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 2: Decline and Rebuild, 2000-2007.
Filmi Girl: So, you went to [the University of] Maryland and you kept going to DC United games, I’m assuming.
Jason: Yeah, my getting into college present, other than the money to go to college, was season tickets. My parents bought me one season ticket and I would drive over to RFK by myself and unfortunately 2000 was the first year DC was bad. They won MLS Cup in 1999 and then the salary cap was a major problem and they had to get rid of so many important players. So 2000 was bad and that was my first year as a season ticket holder. I was like, well, I guess I just have to suffer for a while.
Filmi Girl: Well you had all those memories of the caps to fall back on.
Jason: Right, I had trained.
Filmi Girl: You hadn’t been jogging but you had been going to Caps games. (laugh)
Jason: (laugh) Yeah, I was emotionally prepared to just endure a team being bad. That year, 2000, was right at the end of my senior year and one of my high school friends that wasn’t really a soccer fan, he wanted to see what it was like. So he was like, let’s go to a game and the Galaxy came to RFK for the season opener [March 25, 2000] and they won 4-0 and it was--I was, I just i didn’t even want to talk to anybody because it was just the worst loss they’d ever had up to that point. So I was angry and also stunned and he was like, “That was fun!” And I was like, “That was not fun. That was no good at all. I don’t even want to talk about it.”
And then college started and by the time college started it was the fall so the season was mostly over but even by graduation, early summer, it was like this team is irredeemably bad. There’s no fixing this group. They need like 5 or 6 new players and that was the environment I found myself in as a season ticket holder at first. And then 2001 was even worse.
I would go to Maryland games to see college soccer and you would always see MLS coaches hanging out there if they were in town to play DC. This was back when Maryland was pretty good but it wasn’t like now where they get four or five thousand people to every game no matter what. For an early season game against a non-ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference] opponent there would be like three or four hundred people at Ludwig Field. They didn’t even have the stadium style seating. It was just stands on one side and like a small little bleacher on the other and that was it.
I remember watching a game sitting directly in front of [D.C. United head coach, 1999-2001] Thomas Rongen and [D.C. United coach, 2002-2004] Ray Hudson. Hudson was coaching the Miami Fusion and they were in town to play DC and I had been sitting in the stands and I was like off by myself and they wanted to find a secluded spot to watch the game and talk about it. And so they were sitting right behind me and the funny thing was Hudson brought one of his assistants with him, a guy named John Trask, and he was in the team polo shirt and had like a notepad and a bunch of other stuff and Hudson and Rongen sat there the whole time reminiscing about their playing days in the NASL and then talking about where to get a drink after the game, whether there was a place nearby or they had to go back into DC. Whereas as Trask’s job was to take notes on the game and so he was furiously taking notes the entire time while Rongen and Hudson were having this amusing conversation about like, “Do you remember this game and oh there was almost a fight and blah blah blah…”
If you hear Rongen and Hudson now, they’re not really playing a character. When no one’s around that’s pretty much how they are. So it was kind of funny, over the years, to hear that develop. But I also remember at the time being very frustrated with Rongen because [DC United] was bad. So, I would see him in College Park, like at every Maryland game he would always be there, and I didn’t want to yell at him or anything but I was like, can’t you get this team to do a better job? This is ridiculous! Because, yeah, the 2001 team was atrocious and then ironically when Rongen was let go the Fusion had folded that year and Ray Hudson was signed as the head coach and then his first year was just as bad as Rongen’s previous year so there was no real change.
Filmi Girl: So, 2000-2002 was just a pit of suck?
Jason: Yeah, because they missed the playoffs 2000, 2001, 2002. 2003 they barely made the playoffs with a goal on the last day of the season to get in but the 2003 team was miserable to watch. Because it was the first time DC United had been a defensive team. They weren’t good enough to play attacking soccer and under Rongen it was just like, we’re going to try it anyway. And Hudson’s first year he was like, we’re going to try attacking soccer and it kept just not working. So it was the first year of seeing the team be bad and also not fun to watch.
That was a pretty rough year even though they got into the playoffs in 2003. This was when the [Miami] Fusion and the Tampa Bay Mutiny had folded so the league was down to 10 teams and 8 teams got into the playoffs and they still needed a goal on the last day of the season to qualify at all and then they got crushed by Chicago [Fire] in the playoffs so it was like they didn’t even make the playoffs.
Filmi Girl: Do you have any memories of like players from that time or memorable games or has it all merged into a few years of grinding awfulness?
Jason: Let’s see. It was kind of depressing to watch [Marco] Etcheverry getting old and knowing that he was getting too old to be able to carry the team anymore. The lack of mobility he had meant that you had to build your team around him but he just wasn’t good enough to justify it anymore. It’s kind of rough whenever you have to see your heroes get old and that was what was going on there.
