Editor's Note: Here's a new column where Alicia will discuss soccer, here and abroad, in whatever manner that strikes her fancy.
How do you follow soccer if you don't have a team?
It's an existential question I've been mulling over for the past several months, of course, out of extraordinary circumstances. No, I didn't just get into soccer. And no, I didn't willingly turn my back on the team I followed, something many Chivas USA fans I know did as the club's demise came ever closer.
I followed a team until they were dead. And then the soccer kept coming.
There are many fans out there who are neutrals, of course. I'd consider myself one by and large around the world. But for many people, it's either a transition phase before they pick a team (or in the case of the U.S., one is established in their area), or they simply like following the league without picking a team to follow.
But when it comes to me and MLS, the 2015 season will be the most disorienting since I decided on a team in 2006. I'll keep watching, but the driving force behind what I choose to watch will be gone.
Before, I watched other games in addition to Chivas USA's to see what was going on with the other teams, and to some extent to scout them ahead of games against the Goats (full disclosure: I also watch some games for money -- a job I am certainly not complaining about).
Sure, LAFC are coming up to play in MLS in 2017 (probably), but I'm going to be real with you - it's frankly impossible to scout MLS teams two years out, with the leaguewide turnover that takes place.
So what's the motivation now?
On one hand, this time without a team is like a sabbatical from being a supporter, at least for me. I'm not choosing a secondary, existent team to send my allegiances (though I don't pass any judgment on those who have), because it just doesn't feel right.
I can watch MLS (when not for work purposes) like I watch all other soccer -- with complete freedom. Want to see the two worst teams duke it out for nothing but bragging rights? Not really, I've done enough of that with a team I cared about in recent years.
I can admire particular players and teams without pledging unwavering support to their team. I can flip through the games when multiple matches are on, looking for the biggest goal hauls or juiciest match-ups on the night.
But there's a flipside to this. What do I lose without a team to root for?
Passion. When a team wins, there's no elation. Of course, there are no true gut punches either, a visceral feeling I had many, many times when watching CUSA. I may have freedom but I also don't have real feelings, since everything is at a remove.
You also lose community to an extent. Sure, we're all part of the soccer bubble in California, the United States, North America, Earth, what have you, but there isn't the us vs. them mentality, the consoling in bad times and high-fiving (virtual or literal) when times are good. There's observations, biased or objective, about this player, that game, those goals, but more often than not it's turning off the TV when the match is over and maybe even forgetting it altogether.
To boil it down, sports are a way to pass time. Instead of getting hyped up for the trip to the stadium and the big game, there will be more days at the beach, more barbecues with friends and family. There will be days where I'm just not feeling like soccer (although to be fair, they aren't all that common) and can tune out the game with a clear conscience. To turn a bad situation into a positive, maybe this season and the next will help me recharge my batteries, watch MLS in a new way, and build up the anticipation for my next team to step on the field for the first time.
It's going to be weird, though, being an MLS neutral for the first time in many years.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!