During the off-season I plan on speaking with a handful of D.C. United fans to try and capture some of the fantastic stories I've been hearing all year at the tailgates, on the bus, and in the stands.
Maryland-born and raised Jason Anderson is a long time presence in the Washington-area soccer scene and has been a D.C. United fan since before D.C. United existed. He is currently managing editor of Black and Red United, SBNation’s D.C. United website, and co-host of the Filibuster Podcast.
This conversation was recorded on November 23-24, 2016. This transcription has been edited slightly for smoothness and clarity. You may re-post the link to the interview but please do not re-post any of the content.
Part 1: Beginnings - 2000.
Filmi Girl: Okay, we’re recording now. First question--what are you drinking? [This is question that starts off every episode of Filibuster. - FG ]
Jason: [Nonplussed even though I didn’t give the question in advance] I have a Sweet Baby Jesus by DuClaw Brewing. It’s a peanut butter chocolate stout, I think. Or porter. It’s a porter, I think. Um, which is pretty good at this time of year. Usually you start finding it on the shelves a little too early like it’s still hot out but it’s around right now and it’s cold so it’s pretty much perfect. Peanut chocolate seems a little like it might be a bit much but it really isn’t.
Filmi Girl: No, it’s good. I’ve had that one before. (pause) Okay, just checking. So, let’s rewind all the way back to the beginning. When do you first remember playing soccer?
Jason: I was 5 and the first day of first grade our teacher gave out sign up forms and my parents were like, “Do you want to do this?” And I was like, yeah I guess. I have a distinct memory of at the first practice my dad--he was held up at work a few minutes late--and we got there about 10 minutes after they had started. And they told us which team to go to and we walked over and they had two small goals set up and there were kids just sort of aimlessly playing. And the coach was just standing in front of one of the goals and if a shot came he would just sort of kick the ball away aimlessly as well and I walked up and my dad was like, “This is Jason. He’s on the team.” And [the coach] was like, “Oh good. You’re the last player; I guess you’re the goalie. Here.” And I stood in the goal and someone took a shot and I didn’t get out of the way of it. So, as a result of this act of bravery I spent an entire season as a goalkeeper.
Filmi Girl: As like a 5 or 6 year old?
Jason: Yeah, as a 5 year old goalkeeper. Because I didn’t get out of the way of the ball so therefore the coach was like, well that’s better than the other kid that wanted to be goalie. He apparently wasn’t going to get in the way of every ball so um--
Filmi Girl: So the first thing you learned as a kid was run towards the ball.
Jason: Yeah pretty much.
Filmi Girl: Or at least don’t run out of the way of the ball. First lesson of soccer.
Jason: Right, try and stand in the way. In that level of soccer they’re just parents out there. You aren’t getting soccer coaches, you’re just getting people who are basically babysitting. Especially since this was 1987. No one was doing specialized soccer coaching at this point but I guess this guy was aware enough to be like, let’s make sure that you’re not just stuck playing one position the entire time. The little kids games get very clustered. It’s just a bunch of kids kicking the ball off of each other for a long time so the goalkeepers are really-- It’s just got to bet the most boring thing in the world for little kids. So [later] I got to play as a field player and that was more interesting and I stuck with that from that point on.
Filmi Girl: So you kept playing all through school. Did they rotate you around to different positions on the field? Was there anything that really stuck out? Anywhere you really liked playing?
Jason: I guess it wasn’t until I turned 8 that the league that I was playing for actually starting having a team that would play teams from other towns. And I think I got put in midfield because I was kind of good at everything but not great at any one specific thing. I remember that the qualifications to be a defender were like how far could you kick the ball because clearing the ball was the main job of defenders. It wasn’t defending or communicating like professionals, it was just can you kick the ball farther than other players. So I didn’t quite kick the ball far enough so I was a midfielder or a forward most of the time.
And then I was playing a ton as I got older. I was thinking about this earlier today. I think there was a stretch of time when I was in high school where I was playing on my high school team and my club team and I was probably doing five or six practices per week plus three games per week and I also played on an indoor team. So I really didn’t do anything else in high school other than play soccer and try to get into mischief when I wasn’t playing soccer.
