NWSL Report: One Sky Blue FC’s Season Ticket Holder’s Experience
On Saturday night, I experienced a relatively rare phenomenon; I went to see NWSL side Sky Blue FC take on the Portland Thorns, and the stands were crowded. The game was not sold out, with the official attendance coming in at 3,014 out of the venue’s 5,000 capacity, but trust me when I tell you that this was a vastly larger crowd than usual. (attendance reported by the Equalizer’s Jeff Kassouf).
I am a Sky Blue FC season ticket holder. So every home game, typically a Saturday or Sunday night, I make the pilgrimage to Rutgers. I hit the highway south and take the Piscataway exit. I pass by the hulking High Point Solution Stadium, where the Rutgers football team plays, with its expansive surrounding parking lots and looming poster advertisements adorning the outer walls.
I turn into the lot for Yurcak Field, flash my parking pass, drive down what can loosely be described as a gravel road, and take my usual spot on the grass. No, I don’t have to park on the grass because I am running late and all of the regular parking spots are occupied. I park on the grass because that is the Yurcak parking lot: a grass field.
Dozens of times I have waltzed into the fenced-in area around the stadium exactly at kickoff, uninhibited by any kind of entry line. I typically walk up the concrete walkway and into the stadium itself, take a quick peek around the bleachers, and have my choice of just about any seat because there is hardly anyone there. Confession: I don’t actually know where my season ticket seat is because I have never, ever sat in it.
I have watched last minute, exciting game-winning goals where the screams of joy from the crowd could have been drowned out by crowds drawn by your typical U-14 soccer team.
I have waited after games for players’ autographs, and had full conversations with them instead because no one else was waiting. I talked concussion recovery with Washington Spirit’s Ali Krieger, vertical jump ability with Seattle Reign’s Jess Fishlock, and hand surgery with Houston Dash’s Ella Masar.
But this past Saturday, things were different.
I parked further away than normal, waited in line to get in, and (gasp!) had to squeeze into a row and hope no one had that seat! At half time, I dodged a concession line that rivaled the checkout line at ShopRite during the holidays. And, oh the horror, I had to wait for a stall in the women’s bathroom!
During the game, I listened to a chorus of boos from grown men when referees “messed up” calls. I sat behind two young boys wearing Alex Morgan jerseys. I even heard two women fiercely debating whether or not Maya Hayes belonged on defense or offense. Now this is not to say that they weren’t plenty of young girls’ squeals for Alex Morgan any time she passed by, because there was quite a bit of that too.
And this article is not being written to pass judgment on crowds of eight-year-old girls, attending games with their soccer teams, excited to watch their favorite players up close, because hey-I’ve been there. It is important for those young girls to watch women playing a sport at the highest level and being appreciated as professionals. It is just nice to see a more diverse crowd.
After the game ended, I looked around and saw a swelling crowd at least four-deep to get autographs at the fence. I realized my chance at getting the ever-elusive Kelley O’Hara signature would have to wait. Let’s be real: I can’t compete with cute eight-year-old boys and girls holding soccer balls quietly asking for autographs.
The thought also crossed my mind that I may never again have the opportunity to just have a normal conversation with the players. But, I also walked out smiling, thinking to myself that next time I tell someone I’m going to a Sky Blue game, maybe their eyes won’t glaze over as they ask me what the heck a Sky Blue is.
Do I know if this increased popularity will continue?
No. I’ll allow those far more knowledgeable than me to debate and predict the answer to that question. But I will tell you one thing, I sure hope that I have to walk a mile to park, actually find my designated seat, and battle crowds to get to the concession stand because more than anything I want this league and this sport to succeed. These women, these professional athletes should finally get the recognition they deserve.