Fourteen minutes into a matinee Major League Soccer (MLS) game between the Kansas City Wizards and the D.C. United on July 4, background commotion dominates the sounds of massive Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
The racket resembles a drum line, rolling through the concourse behind the fans and making an entrance typically reserved for A-list celebrities. They turn left at Section 104 and head down to a chunk of empty seats, three guys beating drums with force and a dozen more singing festive songs in Spanish.
That's when it hits you: This isn't just a sporting event. It's one heck of a party.
For just $16, one can buy a lower-level general admission ticket and sit 10 feet from the action. T-shirts are given away. Elite athletes battle it out right in front of you. Kids sit on dads' shoulders, asking question after question. And you think, "Just what have I been missing all these years?"
This year, the MLS is hoping that soccer superstar David Beckham, newly installed at the L.A. Galaxy, will boost the sport's profile here. But even ahead of the Galaxy's highly anticipated appearance here Sept. 27, the world's most popular sport is attractive enough for many who trek to Arrowhead on this day. But MLS games are so much more than that.
It's the fans who go wild whenever the home team has a scoring chance, who heckle whenever the opponent is way off the mark, who wave flags of each Wizards players' native country during pregame introductions.
Nowhere is the atmosphere more exciting than Section 104, where drums beat in constant rhythm and chants flow nonstop. "We are the Wizards! The mighty, mighty Wizards!" goes one. "Oh, when the Wiz ... go marching in ..." is in the rotation. So is the popular "Oleeeee Ole Ole Oleeeee!"
On and on they go. They never, ever stop.
"That makes it a lot more fun," said Mark Weese of Olathe, Kan., who attends about four games a year. "Otherwise, people would just be sitting on their hands the whole game."
Mr. Weese is typical of many fans who show up. His son plays youth soccer, and seeing the country's best piqued their interest. Once they got here, the atmosphere hooked them.
It's no surprise. Even after the Wizards beat themselves, plunking a shot off the post, failing to get a good chance on more than one breakaway and eventually losing 1-0, Section 104 is as wild as ever. Confetti is thrown, a blue smoke bomb is set off, a toy gun shoots off hundreds of bubbles, and the drums play on through it all.
On the way out of the stadium, a visitor's instinct is to grab a pocket schedule and see when the next home game is. Because one thought outweighs all others: You know something? That was pretty cool.
• For schedules and team information, see the MLS website: www.mlsnet.com