Filmi Girl: Did you have a group of soccer friends? Like you guys all palled around?
Jason: Oh yeah. I was hanging out with the same people. Not every person was on every single team but a lot of them were on one or two throughout the years. I have one friend that met that first county level team when I was 8. He was the first kid to show up at practice other than me and we’ve been friends ever since. He played high school soccer with me as well. Even for the last organized team I was on--my indoor team with my college friends--he was on that team too. So, yeah, a few of those guys I’ve hung out with pretty much my entire life.
Filmi Girl: That’s pretty crazy. And this is all in maryland, I’m assuming.
Jason: Yeah. I did live in Georgia for like 6 months when I was 3 but that was it.
Filmi Girl: And this is out in the country or in the suburbs?
Jason: This is all in Anne Arundel county. Crofton, where [U.S. Men’s National Team player] Kyle Beckerman was playing at a slightly higher level than I was.
Filmi Girl: Do you remember him at all?
Jason: Yeah, he’s the same age as me so he was in middle school with me. He lived across the street from my club team’s goalkeeper and we hung like 3 or 4 times goofing off in the goalkeeper’s backyard. They had a big hill and we were trying to learn how to snowboard but it was in the summer so we had these like skateboard decks with no wheels and we were just trying to ride them down the hill and not end up breaking arms or anything. No one got injured badly but there were a bunch of bad falls and clumsy-- the kind of things dumb 7th and 8th graders do. I think he came by for a few of those and he was probably better at that than we were because he was generally more athletic than other people. So, yeah, we hung out a few times.
Filmi Girl: I’m assuming he didn’t have the same hair back then? [Kyle Beckerman is known for his long dreadlocks. -FG]
Jason: No, the Crofton [Maryland] hairstyle of that era was more the like long straight hair, the skater haircut of the mid-1990s. He had the long skater hair just like most of the kids I knew at the time.
Filmi Girl: Do you remember when you crossed the line from like, “soccer is something I do with my friends” to “oh wait a minute there are people that do this for a living”?
Jason: I guess I was aware of it from a pretty early age because the Baltimore Blast indoor team was kind of a big deal. They would get six or seven thousand people for indoor games. The funny thing though is that I don’t have too many Blast memories. The year that we started going they were purchased by another guy and he renamed them the Baltimore Spirit so I went to a ton of Baltimore Spirit games. Not the owner of the Washington Spirit, it’s a different person who also wanted to name his team in this area the Spirit.
Filmi Girl: It’s a patriotic name, I guess?
Jason: No, The Baltimore Spirit went with a straight-up ghost motif. Like their mascot was a dude in a cartoony ghost costume. Um-- yeah. I went to a bunch of those so I realized there were people doing this for a job and they were kind of fun but it wasn’t really until the buildup to World Cup 1994.
They announced that there would be games at RFK right around that time. This was 1993. They started having friendlies at RFK to sort of build up the audience. So they had the Italian Supercup [Supercoppa Italiana] between the Serie A champion and the Coppa Italia champion from the previous year. They played that at RFK so I got to see AC Milan play Torino and I had heard of [them] from reading Soccer Jr. and Soccer America when they were actual physical magazines. Soccer Jr. doesn’t even exist--I don’t think that’s existed for 20 years. [Soccer Jr. seems to have disappeared after it was acquired by Scholastic. - FG ]
Filmi Girl: These were soccer magazines for kids?
Jason: Soccer Jr. was for kids. My parents would like give me a birthday subscription.
Filmi Girl: And they were pretty encouraging of your hobby at that point?
Jason: Yeah, my dad coached most of my teams. My mom went to pretty much all of my games which was an undertaking because she’s not particularly into very many sports. But, yeah, we were a working class family so they didn’t have a lot to put into it financially outside of the commitment of driving and the time commitment but for stuff like magazines, it’s reading. It’s both addressing the one thing I seem to actually be into and also it was reading rather than playing video games. So I think they looked at that as a win-win and it probably was pretty cheap, too, back in those days.
Filmi Girl: What kind of stuff was in there?
Jason: Soccer America was more like-- it was one of the only places you could get soccer news at the time. So you’d get like news updates of games that happened days ago or even a week ago.
