I’m hardly well-versed in the ins and outs of soccer. Aside from playing the sport as a kid, in a youth league with greatly simplified rules, I’ve never really paid much attention to it. The American version of football was always my favorite sport, and very few others managed to gain much mental real estate. But when the Richmond Kickers invited me to come out and see what attending their games was like, I couldn’t resist. Sports are always more fun live, even if you’re fuzzy on what’s going on.
I’m hardly well-versed in the ins and outs of soccer. Aside from playing the sport as a kid, in a youth league with greatly simplified rules, I’ve never really paid much attention to it. The American version of football was always my favorite sport, and very few others managed to gain much mental real estate. But when the Richmond Kickers invited me to come out and see what attending their games was like, I couldn’t resist. Sports are always more fun live, even if you’re fuzzy on what’s going on. Plus, this particular evening, my VIP tickets provided access to unlimited tacos! I wouldn’t miss this for the world.
I brought my friend Kyle with me to the game; the thrill of sporting events is always increased in a live environment, but you can only get so far into an unfamiliar sport without a guide. Kyle’s the friend of mine who loves soccer the most, and whenever I had a question about the proceedings, he was always ready with a detailed explanation.
We showed up a while before the game started, planning to score some delicious tacos. We hadn’t realized it in advance, but the evening’s catering was actually provided by Chicken Fiesta, which made the whole thing even more glorious. This place has some of the best tacos and burritos in town, and we chowed down in fine fashion while waiting for the evening’s main event to kick off.
The Kickers were playing against Arizona United this evening, in USL Pro League action. Unlike the NFL teams I’m familiar with, soccer teams often play in both league and non-league competitions. While this game was part of the Kickers’ USL season, the game they’d play a few days later against RVA FC was part of the US Open Cup, a single-elimination tournament that could potentially include teams operating at all levels, from the top divisions in the country to any random group of people who decided to scrape together the price of admission. As Kyle explained it, “The amateur soccer team I play on could be in the US Open Cup if we wanted to pay the entry fee.” This allows teams like the Kickers to go up against much more powerful opponents–and sometimes even beat them, as occurred when the Kickers defeated the LA Galaxy in the 2007 US Open Cup.
As another USL Pro League competitor, though, Arizona United were expected to be a relatively evenly-matched foe. Once the game started, we left the taco-eating area, grabbed seats, and began to watch the action. City Stadium is a real down-to-earth place to see a game–far more like your high school’s football stadium than, say, a “stadium seating” movie theatre. Seats are long metal benches, and fans filled the sections closer to the stadium entrance. However, no one was sitting on the far side of the field, so clearly soccer matches don’t quite draw as big an audience as the stadium is capable of holding (yet). We were seated near the goal Arizona was defending during the first half, which put us near the rowdiest, most committed home team cheering section. People in that area all wore Kickers colors, and let loose with frequent chants, blasts of homemade percussion instruments, and even the occasional vuvuzela (those buzzy horn-things from the World Cup in South Africa a few years ago, remember?). Hearing all the fans in that section yell and chant really helped me get into the spirit.
Before long, I was wrapped up in the action, yelling my opinion about controversial calls and debatable plays as if I had been coming to games for years. In truth, I barely knew what the hell I was talking about, but being able to at least sound like you know what you’re talking about is a skill easily translated across wide varieties of sports fandom.
During that first half, it did indeed seem that the Kickers and Arizona United were evenly matched; the first 45 minutes went by without a single score. The low scoring in soccer games has always been one of my top complaints about the sport–a game in which more than 5 total goals are scored by both teams is tremendously high-scoring, and on the highest levels of competition, many games seem to end in scoreless ties. But when you’re right there watching it all go down before your eyes, the fact that nobody is making any goals doesn’t matter that much. Soccer is a tremendously fast-paced sport, and the action never really stops. Maybe it doesn’t translate that well to TV, or maybe I’m just not used to it, but seeing it happen live sure makes it clear why soccer is the world’s most popular sport.
The tide started to turn in the Kickers’ favor just before the half. An Arizona player took exception to some action taken by a Kickers player and shoved the Kickers player to the turf. This was good for a red card, the worst penalty a player can get in soccer. Not only was the player kicked out of the game (and the next three as well), Arizona United weren’t allowed to replace him. They had to play the rest of the game with one less man on the field than the Kickers had. Once the second half got going, it became clear what a huge issue this would be for United, as the Kickers soon took a 1-0 lead.
Another huge issue was taking place for those of us in the stands–it had started to rain at the end of the first half. The home team cheering section was determined to remain in their places and keep cheering for the team, but after five minutes or so of braving the rain, I was getting too wet and could not handle it. Fortunately, the area behind the bleachers was lined with a variety of tents, some occupied by advertisers and others where food was being served. Along with what seemed like 75% of the crowd, my companions and I found a spot under a tent, from which we could still see the action on the field.
I was under the tent when the Kickers scored their first goal, and still there when they followed it with another. The resistance from United seemed, if anything, to be weakening, and I felt pretty sure the Kickers had the game in the bag. Spirits were high in the tent, and some people near me were rattling cowbells and blowing noisemakers. I was also hearing a lot of Spanish being spoken. Sure enough, Richmond’s growing Latino community was a significant presence at this Kickers game–and no wonder, with soccer pretty much being THE sport of Latin America. It’s a good reminder of the diversity we have in this city, which is a wonderful thing.
The rain stopped for a while, allowing me to venture back out from beneath the crowded tent. Before long, though, it had started up again, worse than ever. I headed back under a tent and ended up along the edge. Water was still dripping in on me, but it was bearable at least. However, with the addition of thunder and lightning to the calamitous weather, the game was halted in the 76th minute (leaving about 14 left to play) to attempt to wait out the storm. With the score at 2-0 and the Kickers appearing solidly in control of the action, my friends and I decided to head home rather than standing around for who knows how long waiting for the rain to stop. While the game apparently did start back up after half an hour or so, our perceptions of the way the game was going turned out to be accurate, as the Kickers cruised to a 4-0 victory.
While it would have been nice to stay dry throughout, all of the elements of the Richmond Kickers game I attended that were actually in human control were perfect. And these games are so cheap, they make a can’t-miss entertainment option for even the most casual sports fan. Regular-admission tickets to individual games are only $12 apiece, and season passes start at $70, so really, for the amount of fun you’ll have, these prices are an absolute steal. The next Kickers home game is on Saturday, May 24 at City Stadium, vs. the Charlotte Eagles. Tickets and season passes can be ordered HERE. Go check it out–and tell em RVA Mag sent you.