There is plenty to say about sports in New England. Intimacy isn’t necessarily what first comes to mind. Not as much as, say, titles, playoffs, trophies, and the like. With six states sharing one professional sports team for each of the top-tier sports, it can be a challenge to stand by your team through the entirety of its season. There’s a distance that that exists which presents perhaps the biggest hurdle, both geographically and figuratively. What can be even harder is getting behind a team in a sport that hasn’t had the coverage or success of all the others like, say, soccer.
With the recent successes of the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, baseball in New England has managed to overcome this hurdle, more or less, and the same argument could be made for the Celtics, to a lesser degree. The Patriots saw an influx of support after their decade of dynasty, however football is arguably on a different level what with having such a limited season. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it is success that inspires the fans. Label them as "fair-weather" or merely "jumping on the bandwagon" if you must, but the trend is there; New Englanders just need a good reason to care.
As of this writing, the Boston Bruins are currently up 3 games to 2 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL Eastern Conference Finals. Any passive observer can see that this town is painted black and gold. The Chara shirts are abundant and the water-cooler jab has turned to the ice. Yes, perhaps the Bruins will have their heyday yet (knock on wood). Maybe lifting the Stanley Cup this year—a feat that hasn’t happened for the club since 1972—will ring in a new age of hockey support in bean town.
With this in mind, let us turn to the "little brothers" of Foxboro, the New England Revolution. There is an argument to be made that Major League Soccer has turned a corner lately. Designated Players are coming to the US in search of a final hoorah while young up-and-comers are being farmed and groomed domestically with dreams of success in the MLS that can open doors to fruitful campaigns and careers in Europe and elsewhere. We’ve seen it happen, and it continues at an increasingly steady rate. Soccer, after all, is one of the most popular sports among kids in the United States. Maybe that’s why half of the Revs’ attendance on Saturday nights is local soccer teams from all around Southern New England. And that is all well and good, but it is a little different than the average attendance in, say, Portland or Seattle. Those teams have something new, something exciting to get behind. And their other professional teams don’t exactly have the titles that we do in New England (no offense). But we, of course, cannot have that "newness factor", which is why we need what almost everyone else has in New England: a trophy. Even a playoffs run has the potential to spark a movement, but sights should be set on the MLS cup if we intend to breakout onto the Boston sports scene like our esteemed sports brethren.
Sure there are other factors that could stir up some new Revs support. For one thing, a Soccer Specific Stadium in Boston would be huge. It would give the team that "newness factor" and would greatly assist the team in becoming a more integral part of the Boston sports community. Also, it would create a lovely influx of attendance, which you’d think would have the potential to make the team feel all warm and fuzzy inside when they’re out there on the pitch (side thought: just imagine a paltry 8,000 seat attendance at Gillette trying to sing the National Anthem like they did out in Portland this season; it might be more akin to a bunch of drunks in a run-down townie bar at 2 am with all the lights on).
A designated player would be a huge leap in the right direction as well. Not just any designated player, but preferably a goal-scorer, a player that your average sports fan can get behind; a Dustin Pedroia, so to speak. But, let’s face it, Nicol and company aren’t going to be signing Wayne Rooney (at least not any time soon). Even if the Revs sign that big name European winger/striker that we really need this summer, if the name isn’t recognized, it won’t do all that much in terms of bolstering the fans.
The point? This town (read: these six states) likes silver. Big, shiny, glistening silver. Put one of those up on the shelf and see butts in the seats. Do I think it’s right? No, of course not. But I think it’s a fairly obvious trend. New England Revolution fans have the privilege of standing on the brink of a new era of soccer for New England. With the ownership seemingly fitting the team into their priorities more as of late (thank you, NFL lockout?), we may reach the point where we can make that push to get back to the MLS cup. There’s still plenty of work to be done. Maybe some fair-weather, bang-wagon jumpers wouldn’t be so horrible. Maybe it’s just what we need to get the Revolution community amped up. Maybe our time is upon us. Maybe it is just around the corner.