on fans traveling to away games after a Lanus fan was killed, one of more than 90 soccer fans killed in the last decade. The ban was partially lifted last summer, though Boca Juniors and River Plate were among a group of teams that declined to lift bans.
Wherever soccer violence takes place, though, the causes tend to be the same: too many underemployed young men, too much drinking and seriously misdirected fan passion. The few incidents we’ve seen at soccer matches in America fit that pattern.
England, long considered ground zero for hooliganism of all kinds, only grew out of its problems when the Premier League got so popular – and so pricey – that working-class fans could no longer attend games.
It’s tempting to say that the U.S. is in the clear when it comes to this kind of thing. After all, the stereotypical soccer fans in this country are well-off young people and young families, hardly the type to riot in the streets. The lack of intracity rivalries and long history tends to blunt any potential animosity, as well. Yet there have been pregame brawls between New York Red Bulls and New York City FC fans, even though NYCFC has only existed since 2015.
Such behavior remains an outlier in the U.S. even as soccer’s popularity has grown. More reason that authorities can and should crack down hard on this nonsense if it happens here.
But there should be an easier way around these problems. To any fan who’s thinking about throwing rocks at a bus, or punching a fan of another team: Do you really want more Argentina in American soccer?