A Forward view from a soccer newcomer
In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.
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MICROTONES by Loren Sommer, contributor
Madison's new professional soccer team, Forward Madison FC, is in the midst of its inaugural season. Upon its inception early last year, the team joined the USL League One, which is basically the third tier of American professional soccer. If that sounds confusing, think of it as a pipeline into Major League Soccer, or a sophisticated minor league system. I attended my first Forward Madison exhibition game on June 25, at the team's home base of Breese Stevens Field. I was not exactly sure what to expect, but pleasantly surprised at the team's reception by fans and how the team has embraced the city. This was one of the team's higher-attendance game's so far, drawing about 4,800 people.
Now admittedly, I'm not a soccer guy. I appreciate the strategy, and the detail, but when I watch sports, typically I want to see a high-scoring affair, with a flair for the dramatic ending. While the score for my first visit was 2-1 — a loss to the visiting Minnesota United — the spectacle didn't disappoint. As I entered Breese, the lines seemed to be organized and an ease of access was noticeable, particularly compared to the heavy queues for concert events there. I arrived a little late to the start of the game, but what hit me first was the east end zone behind the goalie, where a small but passionate group of fans and marching band drums with choreographed team chants (known as "The Flock,” they have a list of various songs they run through). Again, I'm no expert here, so I don't know if its common for other teams to exhibit extended periods of team spirit, but the The Flock kept it going for 90 minutes. 90 minutes!
I got a great view of the game from the press box, but the indoor heat and humidity were a bit stifling at times, so I walked around the facility to get a better feel for the game-day experience. All of the typical beer and food vendors were present (with prices about what you'd expect for a Breese Stevens event, as in borderline crazy), as well as a giant pink inflatable flamingo, the Forward mascot. I've always been a proponent for the flamingo in sports, and who doesn't want or need more flamingos in public arenas?
Most seats seemed to have good lines of sight to the field, and the crowd seemed to be a healthy mix of casual revelers and serious soccer fans. I walked around to the end zone seats where the Flock hung out, and immediately felt the energy and camaraderie of the section. Rest assured, someone's always yelling in soccer solidarity. It's like being in the student section of a UW football game—a constant stream of controlled rowdiness for which not all fans will quite have the stamina or patience. There are also private field level suites available on the Forward website as well, which offer "bottomless beer, wine and Pepsi products throughout the match, along with three specialty crafted cocktails." Unless you have a few grand burning a hole in your pocket, however, the better bet is probably the general admission tickets, starting at $16.
As I made my way back to the press box, I took in all the little standing room spots to watch the game: plenty of space to stretch, get up and move around. As I was midway through interviewing Forward Madison Managing Director Peter Wilt, Forward player Danny Tenorio scored a goal at the 57 minute mark, in one of the evening's most galvanizing moments. Minnesota United player (and former Forward Madison player) Mason Toye scored both of Minnesota United FC's two goals in the game.
Before I left Breese Stevens, I walked around a little more, taking in the view from "The Rooftop,” which offers a nice aerial view of the field with concessions at the ready. While the game-day experience does lack certain helpful amenities (street parking, more than one disabled-accessible ramp, no temporary reprieve from the hellscape weather), Forward has quickly created an energetic experience, and clearly wants very much to become a lasting Madison thing.
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