Seeing Jaime Moreno have the back injury that almost ended his career. He actually ended up getting traded in 2003 to the MetroStars, so he played a season for the MetroStars. He only scored two goals that year and one of them was against DC United, which was just one of the most of course things ever. He didn’t celebrate or anything but it was just like, you know he’s going to score today. He’s got one goal on the year [April 19, 2003, 1-1 draw @ the LA Galaxy -FG] and I want to say it was late summer and so it was established he was not playing well and it was like, god, they’re not even good and he’s going to play and he’s going to score and it’s going to be the worst thing. And that’s exactly what happened. [July 5, 2003]
Filmi Girl: They called him the double agent.
Jason: Yeah, yeah. Because he went to the Metros and was promptly having his worst year as a pro. It turned out he was having a major back problem which is why if you look at old photos of him and you look at him from 2004 on, the 2004 Moreno was much more bulked up and it was because he had to get really strong so that his back would function correctly. I think there was a story about him working out with some recently retired NFL player just to get as strong as he could in the upper body so he could sustain having a bad back. [Moreno worked out with former Redskin Eddie Mason - FG] Essentially he had to have some major surgical procedure that was like a threat to his playing career. That was after 2003 when the Metros let him go because I think if i’m not mistaken DC actually picked him back up as a free agent or had to trade like their last draft pick in 2010, like some future draft pick that no one cared about, to get Moreno’s rights back. And it was only after putting him through a ton of physical exams and stuff to make sure that he was going to be up for it and then it turns out he was back and he was brilliant again so that was pretty cool.
I remember [New Zealand Mens National Team player] Ryan Nelsen. There was one year he had 4 goals as a defender and he ended up finishing tied for team lead in goals, as a defender. [2002, where Nelsen was right behind Bobby Convey and Ali Curtis with a whopping 5 each.] Because they were so bad that year that 4 goals was enough to be the team’s [second] best goal scoring total, which gave me preparation later for 2010 and 2013. I was like, we’ve done this before.
Filmi Girl: Then 2004. So what was happening leading into 2004.
Jason: Piotr Nowak was named coach and this was before anyone knew that Piotr Nowak was a lunatic.
Filmi Girl: Yeah, that was really disturbing. The stories that came out. [Read the documentation of abuse from Nowak’s time coaching the Philadelphia Union that came out in unsealed court documents on Philly.com. -FG]
Jason: Yeah, I mean everyone knew he was extremely intense and demanding. When he had been in Chicago [1999-2002] he had always been the hardest working player on his team. Despite being the attacking midfielder he always yelling at referees but he wasn’t losing his head. He was keeping it just barely restrained. And he would always just run himself into the ground and it was like, if this guy takes over as coach it’s going to be like having a drill instructor as a coach but at least he’s played at a pretty high level. He had played at the Bundesliga, he had been Poland’s best player for some amount of time, so with the Chicago Fire Bob Bradley had sort of had Novak like an assistant coach/player, so the thought was that he was going to be a good mind for the game; he was going to be very strict and demanding but not necessarily--what later came out was that he was straight up abusive.
But no one knew that at the time. It was just like, well, Hudson was let go. The team has seen some major comings and goings. They had signed [U.S. Mens National Team player] Earnie Stewart in 2003 but that hadn’t really turned out that well because Hudson played Stewart, I’m not mistaken, as a forward, as a number 10, on both wings, and he even played one game as a defensive midfielder as an experiment. And this was supposed to be the one good player on the team that wasn’t physically unable to play anymore, so that hadn’t really worked and there was a lot of uncertainty.
They had drafted Alecko Eskandarian in 2003 but he hadn’t really scored very many goals as a rookie. He was supposed to be a huge deal. He was the first overall pick and that hadn’t really panned out. So it was like is he going to actually pan out as a pro? [Read about the concussion Esky suffered in his first year in MLS in Players Tribune. -FG] Is Stewart going to adjust to MLS? Jaime Moreno came back but it was like, what are we going to get out of Jaime Moreno at this point? No one knew that Ryan Nelsen was going to be that good, that Nick Rimando was going to be good. During the first set of bad years Ben Olsen had an ankle injury that kept him off the field for almost 2 solid years and this was him transitioning from being a winger who was very fast to being a defensive midfielder, so no one was sure what was going on with that either. It was a lot of like, I have no idea what to expect with this at all.
They came out and beat San Jose [April 3, 2004] and for the first time in years they looked like a competent, respectable soccer team. It was like, whoa wait a minute this is really cool. We’ve actually got a coherent line up and everyone seems to know what they’re doing. They’re built around Jaime Moreno and maybe this could go somewhere.
