Thursday, September 1, 2016

[D.C. Untied 20] D.C. United vs Chicago Fire, August 27, 2016

Good luck tonight, D.C. United!! I have to admit that I got caught in my "Tommy McNamara For President" T-shirt in Clarendon on Sunday by the dad of a friend of Tommy's. He stopped me and was like, "Tommy McNamara the soccer player?" "Yes," I replied. "I'm a big fan! I'm so mad he didn't get called up to the U.S. Men's National Team." "Well," said Tommy's friend's dad, "I hear he's having a lot of fun in New York." "Tell him I'm cheering for him!" I said. But, the truth is, tonight I'm not cheering for Tommy. I'm cheering for the boys in Black and Red! SORRY TOMMY! Tonight you're on the wrong side.



D.C. United were on a 5-game unbeaten streak. Just a few days after the drama of the muddy 2-2 draw against Red Bull (the subject of D.C. Untied 19), the team had a mid-week game in Montreal against the Impact.

Trying to rest as many players as possible, Benny had fielded a reserve-heavy squad at Saputo Stadium. Luke Mishu, who I’d so cruelly ignored, got his first start of the season at left back. Guys who’d been warming the bench all season (Kofi Opare, Rob Vincent, Julian Buescher) got the nod and as did the guys who’d been pushed to the bench mid-summer with the arrival of Lloyd Sam and Patrick Mullins and the return of Patrick Nyarko (Nick DeLeon, Lamar Neagle). In other words, this wasn’t the squad that had been working together over the last month building up a good run of form. It was the other guys. And we were sending them out against Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti. But, goddamn, D.C. United showed up for business, drawing the Impact 1-1 in a tough game. The magic of that Lloyd Sam-Steve Birnbaum connection on corners was missing, as was the all-over magic of Luciano Acosta but we saw Bill Hamid pull out some great saves and Rob Vincent starting to look like the guy who scored so many goals last season with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. All in all, not a bad a result. Shutting down Drogba is no small task.

Still, a draw is a draw, and late on Saturday afternoon, as I was finishing up post number 19 and getting ready to head out to RFK, I was nervous. The standings had us just above the red line in 6th place--1 point above Orlando. There was no more room for draws. We had to win this game. Then again, we’d said that before and lost. And this Chicago Fire team may have been sitting at the very bottom of the entire league but they had just beaten the Impact 0-3 in Montreal and tied the L.A. Galaxy 2-2. That MLS parity cuts both ways.

It was about 5 p.m. as I pulled into Lot 8. The sun still shone down bright and warm. It was the last home game of the summer. The last time I’d stand around tailgating with the Ultras, sweaty and red in a tank top and as few clothes as I could get away with, drinking borrowed wine out of a red solo cup. The mood down by the riverside was restless. Somebody had brought along 30 or so first-timers, fraternity boy and sorority girl-looking types in pressed khaki shorts and polo shirts. Somehow it made the rest of us look even more disreputable, with our scruffy shorts exposing tattoos, massive beards concealing faces, novelty print t-shirts, beer in one hand taking swigs from a mystery bottle of liquor. Would the frat boys take off their shirts in glee? Would the sorority girls sing?

7 p.m., game time. Down in sections 127 and 128 and there was no sign of any Ultras with field credentials. Srdan and Paul were away. Tim was hobbling around on crutches and moving slowly. At this rate our 90 minute mentality would be more like 85 minutes. Maybe even 80.

The guy to my right, a quiet kid I’d stood next to a handful of times, turns around to face the section. He leans over towards me. “Say, ‘D.C.’” he says, quietly.

“What?” My attention on the game. “Come on, Taylor!”

“Say, ‘D.C.’” he says again.

It takes a second before I get it. Oh! I can do this. I turn around and yell: “D.C.!”

And, like magic, the response: “United!”

“D.C.!”

“United!”

The drum starts up.

Tim makes his way down the stairs.

The banners are raised, flags handed out.

On the field, D.C. United is dominating Chicago. My boy Steve Birnbaum forces two saves out of Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson before even 20 minutes have even gone by. It’s only a matter of time before we score. Only a matter of… Corner kick. Chicago tries to clear but Franklin sends it back into the fray. Marcelo finds Nyarko backheel back to Marcelo who crosses it to Acosta and GOAL!!!!!

The crowd erupts. Across the field, I see Acosta race towards Benny and leap on him in a gleeful hug.

But there’s a lot of game left to play and D.C. just one goal up makes me nervous. We’ve had too many draws. An equalizer is always possible.

And it comes just minutes later. A shot on goal for Chicago. Bill Hamid tries to catch it but the ball slips away. Chicago scores on the rebound.

1-1.

But the D.C. is hungry. They want this win.