Filmi Girl: Because this is all pre-internet, obviously.
Jason: Yeah, so you’d get a big game like, “Real Madrid played Barcelona 3 days ago and this is what happened.” And I’m sure the people putting that together were going off of a translated report from Spain or something like that. Soccer Jr., that was more like player profiles rather than news and I think they also included things like, here’s a drill you can do on your own to get better. That sort of thing. I would read both of those as soon as they arrived, all the way through, and then probably again during the week.
Filmi Girl: But it gave you a sense of belonging to a bigger community of soccer fans around the world? Like it wasn’t just you, there were all these other people out there?
Jason: Yeah, that helped a lot. And going to those friendlies at RFK. Seeing all the--I want to say AC Milan and Torino fans but the stadium was like 95% AC Milan fans. Seeing all these people in the red and black stripes of AC Milan. It was like, this is a big deal and this is a team that’s not even in the U.S.
Filmi Girl: Had you seen soccer played like that before?
Jason: Not really. Not to the national team level. You know I’d been to-- Every couple of years somebody would try to resurrect this Baltimore semi-pro team called the Baltimore Bays. It was an outdoor team so I would see adults playing decent level soccer outdoors but it wasn’t same. I knew even at that age that it wasn’t the same thing at all as watching Italian club teams.
At that time, in the early 1990s, Serie A was the world’s best league by a wide margin and it was like watching a different sport. And when the World Cup came, I got a bigger sense of the fact that all these countries had teams that were better than teams that I had ever seen before. We went to all five games that were played at RFK. I got to see, I think FIFA declared it the second best goal in World Cup history. [Group Stage, Belgium v. Saudi Arabia, June 29, 1994] It was a guy named Saeed al-Owairan from Saudi Arabia and he picked up the ball maybe 40 yards from his own goal and I think he beat 7 or 8 Belgian players on the way to score without any help from anyone else. So I got to see that in person which was pretty cool.
I got to see [Italy’s Roberto] Baggio but he was injured so he didn’t really play very well. But that was Italy playing Mexico [Group Stage, June 28, 1994; Please watch the linked video - FG] and I don’t think I’ve ever been to an atmosphere like that since. I mean it wasn’t just tickets sold, every seat at RFK was occupied. This was well before the Nationals came to town [which was in 2005 - FG] and destroyed the seats behind the north goal and they had put temporary bleachers behind the south goal so every inch of the stadium that could be occupied by fans was filled up. And with it being Italy and Mexico so many people were there rooting for one or othe other. And just seeing the fervor that people had. It didn’t see any violence it was just that people were so, so deeply invested in it. It was kind of an eye opener more than some of the other games.
Mexico had played Norway [Group Stage, June 19, 1994] and there’d been a ton of Mexico fans but I think Mexico viewed Norway as like a speed bump rather than an opponent so I think no one was really that fired up. The Norwegian fans were just happy to be there. So that was more of a big party. The Mexico-Italy game was very intense. Everyone there was extremely on edge about what was going to go on, on the field.
It’s funny because there was a round of 16 game there but it was Spain beating Switzerland 3-nothing. [July 2, 1994] It was a blowout. So that game, I thought that was going to be the best of the tournament but it ended up being the least interesting game by far. But yeah the Italy-Mexico game was pretty incredible. I mean people talk about RFK shaking nowadays but we were in the upper deck and I was like, this stadium is probably going to collapse. This might it for me. Which, as a 12 year old, is a complicated thought. Like, well, you know, at least we’re having some fun, I guess?
Filmi Girl: So after the ‘94 World Cup do you remember when you first began hearing that there might be a team in DC, a new American soccer league?
Jason: We got the [Washington] Post every day at the time and it was just in the sports section one day. My dad was reading it after work probably and he was like, “Hey! Hey, come here.” So I came in there and he was like, “Read this.” And he handed me the paper--he would always fold it up in a very complicated pattern so he was only looking at once small section of the paper--and he hands me the paper all folded up and there was this little blurb saying that U.S. Soccer had announced that. I don’t think they’d even settled on the name Major League Soccer at the time but I think they named a set of like 7 or 8 cities that were confirmed and then they filled out the last couple later. And Washington, DC was in one of them.