This was also Freddy Adu’s first season and so all the talk for people who were just casual fans was Freddy Adu. And I was the weirdo who people would ask about DC United and they would want to know about Freddy Adu and he was not starting, so I was like, “Well he subs in sometimes but let me tell you about this other guy.” And they’re like, “I don’t know who that is.” But Adu actually ended up starting a few games as a number 10 before Christian Gomez arrived. They had played 3-5-2 and it was Olsen, Dema Kovalenko, and Brian Carroll as a central midfield trio and there was no creator in there and they were doing their best but they were still it was just too easy to shut DC down and they tried Adu as an attacking midfielder behind Moreno and Eskandarian and people immediately took it to be like, well, now he’s going to start forever and that’s that and he’ll be the best player in history. When I mean you didn’t have to be an expert to be like, he’s a 14-year old kid and he’s a small 14-year old. He’s still got a lot to learn.
And then they signed Gomez. He’s from Argentina, so that’s a good sign. He’s playing in the Argentine league, so that’s a good sign but no one really knew anything about him and then he was brilliant pretty much immediately. He was in his off season so he wasn’t even fit and he was still so good immediately. It was like, this is exactly what this team needed. He came in I want to say he came in towards the end of the summer transfer window [August 2004; Gomez played his first game August 21, 2004] and DC just took off.
They had been a competent team [before Gomez]. They weren’t anything special but they were competent. You would go and see a respectable performance most of the time but when they added Christian Gomez it was like, oh this team could beat anybody they come across. They played the Revs in like early October [October 9, 2004] and the Revs were hanging on by a thread. It wasn’t a game that DC needed necessarily. They had done enough to solidify things at that point but they beat the Revs and it was like 2-0 or 3-1 [It was 1-0. - FG.] but it was one of those games where it felt like they beat them by five or six. They played them off the field and it was like the Revs are fighting for their lives and DC just brushed them aside like they were nothing. That was when I started to realize that this team isn’t possibly going to win something, this team maybe should win something.
And going to the playoffs they got through the first round pretty easily and then there was the maybe the best game in MLS history: the Eastern Conference final in 2004. They were playing the Revs, of course, and Nelsen was suspended and I maintain, to this day, that the game really wouldn’t have been very good as far as a spectacle if Nelsen had been able to play because the Revs wouldn’t have scored any goals if he had played because the goals came on defensive breakdowns that Ryan Nelsen probably would have prevented. But the world’s better for it because it was a much better spectacle.
I remember one of my friends was going to bring his girlfriend and my dad wanted to go and I was going to buy tickets as a group of four but because I was 22 and I’m not that smart, I waited until like the day before the game to order tickets. To a playoff game. And they were like, “There aren’t four tickets sitting together.” So my dad and I sat in maybe like 235-236 and my friend Troy and his girlfriend, now his wife, they were off somewhere in the 300 section and this had been a time where when DC would score my general celebration was to leave my seat and go run somewhere else and I was packed into the middle so I couldn’t get out of my section. But every time DC scored within 30 seconds my friend Troy would come from some random direction and run into my section and be like, “Ahhh!!!!!!” and then he would run away. He thought that he would meet me halfway and instead I couldn’t get out so he was just coming all the way through and yelling and then running back to his seat. So that was pretty special.
And I do wish I’d been able to afford to go to MLS Cup that year because it turned out that MLS Cups don’t come around that often. At the time I thought there was going to be many more in the near future but it turns out we still haven't been back.
Filmi Girl: Well, there’s always next year.
Filmi Girl: In all this time of going to games, you never thought of joining the supporters groups? Or did you ever get into [infamous soccer forums] Big Soccer or anything like that?
Jason: I started going on Big Soccer right before the end of high school. I got my tickets to the first Dos-a-Cero game [February 28, 2001] through DMing some guy on Big Soccer that was a Crew fan that couldn’t go. He was sitting in [USMNT supporter group] Sam’s Army--this was before American Outlaws even existed--and I was like, I’ll take your tickets and he was like, “Well I need to make sure you’re there to root for the U.S.” So I had to sort of like convince him of my bona fides because in the Big Soccer community there was a big fear that Mexican fans were going to convince U.S. fans to give up their tickets because this was the first time anyone had the idea of telling U.S. fans, maybe try and make sure you buy all the tickets so your team gets home field advantage. So everyone was really fired up about making sure that it happened.
I think in that sequence of qualifying I ended up going to three of five U.S. qualifiers because I was at the game in Columbus and then there was one at RFK [September 1, 2001] and then there was one in New England [Massachusetts, Foxboro Stadium]. That was the one where it was [October 7, 2001] the same day as the U.S. launched their first military attack in Afghanistan so the game wasn’t on TV. It was supposed to be on ABC and then ABC spent the whole day covering the attack in Afghanistan instead. So the only people who saw that game were the people who were there.