Nyarko gets fouled by the skunk-haired Thiam. We see him go down and start to boo. Thiam stalks back towards the prone Nyarko and all hell breaks loose. Red card. Thiam is ejected. We find out later Thiam had flung the ball directly at Nyarko’s head. Unacceptable behavior, especially towards a player who’s coming back from his second concussion of the year.

From that point on, Nyarko is unstoppable. He is going to singlehandedly win this game against his former team or collapse trying. Seconds later Nyarko wins a free kick just outside the penalty box. He looks furious.

Robby Vincent comes in midfield for Jared Jeffrey, who’d taken an elbow to the face earlier in the game. Compact and muscular, with sandy blond hair and beard, Vincent looks like a viking. His shorts and socks seem just barely able to contain his powerful legs and, indeed, almost as soon as he gets on the field Vincent takes the free kick won by Nyarko and launches a missile of a shot towards goal forcing yet another save from Johnson.

Vincent has a spark. The second goal comes from another Vincent rocket. Blocked by Chicago defense, Nyarko races for the rebound sends it back towards Patrick Mullins who just slides it past Johnson and GOAL!!!!!

2-1!

D.C. isn’t done. We head into stoppage time and GOAL! Mullins makes it 3-1!

But Chicago isn’t done either. Seconds later they’re down at the D.C. goal. A fluke deflection off of Birnbaum sends the ball over Hamid’s head. There’s nothing he could have done.

We go into halftime in the lead 3-2 but with something of a bitter feeling.

Down at our end we see a furious Hamid grab his towel and water and stalk off towards the locker room.

The second half starts. The mood in RFK is balancing on a knife’s edge. 4-2 puts us in the clear for victory. 3-3 would see people start exiting early. Which way would the wind blow…?

Mullins has a couple good looks at goal.

Then in the 50th minute another corner from Lloyd Sam, kept alive by Birnbaum, sent across the line by Nyarko. GOAL!!!!!

4-2.

Let the party begin!!!!

If the 90 minute mentality is intense, when that 90 minute mentality is combined with 4 goal victory and the promise of more… sections 127 and 128 are rocking, even the preppy kids I was worried about.

A couple of the Different Drummers, the LGBTQ marching band who’d played in the halftime show, who’d been watching us having fun from the beer garden area, come up and join in. Added to the giant bass drum are a trombone and snare. Ole, oleeeeee! Ole, oleeeeee! Oh, D.C.U.! We’ve stood by you! Your loyal crew! We’ve earned this romp!

On the field, D.C. United are having their own party. The Ultras, our section conveniently located down by the opposition goal in the 2nd half, have a front row seat to some beautiful passing and attacking. Nyarko, Marcelo, Acosta, Sam, Franklin, Mullins, Kemp, Vincent…. Back to Bobby and Steve and then sent forward once again. Chicago barely gets a toe on the ball. Everybody is taking shots.

We start the gleeful chant: “We want 5! We want 5!”

Franklin sends in a cross and Mullins slots it home.

5-2!

And a hat trick for Patrick!

I get up on the chair and raise my arms in victory! Turning around I notice one of the sorority girls has done the same. We are not so different after all.

“We want 6! We want 6!”

The game starts to draw to a close. Nick DeLeon comes on for Patrick Nyarko. We cheer like crazy for Nyarko. The three young guys to my left are excited to see DeLeon. They’d been calling for him to come out the entire game. Their patience is rewarded. As is Nicky’s.

“We want 6!”

Nicky, who has the best hair on the team, who hasn’t scored since 2015, who has sent some insane rockets up to the upper bleachers of RFK, some even insaner rockets to the moon, who has been taken out of the starting lineup, who just had a new baby, who has a D.C. United tattoo. That guy. Nick DeLeon sends in the 6th goal.

6-2.

RFK explodes. "WE WANT 7! WE WANT 7!"

I haven’t been this happy since… I don’t even know when. Last year’s rainy play-in, play-off game when Rolfe sent in that winning goal and we danced in the parking lot until the cops kicked us out.

6-2.

Birnbaum waves to us. We dance in the stands until security kick us out.

I walk directly to the Team Store and buy a Patrick Mullins jersey. I have no shame about my fangirl tendencies. I am a fan. I like being a fan. And Patrick “Hatrick” Mullins, with his passion and hunger for the goal as well as his Benny-in-training facial scruff, has won me over.

I wear the jersey home.

Later, I’ll call my brother for some post-game analysis.

“I wish I could have been there. We kept seeing you during the second half,” he laughed. “They kept cutting to the Ultras after the goals.”

(That's me dead center throwing up a "6".)

I wish he could have been there, too. Next year. With my sister-in-law and my little niece. We’ll all be dancing in the stands.

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