Night King ushers in Sporting fans' shining moment

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday's tifo got the attention of MLS fans, but it also capped a long, subtle effort to showcase Sporting KC's support. Graham Parker turns Targeted Allocation's gaze toward Blue Hell:

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I’m a sucker for MLS tifos — it’s not a folk tradition born in the U.S., but it’s a tradition that sits very nicely with both maker culture and the punching-above-our-weight pride you find within the league’s supporter culture. Even my most close-minded of little-Englander fan friends tend to lapse into grudging admiration when they start talking about, say, Crystal Palace’s singing section, and I show them YouTube tube videos of Portland and Seattle trading visual barbs that look like Game of Thrones CGI armies fronting for battle.

In that spiri,t it was probably only a matter of time before the ‘Night King,’ aka ‘Come at me Bro,’ got his own tifo, though you might not have bet on it coming from Sporting Kansas City’s fans in The Cauldron, who are plenty noisy, but aren’t necessarily the first collective you think of for Tifo Game. 

But it was a fantastic effort, only let down very slightly by not fully folding the GoT reference into a team reference (though in fairness the king is blue, and the Cauldron keeps a “Welcome to the Blue Hell” banner on display at all times). New England fans have already given us an example of that, with the “Nguyen-ter is Coming” banner they unveiled during the 2014 playoffs.

Nitpicking aside, the animation of the Night King was a pretty awesome tifo for its context, rising up behind the Sporting goal in one of the better designed stands in the league. It’s not as big or imposing as others; it’s not raked as steeply as others (San Jose celebrated just such a virtue when they announced the Avaya Stadium); it doesn’t hold the sheer numbers of fans that other fan sections do. But that section of the stadium was a key part of the design process when the new Sporting organization designed the stadium — everything from the overhang to amplify the acoustics, to the view through and from the fan bars in the corner of the stadium, to dedicated storage areas for, yes, tifos symbolized a connection and ongoing conversation with the core fans of the team, and also that the owners were listening. 

The result is a fan section that just works. I’ve watched games from the photographers positions just in front of that stand, and it’s amazingly loud and animated for its scale, in a way that TV pictures don’t do justice. Nice to see those fans get a little love this week, even if it’s for personifying themselves undead evil incarnate.

A word on Leicester City

I was home sick on Monday afternoon but was able to watch Tottenham’s collapse at Chelsea with the accompanying Twitter laugh/snark track. This being the age of cameras everywhere, I was also able to watch a Periscope of Danny Simpson’s esophagus at Jamie Vardy’s party as the result confirmed Leicester City as champion.

In some ways, it was a shame Leicester was crowned in a game it didn’t play in, but in another way it was a fitting end to a story whose word-of-mouth quality was a significant part of its charm.

The coming days will see a swathe of unwelcome punditry trying to translate the achievement into terms for American audience (by and large the ones who don’t read largely FourFourTwo USA columnists …), or trying that bit too hard to put the win into perspective in a manner that robs it of much of its joy.

I’ll not add to that coverage other than to say, if you’re a soccer fan, maybe just allow yourself to treasure seeing a moment like this, because it probably will not happen again in your lifetime. The people who made it happen are all too human, and range from loveable (Claudio Ranieri) to not particularly likeable (Jamie Vardy), but they’ve done something collectively that is truly remarkable, and which gives hope to supporters of teams all over the world. I’ve been a Sunderland fan for over 40 years, and even as Tottenham was losing its collective heads and putting my team a step closer to relegation (the motive-less players of Spurs who aren’t suspended after Monday night’s ructions will be playing Newcastle, our relegation rivals, on the final day of the season), I felt a sense of ownership as Leicester closed in on the title. 

This isn’t a global soccer column. To be honest, most of the time I enjoy the hyper-local stories of US soccer more than talking about big European leagues. By the time I left England, around a decade into the life of the Premier League, I’d become disenchanted with the experience of match days and the sense that supporters were being seen more as an unpredictable item of set-dressing rather than the life of their clubs. I’ve had mixed feelings about the growth and availability of the global game here in the U.S., and its potential effect on the U.S. domestic game, even if in general I come down on the side of it being a good thing.

But as this story unfolded in slow motion toward a conclusion that only seems inevitable in retrospect, it felt as if, for one small moment, sport was outflanking money. And I wanted to mark that here. And yes, Leicester is hardly a pauper, and yes, the personalities of one or two have been conveniently ignored in the general hagiography of the little team that could…

But this was beautiful. And that’s rare. Let it be beautiful for a moment.

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Graham Parker's column, Targeted Allocation, appears weekly on FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @KidWeil.