Friday, July 1, 2016

[D.C. Untied 16] D.C. United vs New England Revolution, June 25, 2016


We were living in Southern Maryland 20 years ago when I was 16 and learning to drive. My mother likes to joke that I got my driver license and never looked back. There is an element of truth to that. I used to drive the hour into Washington, D.C. by myself to go to concerts at the 9:30 Club or festivals at RFK Stadium or even, yes, D.C. United games with my little brother. On the road, zooming towards the big city, it felt like real life and real things were waiting in front of me, momentarily escaping a suburban purgatory where nobody understood anything I said. I was fearless in those days before GPS, relying on scribbled directions and instinct to take me from 301 to 295 to 395 to the city.

In the years since, however, I’ve more or less stopped driving. It’s expensive to own a car. It costs much less (and is more Earth-friendly) to simply open the front door and walk outside. I still enjoy the driving itself, putting on some good tunes and barreling down the highway. But the parking, worrying about a giant pile of metal--Will my car get towed? Will I get a flat tire? What if I can’t find parking?--that part is a burden. I’m a gypsy at heart. I need freedom. Freedom of movement.

But Metro had other plans last weekend and, with the Metro repair schedule shutting down service to RFK, I had to drive to the stadium. And it’s a testament to how much I love D.C. United that I actually got into my car and did it.

Driving on 395, 295, seeing the exit for Southern Maryland, it brought up a lot of those old memories for me. In many ways, despite all my life experience, I’m still very much the same girl who drove these roads 20 years ago. Too tall, too earnest, and too intense. Carefully transcribing her experiences afterward for fear of forgetting something important.

Then again the fit of nostalgia could also have been because while I was heading to RFK, my baby brother was heading to the hospital with my sister-in-law. She’d gone into labor. My little niece was on the way and nothing would be the same again.

But right then, it was a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon. The sky was clear blue. Standing around with the Ultras, down by the banks of the Anacostia, I idly watched a game of stump and chatted with a few people--I had a great conversation about nuclear energy policy; the Ultras are smart motherfuckers--but one hand was always on my phone waiting for news from the hospital.

The tensions between the supporters and the front office from the first part of the season seem to have calmed down to an extent but the Ultras are set to continue the first half sit-out protests for the rest of the season. To prove a point: Do not treat us like “customers” because this is not a commercial transaction for us. I was continuing my own mini-protest by not wearing my official jersey (Steve BIRNBAUM #15, baby! #ClarendonBro4Life) but instead had worn the Ultras’ “Defend RFK from Modern Football” t-shirt over a sundress. Fashionable, comfortable, and making a statement. My sneakers had stars on them.

I ducked into the stadium ahead of the supporters march and found my way down to the D.C. United “Fun Pit”, the little section behind goal that used to be the VW Zone and, hilariously, one night last year was turned into the Tinder Zone, despite being packed so thick with bros that they probably would have had better luck if it had been the Grindr Zone.

Although missing the hoopla and branding of the VW Zone, the little “Fun Pit” area is actually quite a nice little place to hang out. There are some picnic tables, a few standing tables under umbrellas, and some pub games like giant jenga and cornhole. Most importantly, earlier in the week, the official D.C. United account had tweeted out that Atlas Brew Works would have their Pivot IPA available in the Fun Pit. Like a moth to a flame, I got myself a can of hoppy goodness at a very reasonable price and went over to stand by the mesh curtain separating the Fun Pit denizens from the field. I spotted a handful of Ultras sitting in the seats behind our normal section off to my left and waved.

(Me and the girls back in the VW Fun Zone days... I want to say 2009? 2008?)

This June 25 game against the New England Revolution was an odd one. It had been moved from Wednesday at last minute so there wasn't as much of a crowd as normal. But the fans that were there were in a good mood.

The good feeling I’d had about the Houston game had yet to dissipate but we’d found out midweek that our own captain and enforcer Bobby Boswell had yet again been caught stomping on an opponent by the Disciplinary Committee. It was no Imbongo situation but he’d be out for the game against the Revs. And Birnbaum still warming the bench for Jurgen Klinsmann and the USA team. Much like our first game against the Revs early this season when both Hamid and Dykstra were out and we shoved a young, untested (in MLS) Travis Worra into goal, this time it’d be a young, untested (in MLS) fourth string center back Jalen Robinson partnering with our third string center back Kofi Opare to try and keep the Revs’ brand new striker, goal-scoring machine, 2015 MLS Cup MVP runner up Kei Kamara, shut down.

I was nervous.

And standing alone behind the goal, I couldn’t even channel my nervous energy into supporters songs. I just had to stand there quietly staring at gormless Brad Knighton’s back. At least it wasn’t Bobby Shuttleworth.

Kickoff.

And United comes out fighting!

Standing behind the New England goal, the action came hurtling towards us.