They had said during the World Cup that they were going to try and use the cities that had hosted the World Cup because they figured that was where the lasting interest would be but they never-- Up until that point, there had been no indication of who was going to get it. And because it was pre-Internet there had been no indication of who was even bidding aggressively or anything it was just, well wait a year and you’ll find out. So it had been in the back of my mind for all that time. I guess it was spring or early summer 1995 where they announced that and it was extremely exciting. And then I had to wait another full year until I could actually go see them.
Filmi Girl: Were you the kind of person who would cut things out of magazines or the paper or whatever?
Jason: Oh, yeah. For something like that-- I remember when they first started talking about having Bruce Arena as the coach because he had been completely dominant in college soccer. So, I remember having that article cut out or saved in some way so i could go back and re-read, it as if there was going to be something new in there. There was just such a lack of soccer information available.
I was thinking earlier that I used to have this World Cup poster on my wall that I got before World Cup ‘94 and it had the details of every World Cup up to that point and just like eight or nine factoids from each one and the group stage and the knockout round broken down by who won. I kept that poster up into high school and I would still look at the poster and read it over and over. It was like I was trying to commit it to memory just in case something happened. It was the same with what, at that point, was just the Washington professional team that was coming.
It was really exciting. I remember I knew about Marco Etcheverry from the World Cup. I don’t remember exactly how, I think he had won--he hadn’t won World Player of the Year but maybe he was like South America’s Player of the Year [Etcheverry was 2nd place South American Player of the Year in 1993. - FG] coming into the World Cup and my dad and I had both read about him, in Soccer America probably. He was just a guy whose name we knew and we knew he had remarkable hair and that was all we really knew. We were super excited. Bolivia was going to play and we made sure to watch that game and he had been injured so he didn’t start the game and he subbed in and he got red carded within like 3 or 4 minutes and he was suspended for the next, I think actually he might have been suspended for both of their remaining games because they got eliminated. [Bolivia had made the World Cup for the first time since 1950 but finished bottom of Group C. - FG] We had been so excited to see him and then he’d played very briefly and got ejected and then when they said he was going to play for DC United but it was like, this is really exciting as long as he doesn’t get a red card every time.
Hearing things like John Harkes was coming. That was something to keep talking about because he was someone that every time the national team was on TV he was starting. So that was a big deal.
Filmi Girl: So, did you do a lot of this stuff with your dad? Would you talk to your friends at school? Were they excited?
Jason: To a certain extent, it depended on who you were talking to. Some of the guys just wanted to play and that was it. My friend Chris, the one that I’ve known since we were 8, he went to the World Cup. His dad was really into going to any live sporting event basically, so for him the soccer games were just as good as anything else. [Chris] went to DC United games for the first couple years and then he stopped wanting to go. When you get to be 14 or 15 you start to realize that what you’re doing is either fitting in or not fitting in and I was completely comfortable with just like, I’m going to watch soccer and if the rest of you don’t like it, fine. I’m going to keep doing it anyway. And I think he was more interested in fitting in.
We didn’t go to public high school we went to St. Mary’s in Annapolis and so there was the extra step of having to fit in with brand new people and I guess I’m just stubborn enough where I was like this is what I’m into, if it’s weird and strange then so be it. And I think he was like, well I would rather just play soccer and that no one is going to look at you strange for but coming to school in a soccer jersey is going to be a little bit odd. And I was maybe a little-- I don’t want to say comfortable, just more stubborn. Like this is what I’m doing and that’s that. Everyone else can go to hell. That was my attitude about it.
Filmi Girl: (laugh) I may have been that way myself. So, you’d talk with your dad and record the games and read the articles. And then do you remember the ramp up to, like this team is going to be called D.C. United and it’s going to be here and I can go to the games? Because that would have been all through 1995 into 1996.
Jason: Yeah, in 1995 I think the league was so busy trying to get themselves together enough to actually play they didn’t put much information out there. So there’d occasionally be stuff coming through the Post but that was pretty much it. There wasn’t that much information out there. It was kind of known that Arena was going to try and sign as many University of Virginia players as he could. The big name players were announced but that was pretty much it. So it was kind of a mystery at first.
