Like it or not, soccer fan culture in cities across the United States and Canada will naturally reflect the character of the particular city. Individually speaking, this means that the supporters for an MLS team are going to act like fans from other sports. Maybe they'll sing a little more. Maybe they'll have drums or chant in Spanish due to a larger Latino makeup. But for the most part, New Yorkers are going to act like New Yorkers, Chicagoans like Chicagoans, Philadelphians like Philadelphians, etc., etc.
And those Philadelphians like to curse if you haven't heard, or if you've simply ignored the fan behavior at Phillies, Flyers, Eagles, and Sixers games over the years. In most cases more than a few fans aren't doing it in unison, so the extent of aural destruction is limited. Get a couple hundred or thousand fans on the same page, however, and you have a chorus of profanity washing over everyone and everything in its path like a wall of dirty sound. It's not what Phil Spector had in mind. Because soccer promotes this coordinated chanting like no other sport, the profanity is generally much clearer and more easily noticed.
Which is a problem when uptight tourists visit a stadium containing passionate rowdies, and do so expecting a quiet family-friendly day of watching their favorite foreign powerhouse club. There are a lot of Manchester United fans, for whatever reason, and when the Red Devils come Stateside for the first time in years, those fans flock in droves. As moths to the overpriced flame, they're simply appalled (APPALLED!) when those disgusting local fans - dressed in the colors of the lowly MLS team whom they value their real connection with - yell out a resounding "F**k You!" or "You Suck A**hole!"
How cute, those delicate sensibilities.
Whether or not it's right for those fans to curse, or whether their use of the language is a touch...basic, is a debate for a different day. The former is a matter of taste and what one expects from fans at a sporting event. There are lines that shouldn't be crossed, and fans should be careful not to cross them. I don't see simple cursing as that, usually. There are times when it's not called for and repetitive use is distasteful; more than anything, it just grates on the ears to hear fans resort to profanity to express themselves rather than create something clever. American soccer crowds too often lack for creativity.
But if Philly fans, at all sporting events, curse, why should we want or expect anything different at a Union match? Screw soccer exceptionalism, I want my American soccer crowds to be just like their football, baseball, and hockey equivalents but with that little bit of extra flair. Soccer crowds should be unique because they're soccer crowds; that doesn't mean they should be watered down versions of crowds at other sporting events, it means they should be the exact opposite. Louder. More coordinated. A better representation of the passion they have for the sport and their team. Since we're talking Philly, they should be more Philly.
I'm not advocating more cursing. I'm advocating that they use it wisely to its greatest effect and they stay true to their Philly-ness. American soccer culture is American sports culture with a twist. And it should be.
Now that I've bored you to tears will all of this, I should reveal the source of my inspiration. After attending the Union-Manchester United game, someone decided to lambaste Union fans for their choice of words. Most of it is uptight nonsense. Subsequently the author apologized for mistaking a non-profane chant for "F*ck You!", which takes much of the sting out of the "controversy." If I didn't know better, I'd think the entire thing was a concoction meant to rile up Union fans and set off a firestorm. The post is certainly getting a lot of attention, with links from more bloggers than you can shake a stick at.
The retraction doesn't change my feelings on the issue, and I'll defend the fans' right to use any words they choose that aren't racist, homophobic, or make light of a tragic loss of life. In fact, I almost wish the Philly fans had been chanting what the writer thought they were chanting.
More bothersome to me than the objection to perceived bad words is the idea that an American Manchester United fan should feel an obligation to apologize to the English fans in the crowd on behalf of their countrymen. What? There are almost no words to describe how ridiculous this is, both from a visiting-fan perspective (forget where the fans individually came from; Manchester United were the visitors, which makes their fans the visiting fans) and because it indicates a tragically mistaken view on the niceties of football. Here's the truth: there are none. Even as we speak, MLS is slowly shedding the family-friendly soccer mom label it embraced for too long; professional soccer matches around the world, and yes, also in England, are attended by adult supporters who curse, curse often, and curse loudly. There's nothing for which the Union fans should be ashamed. Britain is not populated by a race of super-polite cheery gents who never curse and will always invite you over for tea. Sports can be crude and impolite, and this is part of their appeal.
Think of soccer in American like you would any other sporting event, consider the locale you're visiting, and prepare accordingly. If you find yourself with even the smallest doubt about the level of behavior at the game, don't go.
For a similar take to mine, see Aaron Stollar's at Fighting Talker.