Muerte o Gloria: The Rise of the American Soccer Fan (2015)

‘Muerte o Gloria: The Rise of the American Soccer Fan’ (2015)

As a soccer fan who rarely watches any other sport these days, I tend to forget that basketball, baseball and pointy football don’t have fans like soccer football does. Following the European and Latin American traditions, soccer is the only pro sport in the USA where, pre-pandemic, supporters groups show up with songs, drums, banners, flags, TIFOs and a s**tload of enthusiasm.

Supporters Groups (SGs) aren’t just fans, they literally support the team with volunteerism and community service. Supporters show up and cheer through good times and bad, foul weather or fair, weekday games, academy games, and away games. They tailgate before a game and celebrate after, win or lose. Because SGs are so loud and colorful, they are always part of a club’s marketing message.

The short film Muerte o Gloria is about these supporters, and specifically about the Barra Brava, one of 3 SGs supporting MLS club DC United (DCU) in Washington DC. Oscar Zambrano founded La Barra Brava before DCU started, and Barra claims to be the first supporters group in MLS. Zambrano originated from Bolivia, and his goal was to have a Latin American-style supporter group, i.e. supporters singing and jumping with non-stop frenetic activity but without violence.

A time capsule

Director Mark Yancey shot home and away games during DC United’s 2013 MLS season. Yancey grew up in Southern California and played in AYSO, but he became a West Coast fan of DCU after attending a game with the Barra Brava supporters group in 2007. As such, he mostly attended DCU away games in the Western Conference. His long-time connection enabled him to interview former GM Kevin Payne, former coach Tom Rongen, and current and former players such as Bobby Boswell and Bill Hamid.

I use the word “former” a lot in that sentence, and that is because Muerte o Gloria is really a time capsule of uniqueness. As MLS entered its “2.0” phase and grew the number of expansion teams, many of the new clubs brought their own SG game and upped the competition: Toronto, Seattle, Portland and Orlando. And then, launching the MLS 3.0 generation, LAFC and Atlanta redefined what it meant to be a success, making their home fields as intimidating as Euro or Latin American clubs.

Gone are the days when DCU traveling supporters were able to dominate the noise at away games. Gone are the days when former owner Will Chang tailgated with the fans. Checking on BigSoccer, it appears he was beloved for having kept the team afloat during its darkest years. However, securing the groundbreaking of the new stadium, Audi Field, Chang moved on. GM Kevin Payne also moved on.

In conclusion

It’s interesting that a feature-length documentary about MLS fans, Sons of Ben, debuted the same year as Muerte o Gloria. While the Philadelphia Union fan story is interesting, I prefer Mark Yancey’s film, maybe because a short film is more appropriate for this kind of topic. Yancey’s film captures a unique time in MLS, and even though new SGs will duplicate and surpass Barra’s influence, you have to appreciate and respect one of the MLS originals.

For more reviews of soccer movies about fans, see this page.

7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7