My friend Troy and a couple of the guys from his dorm, we went up. (laugh) We were underage but we took a bunch of alcohol with us and I remember being very concerned about the drive up. There was no speeding there was no reckless driving at all. We’re sticking to every single law because we’re got a sack of booze in the back. And when we get there we have to drink all of it so that we don’t have to carry it home and be just as worried again.
We went to the game the next day and the U.S. won. They beat Jamaica 2-1 and the result put them-- it was like they won the game so they were probably going to qualify but the only way they were going to qualify automatically that day was if Trinidad beat Honduras, I think it was. And Trinidad had not won any games at all. So they could qualify but it was like, there’s no chance. And after the U.S. game ended the players came back and out and they were applauding the fans but it wasn’t like a big celebration and then the announcement came over the loudspeakers and they announced the Mexico game [0-0 against Costa Rica] and then they said Honduras, 0, Trinidad and Tobago, 1.
The players knew and a few nerds like me were aware that this meant the U.S. had qualified so like a handful of people were going crazy and the players were going crazy and then the rest of the people in the stands figured it out so it turned into this like huge bedlam. I remember [goalkeeper] Kasey Keller climbed up the goal post and was like sitting like the end of Dr. Strangelove whipping his jersey over his head straddling the crossbar. Earnie Stewart threw his jersey and I jumped as high as I possibly could and it just barely missed my fingers and hit the guy behind me in the chest. So that guy got Earnie Stewart’s jersey from that game because I could not jump, which i still regret to this day. I think Keller threw his jersey that my friend Pat almost caught but, yeah, that was pretty nuts. Because we went up expecting to have a nice time and watch the U.S. beat Jamaica and we ended up seeing them qualify for the World Cup and then we got home and my dad was like, “How did the game go?” And I was like, “You didn’t watch?” And he was like, “I don’t know if you know what happened during the game--(laugh)--but no one watched, no one knows what happened.” Because he figured I would just call him when I got back and so he didn’t watch like Sports Center or anything, he decided to go radio silent, which was very easy in 2001. And so I had to tell him, yeah, we won the game and qualified and I almost caught Earnie Stewart’s jersey. It was crazy. I left out the drinking part. I didn’t want him to know how that went.
Filmi Girl: Well I think the statute of limitations is past on that now.
Jason: Yeah, I think so. I think he was probably aware to some extent but he just probably didn’t know that it was like, let’s take more booze than we possibly could use and then drink all of it because we’re convinced that that’s the best plan. But yeah I went to a ton of qualifiers and I went to three or four road games that year as well, 2001.
2000, I just went to games at RFK and that was it. But 2001 even though the team was worse than the year before I was talking to people on Big Soccer and it was like, I might as well go to some road games. I think the first road DC game I went to was DC played at New York and lost 1-0.
Filmi Girl: And this was still--where were they playing then?
Jason: They were playing at Giant’s Stadium.
Filmi Girl: That’s right. And that’s still not technically in New York though, is it?
Jason: No, it’s in New Jersey. It’s in the Meadowlands.
Filmi Girl: Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Jason: People would sometimes make jokes that a midweek MLS game would have like 8,000 people at RFK and it would seem desolate. Imagine 8,000 people at a 75,000 seat stadium and that’s what going to a game against the MetroStars was like. They were the only team in the league that had a concept of “away seating” at the time and so all the MetroStars supporters were behind one goal and way on the other side of the stadium was where they put the away fans so it was just a small section of DC fans behind the other goal and I remember at that first game, I didn’t take the bus or anything, I just drove up by myself.
Filmi Girl: Did you know that you could take a bus?
Jason: I think there had been talk of it on Big Soccer but i didn’t really read in to the details at all. It was just like, well they’ll be there and I’ll find them. Because I was naive enough to think that, you know, it wouldn’t be a big deal to just be wandering around your archrivals’ stadium alone.
Filmi Girl: In a DC United jersey.
Jason: Right. I just thought it would be fine. But I got there and fortunately the entrance I took to get into the stadium. Well I shouldn’t say they were definitely 100% all in on home and away seating because when I went to the ticket window and said, “I’d like one for the away section.” And they were like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And I was like, “Just give me a cheap ticket and I’ll sort it out myself.” And they were like trying to show me the seating chart and I was like, “Just the cheapest ticket possible and I’ll go find where I’m supposed to be.” But fortunately the entrance I walked in was at the right end of the stadium where the DC fans were so that part was easy. I just sort of looked through and saw people in black and was like, okay I belong down there.