I knew about [Marco] Etcheverry. I didn’t know anything about Raul Diaz Arce except I knew he was from El Salvador and I knew he played for their national team. The other Bolivian forward they signed at first before Jaime Moreno was a guy named Juan Berthy Suárez and they said he was going to be really good and it turned out he was awful. One of the reasons MLS has so many complicated rules now is because they’ve been trying to figure it out as they go along and this was before they’d figured out anything. They were just starting. So Juan Berthy Suárez was supposed to be roughly speaking the equivalent of a designated player, not necessarily on the financial level but the teams were given X number of internationals and DC United was like, “This guy’s no good, give us another one.” And the league was like, “Alright, we’ll go find you somebody else.” And they went out and got Jaime Moreno who was, I think, 19 or 20 when he came over. He had been playing in England, which was extremely rare for a player from Bolivia. It still is rare for a player from Bolivia. They brought him in and it was immediately obvious, like as soon as he took the field, it was like, oh this is going to work out just fine. But it was interesting because the team was bad to start and I remember not really caring that much that they were bad. It was like, it’s fine that they’re bad. They exist and that’s what counts.
Filmi Girl: Were you watching on TV at this point or going to RFK?
Jason: We went to every game--every game that we go could to that didn’t contrast with [my games]. Most of my games were on Saturday so if they were playing too early in the day we wouldn’t go but otherwise I’d go play my game and then we’d hustle home and I’d have to go change and everything and then we’d head to RFK for games. I guess the best way to put it was we went whenever we could.
Filmi Girl: And tickets were pretty reasonable?
Jason: I don’t remember what the prices were but I know that we kept going and we didn’t have much money so they must have been dirt cheap at the time. It must have been like 10 bucks because that year especially, in ‘96, there was plenty of reason to doubt whether there would be a ‘97 season so they were like, we need to fill this stadium up every time to convince investors that this is worth the time. They wanted to get as many people into the building as possible.
Filmi Girl: Do you have any memory of what those crowds were like or were you more focused on just the excitement of being there?
Jason: One of my jokes has always been that RFK is a lawless hinterland within DC and back in those days it seemed even more lawless. There wasn’t much in the way of a security presence that I remember in ‘96 and ‘97. When Diaz Arce was here the crowd was much more heavily Salvadoran because he was an icon in El Salvador. So it was kind of a different vibe, I would say.
One of the things I remember figuring out early on was that soccer was different from other sports live. These two hispanic guys were sitting behind us and they were drinking something out of a brown paper bag and my friend’s dad was trying to have a conversation with them and he didn’t speak any Spanish and they didn’t speak much English and so they trying to be friendly but it wasn’t really going that well. And the guys sort of had a quick conversation amongst each other and then like tapped my friend’s dad on the shoulder again and they handed him the bag pointing and telling him to have a drink. And he was like, I don’t know what this is, but he goes and has a sip of it and he gives to my dad and later what [my dad] described sounds like aguardiente but obviously at 12 or 13 I wasn’t going to find out.
But I did see this random handoff of a random substance in a bag and compared to going to-- we went to a lot of Washington Capitals games. Those tickets were also like ten bucks, five bucks because the Caps had been bad for like the first decade of their existence. They had just been awful and they were still sort of recovering reputation-wise. Going to Caps games was much different. It was much more of a traditional American sporting event where the jumbotron tells you when to cheer and then the games at RFK were very, very different and much more to my liking. I was like, “Oh, we can just do what we would like? That’s pretty cool. This is much better than at the Caps game where if i happen to stand up to cheer something someone’s going to yell at me if I’m not sitting down within like 2 seconds.” So yeah the vibe was very, very different.
Filmi Girl: So where did you guys usually sit at RFK?
Jason: I think we would just walk up and buy random tickets. I want to say that we probably ended up on the quiet side more often.
Filmi Girl: Do you remember watching over to the loud side?
