One thing I wish Major League Soccer would do a better job of is provide better coverage of each team’s Supporters Club. Visibly seen at every MLS match, Supporter Clubs are the true investors and designated players of Major League Soccer.
Not only are they investing their money towards their team, they’re creating a community which incorporates their specific MLS team into their lifestyle. Every MLS season, these loyal fans are willing to invest their time and money in creating signs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, scarves, T-shirts and other supplies to match their Supporters Club and chosen team’s personality.
In doing so, they can help create a positive atmosphere for their beloved team’s home while making it a difficult place for the opposition. One perfect example of the Supporters Club of which I’m talking about is from New Jersey.
Utilizing Red Bull Arena as their vessel, this fraternity of loyal Red Bulls fans is often referred as “The Protectors of the Passaic.” With catch phrases of: "We got your Backe, Never Backe Down, Forza Red Bull, and Long Live the Beast from the East," this group of soccer warriors are hard to ignore and silence out.
Their fearless leader is Red Bulls Head Coach Hans Backe. In honor of their Swedish head coach, they come out for every home game in their Viking horns and uniform to support their heroes, the New York Red Bulls.
Say hello to the Viking Army Supporters Club! Founded by their Warriors Three of Benny Lopez, Kevin Webster and Ralph Chupi Garcia, the Viking Army was born.
“Our mission is to create an epic match day experience for all of our members as well as enhance the experience for all the other fans in the Arena, making them want to come back each and every game,” proclaimed Benny.
“I started wearing the horns to the game. But it was me, Chupi and Kevin who are the original founders of the Facebook page, the Hans Backe Viking Army. From there it’s all history,” recalls Benny Lopez.
With 655 and counting members, the Viking Army SC has made themselves noticeable in the eyes of mortal fans at Red Bull Arena. In true Viking fashion, they like Starbucks along with the tactician skills that only Oden himself would approve, they have franchised themselves by cleverly creating Viking Outposts throughout the RBA.
Their Facebook battles with rival MLS team pages have been epic and enjoyable to read. This form of cyber pillaging is humorous and what soccer is all about amongst fans. Many of their other rivals understand that and are willing to partake in this action.
Whether some fans agree or not, Supporter Club rivalries are good for the MLS because it forces them to defend their team and territory while learning about the history of their rivals, so they use it as ammunition.
Recently, I had the privilege of meeting some members of the Viking Army. Thanks to generosity of the Red Bulls organization, we separately marched to Red Bull Arena for the FIFA World Cup 2018 & 2022 Host Nations Announcement.
Before their arrival, I was talking with Univision’s Daneida Polanco. She confided in me in that she knew nothing about soccer, but she wanted to interview some colorful characters for Univision’s television shows, Primer Impacto and Noticias Univision.
I told her not to worry and assured her that she’ll have the characters that she’s looking for. So I logged on to Facebook and immediately went to the their fan page and told them about their opportunity to be interviewed by Univision.
Like a batter accepting a fastball right down the middle, the members of the Viking Army immediately appeared and hit ball out of the park with their charming personalities. Not only was their presence appreciated, but also they were welcomed by other factions of the media.
The Viking Army members of Kristian Lolo, Hope McCarthy, Sebastian Ostolaza and Ralph Chupi Garcia took their designated posts and entertained the media with their sound bites and Viking celebration.
“Yes, we’re Vikings but we’re also blue collar fans who have families. We’re very family orientated and in time, we want to embark on goodwill projects,” said Kristian Lolo.
“We’re not hooligans. We’re a group of individuals who love and support the New York Red Bulls. We’re here to promote the MLS while encouraging fans to join our movement,” expressed Ralph Chupi Garcia.