At that game, at halftime, two or three guys, they were skinheads, and they had shirts that said “Skinheads for Peace” and they came over and tried to start a fight. They just lingered around and kept trying to find somebody to make enough fun of that they would get into a fight and a couple of the DC fans were very drunk and eventually one of them sort of started to try and approach them. And one of my first actions as a travelling DC fan was to jump on the DC fan’s back and be like, “No, no we’re not getting into a fight with these skinheads. This is ridiculous.” So everyone just started making fun of them until the skinheads were discouraged and just gave up and walked away. That was an interesting-- I was like skinheads? This is not what i expected at all. This isn’t england in the ‘80s.
Filmi Girl: So it would have been New Jersey, New England, Columbus--
Jason: Yeah, that was pretty much it. The only drives I could do were those within one day. I did a Revs game where I drove up, went to the Revs game, and then drove home. Which was in retrospect-- I was like 2 hours into the drive home and I was like, this is so stupid. Why did I do this? Because I was working on the weekends and I had just enough money to like, between my campus meal card and the money I would make on the weekends I had just enough money to like buy beer and occasionally go for Chipotle or pizza or something so i didn't’ have the spare money to go buy a hotel room for myself. An extra 50 dollars lost was just not happening so it was like sitting on the side of the road trying to wake myself back up. I was like, this is so stupid. This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. Why did I think that 16 hours of driving for a 2 hour game was a good idea? Which was a good lesson to learn anyway.
Filmi Girl: But you eventually figured out that you could take the bus?
Jason: Right. I think the Screaming Eagles were the ones organizing the bus at the time but I’m not 100% sure who was in charge. It was probably still Jimi [who currently organizes the Screaming Eagles road trips. - FG], I would imagine.
But I drove to a bunch of games because I did always enjoy long drives so it was like, this is a good chance for me to take a long drive with a purpose to it. But I was a bad luck charm. I kept going to games that DC lost and they were losing at a higher rate. Like they kept losing every single road game I went to that year. Even for a bad team that was an abnormally bad run. They should have picked up a tie somewhere in there. So the next year I was like, maybe I shouldn’t go.
Filmi Girl: That would be in 2002?
Jason: Yeah, in 2002. I was like, maybe I’m bad luck. And so I only went to one that year and it was at the MetroStars and they lost again. And then in, I think in 2003 I might not have gone to any. But then in 2004 I went and they beat the MetroStars [The most likely candidate is the Oct. 2, 2004 game -FG] on a Freddy Adu goal, which was pretty awesome because he only had two or three goals at that point so it was a big deal that he had scored. And it was like a deflected goal and like it hit somebody and looped over the goalkeeper instead of going where it was supposed to. I had a bad run of even when DC won a road game, it was still a scrappy goal and like a boring game rather than like something to think back on like, that was so much fun.
Filmi Girl: Yeah, I went to some of those this year . (laugh) So, then we’ll pick up 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007. I feel like that’s kind of an era. Do you have any good memories or bad memories from that kind of mid-2000s period because you would have been still in--?
Jason: I went from going to school in College Park to living in Berwyn Heights, which is right next to College Park. I didn’t really have interest in leaving. I was having too much fun. But, yeah, 2005, I guess, it started getting easier to get people to come with me to games. I think 2004, a couple of my roommates came to a couple of games but that was it but then they won MLS Cup so it was very easy in 2005 to be like, “It’s the best team in the league. Let’s go!”
So I started getting people to show up a little more often and one of my friends from high school was working in DC. He went to UMBC [University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus] so he had been thinking he was just going to live in Baltimore but he got a job in DC. So he started being around and coming to games more often, so it was pretty cool having other people to go with because for the longest time I'd just been going on my own.
It was generally really fun because the team was always a contender. Even when what they were doing didn’t make any sense, usually they were good enough to score enough goals to get away with it. It was funny because everyone thought Tom Soehn [DC United head coach 2007-2009] was no good as a coach but he did win a Supporters Shield [in 2007] and it was a weird thing where because he was an assistant [from 2003-2006] people viewed him like they view [current assistant coach] Chad Ashton now. They just weren’t prepared to give any credit for anything. So when he because the head coach it was like, oh, this going to be terrible. And then they won the Supporters Shield.
It was really, really a lot of fun to watch those teams. It was kind of devastating that they kept getting knocked out of the playoffs. The Eastern Conference was very strong at that point. New England was always a threat. The Fire were very good then. So there were always teams that were definitely--it wasn’t like in the ‘90s when they don’t have a chance against DC. This was an era when arguably the 3 best teams in the league were all playing in the Eastern Conference at the time so there was always the worry that it might not work out.