Jason: I remember sitting over there on the loud side a few times. The Screaming Eagles and Barra Brava had set up roughly where they are now and the rest of it was just random people. No one really knew at that point it was going to be a loud side and a quiet side, it was just people realized that to see the game they were going to have to stand up on that side and that was just how it was. So I think that might have influenced my dad and my friend’s dad buying tickets on the other side more often than not because they maybe didn’t want to stand the whole time if they didn’t have to. But I’m pretty sure that drink handoff was on the loud side so maybe that also planted something in my head, some sort of Inception-style thing where I was like, this is the side where everything is amped up a little bit more.
Filmi Girl: It’s even more lawless.
Jason: Yeah, like I remember at some point in maybe ‘98 or ‘99 there was actually an incident where somebody launched a--I think they brought roman candles or bottle rockets into the stadium and they launched a bottle rocket at the MetroStars bench and it went off under the bench. And I remember that being briefly controversial. If that happened today, it would have been huge but back then it was like, well that’s no good, and that was the last you heard about it. There was no uproar, at least that I could see. I mean granted pre-Internet maybe there was an uproar and it just didn’t make it into the news.
Filmi Girl: So you, your dad, your friend, and your friend’s dad would go to the games all through ‘96. Do you remember the run up to that first MLS Cup?
Jason: The team got pretty hot towards the end of the year once they started figuring things out. They started the season with one win in their first six and so they were pretty bad at first. The season was only 30 games long and I think they only ended up--this was in the shootout era so there were no ties--and i think their record was 15 and 15. [32 games, 16-16 - FG] I had a sense that the team was good enough to win it all. I hadn’t seen the [Los Angeles] Galaxy all that much because the national TV games weren’t slated towards market size, it was just sort of a random game that was thrown on TV. So I hadn't seen the Galaxy too much, so I didn’t really know much beyond they had [U.S. Men’s National Team player] Cobi Jones but that was pretty much all I knew. So the build up to the final was like, everyone that was writing about it--probably just in Soccer America again--was like, this is a tossup it could go to either team. And then the day of the game I remember finding out that the forecast was just horrible rain and heavy wind the entire time. My dad had joked that we should go up for the game, after the semifinal he’d joked about it, and then he was like, “It’s good we didn’t go, right? Just look at the conditions.” And I remember being nervous about that because I had already convinced myself at that point that DC was definitely the better team and that the rain was going to make it sloppy and make it easier for a lesser team to take it away. Like I’d already convinced myself that the right thing was for DC to win the championship and this terrible storm was going to be the thing that took it away from them. Which I don’t know if that’s fair because the Galaxy were pretty good but that was how I approached it as a kid in 1996.
Filmi Girl: No, that seems about right. DC United should always win. So you watched on TV with your dad and then were like, wow there’s going to be a second season of this.
Jason: I think by that point, sometime late in the season, they had confirmed that the league would be back for another year. I don’t have a specific memory about that other than I have a general sense of being relieved that they were going to come back but I don’t remember like sitting down and reading an article or seeing the old commissioner Doug Logan coming out and saying, “Guess what?! We’ll be back!” So that one didn’t stick out to me, I guess because I was young I just had the blind confidence that yes, the league would return.
Even though all the build up to it was like, no one has any idea if this thing is going to last more than like one year I just assumed that it would be back because of course it would, why not? It was probably a lot more touch-and-go at the time then I would have thought but it was really exciting, coming off of one championship and the team comes back and got better. That was pretty fun. The 1997 season was basically, the team looked like the best team in the league. They won the [Supporters] Shield, they won MLS Cup and they actually almost won the Triple. I think they went to penalty kicks against the Dallas Burn in the Open Cup and they lost on penalties [October 29, 1997] so they came that close to winning literally everything they could win.
And DC beat Columbus to go to MLS Cup and it started a years long tradition, all those great DC teams in the ‘90s always eliminated the Columbus Crew in the playoffs. So if you talk to old school Crew fans they still hold DC as one of their least favorite teams because they’re still bitter to this day about every year, no matter how good they were, they would meet DC in the playoffs and get eliminated and then DC would be winning the title a week later.
So that was pretty much like a nonstop party. I was used to following the Caps where they never win anything and to get to have another team that’s the contrast--like this team is actually going to win every trophy available--it was great. So I kind of got to have both have sides of the sports fan equation. I got to have the long suffering fandom and I got to have the constant success fandom all at once.
