Anyone who watched the MLS Cup final had to know some kind of punishment was coming. Given the biggest stage their league has to offer, a handful of Houston Dynamo fans decided to act like complete idiots by throwing smoke bombs, mini-flashlights and other items onto the pitch during play. That no one was hurt was obviously a positive, but that it happened in the first place was completely inexcusable.
On Monday, the other shoe finally dropped. Traveling Dynamo supporters had their exemptions pulled for at least eight matches this season, meaning they won't be able to bring flags, banners, drums or other otherwise banned items into stadiums. The status of those privileges will be reviewed only after the team opens BBVA Compass Stadium in May.
While the punishment may sound harsh -- as it applies to the entirety of traveling supporters instead of the guilty fans -- the reality is that Dynamo fans probably weren't going to be utilizing those privileges for the vast majority of the games the ban currently applies to. Each of the first seven road games are far enough away that traveling fans will most likely fly and bringing this kind of contraband onto a plane is simply impractical. MLS obviously wanted to send more of a message than anything else.
That message? Police yourselves or MLS will do it for you.
That's a message most reasonable people can agree on. Hopefully, MLS supporters groups can, too.
I'm a huge fan of the atmosphere the rise of MLS supporters groups has brought to MLS. Ever week, we see it on full display in places like Philadelphia, Toronto, Seattle, Portland and, yes, Houston. We're at a point now, where almost every team in the league has managed to generate a vibrant atmosphere and the rise of supporters culture has been a huge part. MLS obviously loves it, and has included massive amounts of supporters footage in recent promos and league officials have gone out of their way to credit supporters with drastically improving the league's "product."
To a lesser degree, away support has also been on the rise. Especially in matches between the Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers, we've seen traveling support creep into the four figures. We've seen how that can ratchet up the atmosphere even further.
But there are risks whenever there are large groups of fans. For the most part, supporters groups do a better job of policing themselves than random fans do. That's part of why MLS has embraced supporters to the degree it has: The hope is that they will keep incidents like those at MLS Cup from happening in the first place.
To be fair to Dynamo fans, chances are that the idiots who threw stuff on the field are not supporters group regulars. But if supporters groups are unable to properly police their own section -- and MLS seems to have shown a pattern of Dynamo supporters being unable or unwilling to stop their cohorts from being idiots -- there's really no incentive for MLS to grant them privileges they wouldn't give to any other fan.
From the sound of it, instead of taking this is a warning across the bow, Dynamo supporters have generally taken the attitude that MLS is being unfair and picking on them. That's too bad, as this should be a teachable moment. With the new existence of the Independent Supporters Council (ISC), maybe some cooler heads will prevail. At the very least, there are indications that the better organized and responsible supporters groups are renewing their efforts to keep this kind of thing from happening to them. Hopefully, that becomes the prevailing attitude.