The 2005 Eastern Conference final, the Revs scored early and just sat on the ball the rest of the time which was very frustrating. And I remember at that game--and this is something that’s happened over the years--is that for playoff games you get people that don’t come to games normally but they'll come to a playoff game. But they expect it to be like going to a Caps game and so they are confused when the loud side is standing. My friends and I--actually the same three guys I went to the qualifier with in New England--we were standing, as you do, and there was a guy behind us a few rows back and he was like, he kept yelling, “Down in front!” And finally somebody turned and was like, “No, everyone stands. You gotta stand to watch the game.” And he became outraged and at one point he yelled at us that we were what was wrong with America, which to this day is a running joke with those guys.
One of my friends is built like a like centerback so he’s big and he’s obviously very strong. And he went to go to the bathroom at halftime and as soon as he walked away this guy [that had been yelling] and another guy that was with him come down and try to goad us into a fight. I was kind of the diplomat of our group and did all the talking and I was like, “You guys have to go sit down and understand the norms of the stadium you’re in. You see everyone else is standing this is just how it’s going to go.” Then they went and got security and claimed that we had threatened them. The usher came over and said, “These guys say you’re threatening them but it looks like they’re very angry and you guys are calm.” And it’s like, “Yeah, that’s a good summation of it. They’re angry with us because we’re standing.” And he looked around for a second and was like, “Look, I don’t want them to keep bothering me. Do you guys mind moving down somewhere else.” We’re like, “We’ll go stand in the Barra if that will make it better.” And he was like, “Yeah, just go to the Barra and if they won’t let you in, I’ll come down and tell them to let you in just to get you away from these guys because these guys are going to keep complaining and it’s probably going to escalate and we don’t need that.” And as we were leaving the guy was like, “Yeah, that’s right!” He was all very proud of himself for chasing away the what was wrong with America, I guess.
Filmi Girl: For standing in the section where everybody stands.
Jason: Yes, for standing in an area where hundreds or thousands of people were standing, as well. Where literally the only way to see the field was to stand.
Filmi Girl: Or you could yell very loudly about it.
Jason: Yeah, you get your way eventually if you complain enough.
Filmi Girl: So, you used to hang out--or still do--behind the supporters groups in those 200 seats.
Jason: Yeah, the middle of the 200 section, near midfield and then also about halfway up the section. It’s a good spot where you’re still involved in chanting and all that but you can also see the game a little more. In the mid-2000s I was maybe a couple sections over so I was more directly behind the Barra whereas now I’m behind the area where the Barra and the Screaming Eagles blend into a sort of quasi-group. But, yeah, back then it was just a few sections over.
And it just seemed like every year the team was a real threat to win something and just every year something would go wrong. 2007, Luciano Emilio couldn’t stop scoring but him and [Jaime] Moreno both had injuries in the last week and half of the regular season. Him and Moreno both sat out the first leg [of the Eastern Conference semifinal] in Chicago [October 25, 2007] and they lost. And then Emilio tried to play the home leg [November 1, 2007] and he’d sprained his ankle and he’d had like one week to recuperate and he was clearly just unable to run. Chicago scored again and DC needed to score three to advance and Gomez pretty much single handedly carried DC back into that one. He scored an equalizer but then he got called for a handball. The handball kind of happened in a crowd of players. He was trying to dribble through a group and the ball popped off of one of them, hit him in the hand, and then fell right in front of him. So, at the time, from the stands, it was hard to tell there’d been a handball. It just looked like a call against Gomez for no reason whatsoever. People were going crazy because they just thought that the referee had blown his whistle for nothing or had called offside. You couldn’t pull it up on your smartphone a few minutes later. I think I didn’t find out that it was an actual, legitimate handball until the Post ran a photo of the ball hitting him in the hand and that’s how I found out. I was like, oh, that really was a handball. It just sucks that they spotted it because I was perfectly fine with winning on a goal that shouldn’t have counted.
Filmi Girl: Well, that’s part of the game.
Jason: Yeah, I mean to go back to 2004, DC played the Metros in the playoffs and, in the first leg, [Ryan] Nelsen played a long ball over the top for Earnie Stewart cutting over the right wing. And if the camera was on the middle of the field, you couldn't see the near touchline, you had to move down a little bit. So in that moment that they had moved, Stewart had come from not on screen, to running in behind the defense and it looked like there was no human way possible that he could have been on-side. The flag never came up. He scored the goal and DC ended up winning the series 4-0 on aggregate.