Filmi Girl: We talked a little bit about the Crew but what about the MetroStars? Did that hatred set in early?
Jason: The Metros nearly knocked DC out [of the playoffs] in the first round in ‘96 and I remember being very upset that someone would come in and possibly take this whole thing away. Which it wasn’t a like, “Wow those guys are really jerks.” It was just like, “How dare you!” (laugh) How dare you come in and try to win a game?
Back then the playoff system was best of three and DC was the higher seed so they got to host the third game because they had split wins and so there was a third game as a decider. [October 2, 1996] The Metros had scored late to equalize and it was 1-1 and DC responded by getting an extremely late penalty kick [won by Etcheverry about 6:08 into the above linked video -FG] and Diaz Arce scored in like the 87th minute and there was no stoppage time in those days the game just ended when the clock went off, like I don’t even think the referee had the authority to blow the final whistle i think there was a horn.
After that game ended, people actually stormed the field to celebrate the late goal and i remember trying to like, I looked at my dad like, can we go out there? And he was like, absolutely not. But I was definitely like one step out of my seat and looking back for what I guess in my head was a blind stab at confirmation like, yeah? And he was like, no. But that one lasted for a long time. I guess the fact that they were always good enough to make the playoffs we always knocked them out it was kind of the same thing every year knocking the Metros and the Crew out on the way to an MLS Cup appearance. And so there was the sense that they were definitely getting bitter towards DC.
There was a penalty kick shootout and the rule seemed to be that you had to submit the order of your shooters and the Metros somehow got around that and they sent Peter Vermes out before they were supposed to and he had an injury but he ended up scoring anyway [September 24, 1996, first leg of the playoffs -FG] and that was pretty controversial at the time, even though changing the order of your shooters is a pretty minor transgression in the grand scheme of things. But I really didn’t get the depth of the animosity between the fans until I started going to road games.
Filmi Girl: And you were still at St. Mary’s through all of this? It must have been a huge contrast between being at RFK and this sort of lawless probably very ethnic atmosphere and then going to Catholic school.
Jason: Oh yeah. It was an extreme contrast between the two. Just by basis of going to those games I was probably seeing more non-white people than most of my graduating class combined. It was kind of a stereotypical private school crowd in Annapolis, which is a wealthy city. There’s a lot of country club going. I shouldn’t say I didn’t in because it sounds like I had this bad time in high school and I actually had a pretty good time but I definitely was odd. I definitely found people to hang out with but it was definitely like, I was the strange one in the group. I guess every group’s got their oddball and it was just going to be me. So, yeah. Going to DC United games was definitely a huge difference to going to high school every day, that’s for sure.
Filmi Girl: You were playing on the soccer team in high school then too. Did you ever try anything you saw at RFK on the field?
Jason: Etcheverry scored a couple goals where he lobbed the goalkeeper from midfield and I was really big on trying that. I never pulled it off in a game but I had it happen in practices. We would play full field scrimmages in practice and I pulled it off a few times. I was never fast so I had to be pretty good at faking people out to get away from them because I couldn’t just run past them. I couldn’t just touch it past them and go, I had to be a little smarter about it, so I got really good at the sombrero which is just to flick the ball over somebody’s head and go around them that way. That became kind of a go-to thing for me. I’m trying to think of any other specifics.
I remember generally having a really rigid point of view that every player on the field should be good and technical and really trying to play the “right way” and DC had this player Geoff Aunger. He was a Canadian national team player and Aunger was a pure destroyer. He wasn’t really very good at soccer, he was good at being physical. Getting in the way and giving the ball to somebody else, that was all he was really capable of and I remember being very disappointed that DC would field a player like that. It let down my very strident views on how the game was supposed to be played because at the time I was a teenager so I had the like combination of being extremely headstrong and sure that I was right without the worldly perspective to actually have the a field of reference to say that I was right. And so things like that.
