Forward Madison FC notched a relatively easy 2-0 victory over the University of Wisconsin men’s soccer team Tuesday behind first-half goals from Brian Bement and Minnesota United loanee Abu Danladi, but that was hardly the point.
Not for the estimated 1,500 fans, anyway, who got their first taste of professional soccer in Madison and a glimpse at the $3 million stadium renovation in a friendly (soccer lingo for an exhibition match) at Breese Stevens Field.
The renovations unveiled Tuesday include a new press box and scoreboard, new bleachers and seats in the grandstand, “standing room” bleachers in the supporters section and new concession stands (cleverly named “Wisco Mingo” and “The Cross Bar”). Club suites and covered seating at the south end of the stadium are yet to be completed.
And the players got a glimpse of the kind of support they can expect from a rabid group of supporters.
One of the additions the club has made to the stadium was to install bleachers in the supporters section at the north end of the field, where about 100 members of The Flock, Forward Union, Left Leg and La Barra 6008 stood, sang and chanted for the full 90 minutes after making an entrance and parading across the field just before kickoff.
“I think it’s great,” said supporter April Kigeya. “We have a very diverse crowd, and they’re getting into the chants and all the songs. For a Tuesday night, it’s a great turnout. We’re in the 87th minute, and you would think that we just started based on the energy of these guys.”
Forward Madison defender and captain Connor Tobin, who didn’t suit up for the friendly but spent much of the game in the supporters’ section, said the energy in Madison lived up to expectations.
“It’s all that people were cracking it up to be when I was looking at signing here,” he said. “This is awesome, man. Tuesday night, soft opening, and what do we have, 12, 1,300 people out here, against a college team, that’s awesome.”
“I heard a lot of screaming, a lot of songs, everything. It was amazing,” said midfielder Vital Nizigiyimana, the only player on the team to make it through open tryouts in November.
“We definitely have the best fan base and USL League One,” said goalkeeper Bryan Sylvestre. “Hands down. 100 percent.”
“The energy was fantastic,” said Managing Director Peter Wilt. “I think The Flock gets a lot of credit for that. Ninety minutes standing, singing, chanting. I don’t know where they get the energy but it was infectious.”
Wilt said the friendly was intended as a test run for a new team in the historic stadium, and served that purpose well.
“It was fantastic. It was a great experience. A lot of learning,” he said. “The idea is this would be a dry run for us operationally, and it served that purpose. I think we did a lot of learning, and I think the fans did, too. Where to park, how to get into the stadium, that sort of thing. But I think it was a fantastic start and just a glimpse of what’s to come when we open April 27. The players put on a good performance, entertained the fans and I think the people that saw professional soccer for the first time are going to be encouraged to come back.”
The Flamingos travel to take on Orlando City B on Friday night then return for their first official home match against Greenville Triumph SC on Saturday, April 27.
“I think April 27 is gonna be something,” said Tobin. “It’s gonna be real special, and people in Madison aren’t gonna wanna miss it.”
“All the people that were in the crowd need to come back again,” said Nizigiyimana. “Everybody bring a friend. Bring a pair.”
Forward Madison has been on the short end of two tough results to open its inaugural seasson, losing 1-0 to Chattanooga despite dominating the possession battle and losing 1-0 to North Texas on a questionable 93rd minute penalty.
“We just have to stay confident, have faith in the group and keep working hard,” Sylvestre said. “Honestly, the last two games we haven’t played bad, the results really haven’t gone our way. But we just have to keep focusing and keep pushing each other each and everyday, which we are and it’s only going to lead to results. It’s still early. But we’re going to start clicking soon and we’re going to start getting a winning streak.”