But what I loved was that no matter how outraged the MetroStars fans were, the TV replays that they had--for offsides you need to know when the ball was struck, where the guy making the run was, and where the line of defense was--and there was no angle that they had that showed everything you needed. So they had an angle where you could see Nelsen and Stewart but not whether Stewart was even with the defense or not. There was a angle where you could see Nelsen and the defense but not Stewart. And one where you could see Stewart and the defense but not Nelsen. And so none of the replays could conclusively show that he was offsides. And so it was very easy in the Big Soccer era to be like, “Yeah, well the replays didn’t show that he was offsides.” And just set off like page after page of just furious rebuttal from MetroStars fans about--
Filmi Girl: (laughing really hard) Wait, so would they come to the DC United boards and or would you go and troll them?
Jason: It was allowed to a certain extent that you could show up and troll a little bit but you couldn’t--like as soon as you started swearing or whatever then you had to go.
Filmi Girl: But you could definitely copy someone’s entire post and then refute it point by point in an even bigger post?
Filmi Girl: That was encouraged? (Still laughing)
Jason: Oh yeah, that was huge.
Filmi Girl: (Still laughing) Do you remember--my brother always talks about the Ben Olsen hat trick against the I guess it was the Metros--
Jason: They were the Red Bulls then.
Filmi Girl: Okay, so, it was the Red Bulls.
Jason: They had just changed to the Red Bulls then. Yeah, I was at that game. The reputation of Olsen being a hero for the fans was already pretty well established.
Filmi Girl: Everybody loved him?
Jason: Yeah, the fact that he had come back from that injury and had reinvented himself as a player and was still able to be not just good but he had made the World Cup team in 2006. So that was a big deal. And he had not really scored many goals at all since he had stopped being a winger so the fact that he scored a hat trick-- [June 10, 2007] One of the goals was an excellent it was like a 30 yard dipping volley and then one of the other goals was like the scrappiest trash goal possible and the fact that it sort of ran the gamut of Ben Olsen as a player. He scores this absolutely world class goal and then scores this goal that’s kind of an accident that's just sort of hard work and being brave enough to throw yourself at the ball and it just sort of bobbles over the line at the last second. That was really fun. There was a lot of that.
2007 was also [David] Beckham’s first year [in MLS]. And DC was good that year and the Galaxy were bad, which was fantastic because DC crushed the Galaxy at RFK [August 9, 2007] and all these people had come out to see Beckham. One of my closest friends, his girlfriend was like, “Well, I want to come to a game but I want to come to a game where there’s a big crowd.” And I was like, “The only game that guarantees a huge crowd is when Beckham comes to town.” And she was like, “I’ll come to that.” And all these people showed up for Beckham and she was like, “Are all these people here for Beckham?” And I was like, “Well, 20,000 people are here for DC and everyone else is here for Beckham alone. And she was like, “Well that’s... I don’t know about that.” And I was like, “Trust me. If you don’t know about that, you can only imagine how I feel right now.”
And then the fact that DC just destroyed them made it so much better. Seeing all the Beckham fans leaving around the 70th minute, just giving up knowing that it wasn’t going to happen. He was playing injured anyway so he really shouldn’t have been on the field. But this being the dawn of a more corporate MLS there was distinct pressure from sponsors and TV that he go out there and try his best but I had no sympathy for him. He was playing for the Galaxy and therefore he had to lose.
Filmi Girl: And we sing better than his wife. (laugh)
Jason: Right. That was an extremely fun game because RFK was packed for a regular season game which hadn’t happened in a while. I remember also being kind of upset that the number of people who went to that game, who were entertained, who had a great time, and then I was like, “Do you want to go to another game?” “No, not really.” I was like, “I mean, you came out, you had fun, it was cheap what do you want?”
But, yeah, 2007 was extraordinarily fun. I remember we got Fox Sports World just in time to watch the Champion League game, DC’s first game of the year [February 21, 2007] and it just so happened that Emilio was playing and he was making his debut against his former team. He had played for Olimpia in Honduras, that’s where DC had signed him from and his first game was at Olimpia. He was totally unknown. The only things people knew about him were like, well, he’d scored a ton of goals in the Honduran league and he’d bounced around. He’d played in Germany, he’d played in Mexico, he spoke like five languages, but that was it.
He was kind of an unknown and he came out and he was immediately excellent at scoring goals. He fit in with Moreno and Gomez perfectly and it was like, this season is going to be really fun. It was really nice to see in the opening game. Everyone, we don’t have to worry about anything right now. Because they I think they beat Olimpia 4-1 in Honduras and then came back and beat them at RFK so they made it really easy on themselves. I remember Olimpia scored a goal to make it 2-2 and I was like, this may get stressful, and Emilio scored maybe 3 minutes later and it was like, oh this isn't going to be stressful at all, this is fine. Everything is great. And it really was until right at the end of the season when Emilio and Moreno both got hurt. That 2007 team was probably the best team they had that decade. Even better than the MLS Cup winning team, I think. The 2007 team would have beaten them pretty handily.
