OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s always been a dream of mine to cover a professional soccer match, ever since I decided sports journalism was my career path.
So without a doubt, I sit with pride in the Pribil Stadium press box ahead of Energy FC’s first home game of their inaugural season. It’s the first of, I hope, many milestones in this game. But the closer I get to kickoff, I grow slightly worried of how the Oklahoma fan base will treat this small-market soccer project.
I spent the day in the city, meeting friends in a local pub for English league games before hanging around ahead of kickoff. For the first time in person, I saw the effects of the Energy FC marketing campaign. Jerseys, scarves, hats galore, all dotted an art’s festival crowd moving throughout the streets of Bricktown. It was refreshing.
But I have to remind myself that this is the first foray. It’s home game one in year one of something totally new to Oklahoma City. The Thunder showed this city, and even the state, can support a sports franchise.
Soccer in America isn’t just any sport. Only now is the premier competition, Major League Soccer, really starting to launch itself into the national spotlight. It happened slowly, like the green leaves appearing in April, and that’s still an ongoing process.
I don’t see Energy FC’s home opener as just a game, but more of a litmus test as to how the game will be accepted as it moves out of the major markets and into smaller, burgeoning metro areas. Also, how will the people of Oklahoma treat it?
Will they embrace it, as they did their precious basketball team? Or is this more of an “Oh, that’s cute” effect? Are they simply rooting for this team to succeed rather than dedicating time and money to ensure it does?
Only more kicks of the ball will determine this, and I for one am excited to get a front row seat to not only a new chapter in Oklahoma sports history, but also an experiment occurring all across America, soccer’s saturation.