Today I’m at a game in the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), which is officially the third tier of US soccer, but more like Fifth or Sixth Division, depending h0w and hwo you count. Anyway, it is one of the few lower leagues that still play in the Fall and has some teams "in the region".
The home team is Stumptown AC, which plays at the Matthews Sportplex in Matthews, NC, a wealthy suburb of Charlotte. The opponents are New Amsterdam FC from New York. The Sportsplex is a massive complex of soccer pitches and the game is in the “Stadium”, which consists of (metal) seats on both long sides and behind one goal. Behind the other goal is the official building.
I pay $15 for a ticket and actually get a physical ticket, which is also for this specific game. Amazing! I guesstimate that there are some 150 people, about one third children. The crowd is amazingly diverse with many Asians and Hispanics. There is a small group of some 15 “ultras” with a couple of drums.
The diversity is also visible on the pitch. Not only are both squads very diverse, so is the team of referees. And the main referee is a woman of color, which I have only seen once before (also in the US).
The game is played on very dry artificial grass, which doesn’t look too good but is very even. The game starts fairly pedestrian. Only in the 11th minute Stumptown has the first shot at goal. The corner leads to a rebound that is semi-volleyed from just outside the box, which the goalie cannot/does not stop: 1-0. The ultras celebrate with smoke.
It’s a reasonably cold evening (15C), but perfect for playing soccer. This not withstanding, the pace is low. At one time, the New Amsterdam goalie is chased by a Stumptown striker and drags the ball behind his leg to create space, just 5 meters in front of his own goal, staying ice cold while doing it. One of the few highlights of the game.
Overall, the first half is very poor, with virtually no chances on either side. For all his shouting, I don‘t think the Stumptown goalie needed to make one safe.
The second half is also really bad. In the 60th minute a New Amsterdam corner is missed by the (loud) Stumptown goalie but the ball falls to a striker surrounded by people. After that blunder, his first action of the night, the goalie plays injured for a few minutes.
Later, there is an injury for a New Amsterdam defender. He stays on the ground for minutes as the Stumptown attacks continue. He waves and later stands up and limps towards the referee — he could have rolled off the pitch and received help. After that, game is stopped for almost 10 minutes during which the referee has a long discussion with the New Amsterdam coach (no cards). I've never seen something like this.
Even the ultras have started to just talk rather than watch the game. Knowing that there will be a lot of extra time, yet preciously little football, I leave 5 minutes early. Final score remains 1-0.
As so many soccer leagues in the US, the NISA offers a lot of different soccer experiences. Teams like Chattannooga FC or Detroit FC have serious support and offer pretty good atmosphere. Teams like Stumptown AC, not so much.