I think it wasn’t necessarily specific moves or anything like that, it was more I was trying understand the game as best I could. This is kind of going away from DC United but I remember in during World Cup 1998, I was just home the whole summer and so I used my allowance to buy a bunch of VHS tapes and I recorded the entire World Cup and then as soon as the World Cup was done, I just started it over from the beginning on my tapes. So I had a whole summer of just watching World Cup games all day long. So I was just trying to learn as much as I could from going to live games, from going to see DC play and also watching these tapes from the World Cup. It was about spacing and formations and coaching decisions and things like that. Because I was never fast enough or skillful enough to be the kind of player who could get away with not being very smart. So for me, I’m super competitive but I also had these big disadvantages, so I was like how am I going to satisfy my competitive urges because I can’t get faster. It’s already too late. That ship has sailed. So the thing I figured out was that I better be the smartest player I can be and so I just watched as much as I possibly could just to see where people were supposed to be, what choices they were supposed to make. I tried to be very good at the boring stuff basically like if I passed the ball to somebody I wanted to make sure it was on the foot that they prefered or if they were running on to it, to make sure they could run onto it rather than to their feet so they wouldn’t have to stop. It was all about little things and filling in details because I couldn’t do the big spectacular things so i had to be very good at all the boring stuff.
Filmi Girl: Did you ever have it in the back of your head that you wanted to play in college?
Jason: For the longest time, even realizing that I wasn’t fast and I was never the best player on any team I was on, even though that was the case, I had convinced myself that this was a viable life plan, that I was going to play soccer for money and that was that. And I think at some point my dad had to actually sit me down and say, “You need to think about other possibilities because that might not happen you need to prepare for that not being what happens to you. You need some other way to make a living.”
But I did think about playing in college. I knew i wasn’t going to be able to play Division I and then I had to choose between the possibility of pursuing Division III, which I could have played at an adequate Division III school but most Division III schools are in the middle of nowhere and I didn't want any part of that. I wanted cities nearby. I wanted diversity nearby. I wanted to be able to see all this different stuff rather than seeing the same three or four hundred people. St. Mary’s is a pretty small school and I was just used to seeing the same people over and over again and I didn’t want to keep doing that.
My dad, because of his time coaching, had met some college coaches over the years and he was like well the guy that coaches at York [Pennsylvania]--York was a contender every year in the Division III NCAA--he was like, “You know, he would give you serious consideration. You might have to be sitting on the bench for two years, three years, before you really started to play, but you could do it. You would just have to really, really give everything you have to it.” York, Pennsylvania was still far away from everything. It just wasn’t enough of a good deal to be passionate about it so I ended up just going to [the University of] Maryland knowing full well that I was never going to play for them because they’re one of the best programs in the country at any level.
It was like, it’s fine. I’ll play in the intramural and that will be fun enough. And I can still play in random indoor leagues. My dad still played for an over-30 team and I was occasionally playing for them as a ringer, which was always pretty fun. A 19-year old who’s been training five or six times a week let loose amongst a bunch of guys who work nine-to-five and then try and keep in shape with this. So those games were pretty fun. Every team was so short of players [in that league] that each team could bring two players that were under 30 to play and me and one guy I played with on my club team would come out and the other teams started to get very upset because the two of us were two of the three good players on my dad’s team and my dad’s team was usually first or second place. They had one guy who was Salvadoran who was really good. And the three of us would just, whenever we were on the field together at the same time it was just kind of a mess for the other team.
There was one team that was all Korean guys and they had never had subs and they were in such excellent shape that they would run all these other over 30 teams into the ground and they were all guys who were like 31 and 32 and they were in their early 30s. Those guys must have been health nuts because I would go to the games even when the ringer rule wasn’t in place and with that team it was always the same thing. By halftime my dad’s team would be exhausted and the Korean guys would look like they had just started, like they could easily push to a higher gear. And I was used to playing players in roughly the same level of cardiovascular fitness as I was but I was like this is what happens when you have players who haven’t been running at all playing against guys who have. It’s a disaster. I still was kind of lazy about my fitness habits. Outside of just training, I didn’t do anything on my own.
Filmi Girl: No jogging or anything?
Jason: Not really, but from seeing those guys just wipe the floor with all the other teams without having any subs it was like maybe I should pay a little better attention to this. I probably should have learned that lesson a little more but-- um I’m sorry. I forgot where this question started.
Filmi Girl: No, that’s alright. I’m very familiar with your podcast.