As the sun set over Navy-Marine Corps Stadium on Saturday night, the parking lot was filled with cars. Parents gathered their children, and friends came together as they entered the stadium.
A light breeze went through the concourse as hundreds of fans milled around. The smell of hotdogs and cotton candy filled the air with concession lines growing longer by the minute.
It was an atmosphere on par with an Army-Navy lacrosse game. However, this was the home debut of a minor league soccer team.
The Annapolis Blues introduced themselves to the hometown fans in style Saturday, drawing a crowd that shattered the National Premier Soccer League attendance record. More than 8,300 fans flocked to the match, bringing an energy and enthusiasm that helped propel the Blues to a 4-2 victory over visiting FC Frederick.
The lower level of the stands filled up with Blues supporters within the game’s opening minutes. Flags were scattered along the bottom level, flying high in the air with the team’s blue crab logo blowing in the wind.
Fans wore replica jerseys, commemorative scarves and other Blues gear as fans of all ages proudly represented their new home team’s merchandise.
“The community has adopted this team,” Blues fan Mark Kusek said. “The families are all out already rocking the colors of this club, which is fantastic to see and tells you they want to be behind and backing this team.”
The crowd showed their true colors after the Blues scored first in the 30th minute. The stadium exploded into cheers as the ball crossed the goal line. Fans were high-fiving and celebrating together as striker Jacob Murrell and teammates celebrated the team’s first home goal. Murrell and other members of the Blues ran up into the stands to celebrate with the community supporting them.
Many fans were excited about the size of the crowd, noting it showed tangible support for the fledgling franchise.
“It’s fantastic,” Lynne Forsman said. “I think my first reaction was coming into the parking lot and seeing the tailgate action going on. It was rivaling a football game. I think it just brings the community together.”
Annapolis Blues players also showed their excitement for the local support they received. Midfielder Jackson Ruckman, an Edgewater resident, said it was a dream come true to be able to play in his hometown.
“It’s amazing because I’ve grown up playing and there’s never been a team around here to play for,” he said. “The support that we’re getting in just a few months is unreal, and I’m just so glad I can play for this team.”
Fans in attendance were drawn to the game in different ways. The club promoted the team to fans through their season tickets, where fans receive multiple benefits, including a commemorative scarf to wear to games, a merchandise discount, and two guest tickets for the season.
“We saw in the news that they were starting this team and it was an easy decision to become season ticket holders,” Roger Stott said. “They’re aiming for 7,000 tonight for this level of soccer. That’s amazing. If they keep putting out the product they’re putting out, people will come.”
The crowd’s energy never seemed to let up during the game as the Blues scored three goals late in the second half to erase a 2-1 deficit. The temperature began to drop to the lower 60s with the wind increasing, but Blues fans stayed in their seats.
After every Blues goal, chants of “Let’s Go Blues. Let’s Go Blues” came from every corner of the stands. After the game ended, fans crowded at the bottom of the stands, lining up to get autographs from the players. Kids held out their flags, shirts and other memorabilia with hopes that a Blues player would sign it.
“I find this sport to be very enthusiastic and inclusive,” Blues fan Amanda Pedicord said. “Even though you have got your players on the field, you have also got a lot of people in the stands cheering and being super excited for everything that happens on the field. I think it’s very community inclusive. I think that’s what brings a lot of people to this.”
The Blues return to Annapolis and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday against Virginia Beach City FC.