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Why the Whitecaps game taught us what it means to be an FC Dallas fan

Postulating about three pillars of FC Dallas fandom

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

This game felt like a microcosm of what it means to be an FC Dallas fan. I’ve broken the FC Dallas fan experience into three pillars that were present in Saturday’s game.

Homegrowns

Earlier this week Jared wrote a piece about FC Dallas struggling to find its identity. After the Zlatan debacle, we got a minute to contemplate what being an FC Dallas fan means. While being an FC Dallas fan means different things to different people, I’m sure there are many that will agree that the sense of pride and excitement they felt seeing Reggie Cannon score his first goal is what being an FC Dallas fan is about.

We don’t have the silverware or flashy designated players from your favorite European team that other MLS teams have, but we have a team full of underdogs. We have players that didn’t make it in South America or whose value wasn’t yet recognized. We have journeymen that have represented their countries and played in the most competitive leagues in the world. We have teenagers from North Texas that are fans as much as they are players. The composition of FC Dallas’ team lends itself to romantic stories about humble beginnings.

It’s hard not to be romantic about the homegrowns. When one finally touches the field it is the fulfillment of years of expectations.

They are the team’s golden boys. They’re (mostly) locals that have spent their life trying to make it up to the first team. They’re often the ones that the front office interviews and features in videos the most so you have the best sense of their personality. They may have gone to the same high school as you, or live down the street from you. While Dallas fans are supportive of most players, they tend to love the homegrowns a little more.

For at least the last two seasons, FCD fans have been following Reggie Cannon. He spent a year at UCLA, contributed to a Dallas Cup victory, played only one minute with the first team in 2017, and now is currently the everyday starter at right back. Dallas fans have been avidly watching him develop as a player and have been fortunate enough to learn more about him along the way.

Each interview Cannon never lacks professionalism, manners, or a smile. Even though, according to Nathan, his taste in anime leaves something to be desired, it’s obvious that he is such a genuine person that it’s impossible to not want him to succeed.

The first time I interviewed a player at Toyota Stadium, I was waiting in the tunnel for Roland Lamah to show up. Most of the team walked by and gave me a nod or a quick dap, but Reggie shook my hand and introduced himself to me, a complete stranger he would never see again loitering in the hall before practice.

Just last week after the LA Galaxy game, I saw Reggie in the stands watching his former teammates play in the U19 game. I had not just played 90 minutes of professional soccer and I was exhausted after sitting in the heat, but Reggie looked as enthusiastic about being in the stands and watching his teammates as he did about being on the field himself. He sat alone in the heat wearing a polo and khakis and never refused any fan that asked for a photograph.

Getting to know guys like Reggie and watching them succeed is what being an FC Dallas fan is about. Reveling in their success and cheering like hell for them when they aren’t so successful is what keeps me watching FC Dallas games no matter what the on-field product is like, and I suspect I’m not alone.

When Cannon scored he was nearly in tears. You cannot ask for more passion from a player. Then to see what looked like every single FC Dallas player celebrate with him gave you a sense of not only what a special moment this was for Reggie, but also what a special young man Reggie is. It felt like a club legend had just bagged an impressive milestone, the game seemed to stop momentarily after Reggie’s goal as the entire team and stadium recognized that this was a significant moment for the club and fandom.

Optimism

Because of Dallas’ youth-based approach to building a team, no matter what the current state of the team is, there is always the sense that everything can be fixed by “playing the kids.” And if that doesn’t work out, then next year will be the kids’ year and we’ll be competitive then. While this sounds naive, it hasn’t been far from reality during Pareja’s reign as manager. Dallas have been one of the best teams in the league since he took control and rank near the bottom in spending and near the top in homegrown minutes played during that period.

Outside of the general sense of optimism, there are very concrete reasons to be optimistic about this current team. This team is different than last years team because of its improved depth and tactical versatility. Players are challenged for positions and have to play well or they risk losing their spot. Pareja has the freedom to shift up the line-up however he sees fit and we have enough talent that no matter who he puts out there, Dallas can look dangerous. Whether it’s the 4-4-2, 4-3-2-1, or even the 5-4-1 we used at the end of the Vancouver game, Dallas can compete.

Having the depth and players that can play multiple positions means that even on its worst day, this Dallas team is better than last years. From top to bottom the roster is stronger and it feels like each season we add more talent. The announcement of a youth transfer fund means that things will get even better for Dallas soon. That program will gives Dallas free money from MLS to sign another player like Santiago Mosquera. Throw in the solidification of the news that Dallas will have a USL team next year, and it’s not hard to see why FC Dallas fans too optimistic for their own good

Disappointment

While there are remarkable highs like witnessing Reggie score his first goal, the lingering presence of disappointment is never far.

In their last two games when leading, Dallas have been outscored 4-1. While coughing up a lead isn’t anything new, it’s still concerning. Dallas dominated the first half of both games, but they soured in the second half.

It’s difficult to diagnose a problem like that. It could be tactical, mental, or both. And it wouldn’t be so worrying if the team hadn’t looked so good lately.

That’s why the pillar of optimism is only optimism and not celebration. There has always been a distinct lack of final product. FC Dallas fans live for the hope of winning silverware, not for the joy of actually winning it. Maybe that’s why we’re so hard to please, but that’s what you sign up for when you tell your fans you’re investing in the youth to build a soccer dynasty. A fan may think: “One Supporter’s Shield isn’t enough, we’re only getting younger next year, there’s no reason we shouldn’t compete for that one too.” But ultimately, because of Dallas’ intimate relationship with disappointment, fans end up victims to their own optimism. Fans may have plenty to be optimistic about, but they’ve never had much to celebrate about.


Why are you an FC Dallas fan? Do you think I accurately captured your experience supporting FC Dallas? Are there any pillars you would add? Let’s have a conversation in the comments.