A build up on the right side of the field and then cross and boom! Sabo sends the ball directly at us, missing the goal but the attempt felt good.

We weren’t going to concede a goal 5 minutes in. We were attacking.

All the pieces seemed to come together. United looked good out there, dominating the New England defense.

And then, right in front of me, another build up to my right, cross and boom! NEAGLE SENDS IT RIGHT PAST KNIGHTON! GOAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Watching the footage back later I see the sick little Nick DeLeon backheel to Lucho Acosta who sends it flying over the defense right to the feet of Lamar Neagle. The joy in RFK is unmistakable. With that, the dry spell since Kamara’s wonder goal in that rain-soaked game against Sporting Kansas City one entire month ago.

Minutes later another build-up sends Sean Franklin crashing right into goal. 2-0!! I turned and hugged the complete stranger standing next to me. (She turned out to be a D.C. United marketing consultant of some sort. I told her I wanted a studly calendar featuring glamor shots like that Tuckernuck photo shoot from May and don’t skimp on the Benny Olsen either.)


(In full disclosure, the marketing woman teased me every time Sean Franklin made his way back towards us for the rest of the first half. "There's your boo!")

I was back in the middle of our supporters section for the second half, watching Bill Hamid dominate the goal like the boss of all bosses that he is. Bill is incredible to watch. Since coming back from injury he’s been unstoppable, his form almost vibrating with kinetic energy waiting to be unleashed. And despite the fact that he’s often caught on camera with an angry growl on his face, Bill is generous and kind. Watching from the Ultras section I saw him time and again give encouragement and congratulations to Jalen and Opare as they hustled. And after a Kei Kamara attack was blocked--spectacularly--and the action moved back down to the Revs’ side of the field, I saw Billy extend a hand to Kei, who was laying on the ground in self-pity, offering to help him up. They’re both from Sierra Leone; they’re both professionals; no hard feelings, right? Kei ignored him.

The second half remained scoreless, although our Kamara, Alhaji Kamara, had a couple of good chances in stoppage time. (I like to think my heckling of Kelyn Rowe while he attempted a throw-in directly in front of me also helped out: “WE’RE GOING TO GIF YOUR FAIL FACE AGAIN KELYN!”)

And then that was it. WE WON! 2-0! Not garbage goals or set piece goals or penalty kicks but two excellent goals from a confident, competent D.C. United side.

Our defense was as solid as it had been in Houston. Our midfield, with Nicky moved back in from the wing to play more centrally with Marcelo and Acosta, was electric. And the missing key, the offense, we’d figured it out. Throw all your best available attacking players on the field at once and see what happens. Sabo trapping and holding the ball up top. Fabi creating magic on the left. And Lamar Neagle running behind defense on the right making the Revs look like suckers time and again. It felt right.


(That's me just over Ben Olsen's head on the banner.)

Driving home, there was still no news from the hospital but I sent along the good news from RFK.

And when I woke up the next morning, still buzzing from the game, there was a picture waiting on my phone: "Good morning, auntie!"

My little niece. ♥

------

Since we're playing again tonight, the question now for D.C. United is whether we ride this wave or if it comes crashing down. We’ve got four road games coming up and we need all the points we can take from them. Will everybody stay healthy? Will Fabi and Sabo and Acosta continue to click? Where does Patrick Nyarko fit in when he returns from concussion? Do we need somebody speedier than Bobby “Dragon” Boswell in the back? Will Ben rip Nicky away from midfield again? How many yellows will Marcelo pick up?

With D.C. United traveling all through July and my own travels planned for the beginning of August, this was my very last chance to see D.C. United at RFK stadium until at least mid-August. (I arrive back from Japan on August 12th so if I really push it I could, in theory, be at the game on August 13th, loopy as fuck from jet lag but present.) I am going to to try to get the July 9th game in Philly but Talen Energy Stadium hijinx aside, this is it for the D.C. Untied series until August.

(I've gone to so many games!!!! THANK YOU D.C. UNITED!!!!)

In the meantime, I suppose it’s back to writing about films and music because I’m never not thinking too much about something. That’s an FG fact.

I’ll finish this off with a big congratulations to Jalen Robinson for a big time first MLS start!

And I also want to send good thoughts and positive energy to Chris Rolfe, who I read this week is still really struggling with a concussion. Having heard what Alecko and Davey said about their experiences with serious concussions, it just breaks my heart to think of Chris going through the same thing. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be a professional athlete--part of a team--and to be sidelined, unable to really train, and feeling like you’re letting everybody down because your head won’t heal itself.

Rolfie has been tweeting about bees a lot recently so I hope he’s found something to keep his mind occupied while he heals. If there is anything I can do, buddy, just let me know. I am an expert ninja-level researcher so if you need information on anything I got you. I also used to be a cheerleader so if you need pep or encouragement I got that too.

Let's get those 3 points in Salt Lake City, eh, boys?

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