After finishing 4th in Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Eastern Conference and making it to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2015, D.C. United (DCU) had high hopes for the 2016 season. Now five games into the 2016 season, DCU find themselves in ninth place out of 10 teams in the Eastern Conference and 19th overall in league standings out of 20 teams.
To add to this discouraging start to 2016, Matthew Parsons, a long-time supporter, and leader of DCU’s District Ultras supporters group, as reported by DCist has been banned from attending MLS events and venues for one year. This punishment comes after Parsons used a smoke bomb outside of RFK Stadium before DCU’s last match on March 26th.
Not only has Parsons been banned from attending DCU home matches for one year, but “District Ultras section “will not be permitted to have flags, flag poles, and drums” at this Saturday’s game vs. the Vancouver Whitecaps at RFK—though a team official clarified to DCist yesterday that the Ultras will still be permitted to use drums at the match.” As one fan said via Twitter, in true MLS fashion, “way to make a mountain out of a mole hill.”
There are several reasons for the uproar over this:
- The smoke bomb was lit during a unity march into the stadium – a march that was meant to unite four of DCU’s supporters’ groups together in support of their team.
- DCU Supporters’ Groups, as well as other supporters’ groups across the league, are often unaware of specific rules and regulations until the league decides to place punishment or restrictions on said groups/people.
- Independent Supporters Council reports that they have asked for league rules, trust, and transparency and have been ignored.
- Double standards: MLS and the teams within have used photographs of supporters with smoke and/or flares in them to promote the team and game day atmosphere.
Here are a few examples of the latter:
In 2012, LA Galaxy and Vancouver Whitecaps faced off in the playoffs. MLS used this photo below to promote the playoff series between the two teams. As reported by the Timbers Army this photo is neither of Galaxy or Whitecaps, but a photo of Timbers Army in Salt Lake City in 2011. This is beside the fact that the photo is used to market league playoffs via MLS.
MLS sold prints of S8C supporters. The photo caption reads, “Chicago Fire supporters light flares during the match…”
Chicago Fire Soccer Club used a photo of The Harlem End at Toyota Park to promote bus sales to/from the match. The photo was of a smoke-filled and flare-glowing supporters section.
Similar to the above cases:
During the 2014 playoffs, Angels City Brigade (ACB) was rumored to throw streamers onto the field at the MLS Cup Final. Because of this so-called incident, ACB was sanctioned from eight games (four home, four away) at the beginning of the 2015 season. ISC shared an open letter on the matter and several groups stood in support with ACB during the first weeks of the season including our very own Section 8 Chicago. This is another case where a supporters’ group was punished, without notice, for something they participated in regularly in the past.
As a long-time Fire fan, I have become accustomed to the on-again, off-again relationship that MLS’ teams and their supporters’ groups have with one another. In fact, S8C encountered a situation that is relatable to the previously mentioned cases on the day of Fire’s home opener this year. Security will now check supporters’ banners prior to entering the stadium. Is this another arbitrary act imposed by MLS to assert their power?
In the end, I believe that a relationship of transparency and trust can be made between MLS and supporters’ groups if the league decides that’s what they want. After all, soccer is nothing without its passionately committed, diehard supporters.
Until then, what will come of Parsons’ ban?