Filmi Girl: So you mentioned 2007 with Beckahm coming in was kind of the dawn of corporate MLS. Could you sense it then?
Jason: Yeah I hink the changes in the rules, the fact that MLS had survived the lean years. I mean the early part of the 2000s was like, they folded 2 teams. I think earlier this year there was the story that came out that said that the owners had decided to pull the plug and Lamar Hunt decided to call them back and was like, let's try this one more time. It had come that close to blinking out completely. So the fact that things got better, the TV deal had improved, that sort of thing. And they had announced the designated player rule and it was kind of a signal that the league was financially healthy enough to possibly become more interesting to bigger sponsors that might want more input. To TV networks actually caring about the product. I think that was the first year jersey sponsorships were opened up so you had a lot of money pouring into the league. You had bigger name players and it’s that old phenomenon of the band that you love, that you go see in a basement with 50 people, all of a sudden they have their hit on the radio and you’ve got to deal with things are going to change. Things are going to get different and the band is going to change. And there’s not much you can do.
It’s interesting to see the generation gap between the fans that were there in the beginning versus the people who picked it up as they went along because the fans that were there in the beginning, the fact that they almost watched the league disappear means that there’s a certain amount of-- well, it's different and it’s not as raw as it used to be. It’s not the lawlessness of the 1990s. It’s not this completely ridiculous thing that’s probably an anachronism. It doesn’t make any sense that it existed but it’s really cool that it did. And the fact that the odd portions of it are becoming a little less odd. I don’t want to call them rough edges because actually I was fond of them but it’s getting sanded down and turned into something a little more “presentable” but it was going to happen if the league was going to survive. That was eventually the end game.
For people that came in at the tail end of that and had it taken away without necessarily seeing the other side of that where the league doesn’t exist, it can be a little more irritating. I completely understand why people feel like that because they didn’t see the near death they just saw the fun times and then all of a sudden--
Filmi Girl: They were “Presented by Audi”.
Jason: Right. And I do kind of enjoy the level of sarcasm that Alexi Lalas brings to the Audi Player Index where he acts very enthusiastic about it. Like just last night during the playoff game [November 22, 2016, Seattle v. Colorado] and somebody had a negative Audi score and you could almost see that he was close to laughing at it but it’s just the nature of the beast, I guess. I don’t know of a way to keep it the way it was and yet also have the money for the soccer to get better so it’s kind of a catch-22.
On one hand there are plenty of people who would keep coming out to games regardless of how good the soccer is and that’s really great because that didn’t used to happen. I mentioned the Baltimore Bays before. [See part 1 of this interview. - FG] There were no supporters groups coming out to watch the Baltimore Bays. It was various youth teams and people that lived they played at umbc soccer stadium so it was just like people that lived in that neighborhood and various youth teams and stragglers coming into watch a random game. That league was probably roughly the level of the NPSL [fourth tier league] today. It was semi-professional and the players were probably making a per diem and that was it. But if you started a random NPSL team in this area you’d probably get a group of people there with banners and chants and everything.
So, that’s really cool that the game has established enough of a foothold that that could happen now but to get to that point it kind of meant that at the highest level it was going to take this sort of new MLS. When I was younger, it would have bothered me a lot more but at the same time I’m also like, if suddenly the league folded and DC’s ownership was like, we’ll keep the team going with whoever we can sign and no one’s going to be making more than 50 grand a year but we’ll keep playing. I mean I would keep coming but I feel like you could take the last zero off of the attendance number. And obviously that’s a problem for people that can fund soccer teams.
So it’s kind of in a weird space because [MLS] also hasn’t necessarily made it yet. It’s sort of made it but sort of hasn’t. I mean whenever anyone anywhere writes an article that says “the big four sports leagues” the instant reaction on soccer twitter is anger. “How dare you not refer to MLS as one of the top four leagues” and, of course, I get mad about that too even though financially an NHL player makes 10 million dollars a year. Nobody in MLS makes 10 million dollars a year. So there’ still a long way to go before you get to--
Filmi Girl: “The big 5.”
Jason: Right. To be this gigantic league that’s recognized all over the world. You either need to round up a bunch of extremely well meaning billionaires who don’t care if they lose money or you’re going to get a bunch of people who want to run it like a business and all the things that come that where fan isn’t different from a customer. That’s just--there’s not really a way around it that I know of. If there was, that’d be awesome but that is the way of things, it seems like.
Filmi Girl: That is sports business, I guess. Well, I’m not sure how long you want to keep talking.
Jason: As long as you want to keep going, I’m fine. I’ve got nothing else to do.