The Making of KickTV’s Group of Death Series

Jimmy Conrad travels to the verdant soccer culture of the Pacific Northwest

KICKTV sent former U.S. International and faux-journalist-in-chief Jimmy Conrad on a fact-finding mission to all four countries in Group G—Germany, Portugal, Ghana, and the United States for a series called “The Ultimate Group G Preview—The Group of Death!”

Sorry soccer haters, despite what your local news might say—“Soccer Fans Go Crazy for World Cup, Can Soccer Make It in America? Tonight at 11”—this World Cup is not a referendum on the future of soccer in America. Soccer is here to stay, get used to it. As Joe Roth, Hollywood mogul and owner of Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders, told Jimmy Conrad, “You can’t hold back the tide.” The soccer tide is strongest in the Pacific Northwest, so for the U.S. leg of KICKTV’sUltimate Group G Preview—The Group of Death!” we headed to America’s Soccer-landia.

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It looks like this for every Sounders game. In Germany, the crowds are also strong. The Bundesliga is the best attended league in the world. Most clubs in Portugal and Ghana, however, would be envious of regular crowds like this. Even other clubs in Seattle are jealous of the Sounders attendance, like the local baseball team. The Sounders regularly outdraw the Seattle Mariners who play nearby at SafeCo Field.

The Sounders captain, Clint Dempsey, is also the captain of the U.S. Men’s national team. The Sounders paid a boatload of money to bring the man they call “Deuce” back to America from Tottenham Hotspur. Texas forever! In the 2014 World Cup qualifying cycle, Seattle hosted a World Cup qualifier for the first time since 1976. In short, it was awesome. A massive sea of red, white, and blue cheering for the Yanks. Over the years, CONCACAF opponents have often shown up in larger numbers to show their colors in support of their native lands, so this was a sight that should’ve made long-time USMNT fans misty-eyed—and may have opened the eye of a newbie fan or soccer Euro-snob.

There’s another city that likes to call itself “Soccer City USA” and that’s Portland— just a three-hour minute drive south. Seattle and Portland have a thing when it comes to soccer. The kind of thing where both sides think their brand of soccer fandom is the purest and that the others fans suck—at being fans and at life in general.

After watching Seattle play Toronto FC on a Saturday, we drove down I-5 to watch the Portland Timbers play the Chicago Fire on a Sunday. It rained the whole way. It’s well-documented that Portland is weird. And maybe that’s why they love soccer so much. It’s a game for outsiders in American sports cultures. Timbers owner Merritt Paulson is an outsider in the world of professional sports team owners. He’s not an old white guy with billions of dollars that runs his team like a personal fiefdom; he’s a young tech-savvy white guy that runs his team as a steward.

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And he’s super ambitious. “I hate that so many Americans are satisfied with just getting out of our group.” Paulson told Jimmy about World Cup. “Screw that. This is the United States. Let’s win the World the World Cup.” When the U.S does win the World Cup, will it be before England wins its second? That’s the question Jimmy asked English-born Timbers legend Mick Hoban. And the question that put our commenters (many of whom are from the UK) into a YouTube tizzy.

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A former Aston Villa midfielder, Hoban came to the United States in the 1970’s to play soccer in the NASL and eventually with the Timbers. Hoban, now a naturalized American citizen, likes the Yanks chances. He just hopes it happens before he “snuffs it.” We hope so too Mick. For us and for you.

Finally, there’s the most important part of soccer in Portland: the Timbers Army. You’ve probably seen their incessant singing and creative banners that generate a world-class atmosphere at Providence Park. But if you really want to understand the Timbers, you only need to know about what they call “the eternal golden triangle”: the team, the town and TA (Timbers Army).

“If you look at what we do, it’s as much about pride in the city of Portland as it is in the Timbers,” Jeremy “Finnegan” Wright, Vice President, Timbers Army told Jimmy. “And we see those two things as one in the same.”

We saw that same pride in members of the American Outlaws we met up with in Seattle. Their passion is not just about the team, but also about supporting their country and the growing soccer culture. Soccer is here to stay, not because it’s set to eclipse the other major sports in the near future. Or because lots of people go to Sounders games. Soccer is here to stay because the American soccer community is building it’s own history and traditions rooted in loyalty and pride. So even if the Group of Death kills the U.S. Men’s national team’s dreams in Brazil, it’s not a death sentence for U.S. Soccer.

Watch the full “Group of Death” series on KICKTV: http://bit.ly/1tubuuk

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