The era of Espindola and Rolfe is over. Viva Acosta!
Somewhere around the 20 minute mark there was a flurry of activity down by the New England goal. Marcelo sends a beauty of a pass to Lamar Neagle who cuts it through a pack of defenders and it’s all Bobby Shuttleworth can do to throw his hands up to deflect it away from goal stumbling to the ground in the process. The ball flies over to wide open space on the other side of the field… where Espindola is standing too far away to do anything about it. Rolfe kind of jogs towards Shuttleworth but at that point the play was over and the ball redistributed down the field. My brother, sister-in-law, and I were sitting in section 228, with a perfect view of the New England goal over the empty District Ultras sections. We watched it all. “Somebody should have been on that rebound!” I yelled in frustration. “What the fuck are they doing?”
The answer came towards the end of the first half. After launching yet another unguided missile from an unreasonable distance, Espindola collapses on the field, clutching his leg. (A hamstring injury, we find out later.) “The way he was playing, I bet he came on with that injury,” my sister-in-law said. My brother and I agreed. Espindola limped off the field and United finished off the first half sitting on a one goal lead, a penalty kick--won by Marcelo, taken by Neagle. The era of Rolfe and Espindola is over.
When we saw the slight figure of Acosta, sporting a fresh buzz cut, ready to come on for Rolfe around the 70 minute mark, the crowd went wild. The guy behind me giddily yelling, “ACOSTA! ACOSTA!” at the top of his lungs. Admittedly he was already shirtless and had overturned at least one beer all over my purse but he had a really good point. I joined in his cheers. “ACOSTA!”
D.C. United scored two more goals. Acosta and then another Saborio poached goal in the dying minutes of the game. 3-0. We won. WE WON!
The victory was all the sweeter after spending a week bracing myself for disaster. The buildup could not have been worse. Ben Olsen had been suspended for the match by MLS for some bullshit reason, the front office was still refusing to take the District Ultras’ complaints seriously, and the win against Vancouver was starting to feel more and more like a fluke. On top of everything, on Tuesday I’d had a sudden flare-up of the illness that knocked me on my ass for months last year. Thankfully it only lasted a couple days but it was an unpleasant reminder of how much pain I could be in. My friend A., who’d been planning on coming with me, had had to cancel for her own health issues. So it was only appropriate that Saturday dawned grey and rainy. I was going to have to work really hard to have a good time. Or so I thought as ran out to the grocery store to pick up canned food for the Ultras’ donation drive for the victims of the Ecuador earthquake, feeling alone in the world with an umbrella in one hand, damp bag full of heavy cans in the other, glasses fogged up.
But then the rain stopped. And my brother called. His schedule had unexpectedly cleared and he and my sister-in-law were coming to the game! Did I want them to come pick me up? HELL YES!
The sun came out.
Lot 8 was buzzing with excitement. People had grills set up. Kids were playing soccer. I dropped my canned food off with the Ultras and then my brother, sister-in-law, and I went to head into RFK early so we could sit down. My sister-in-law is many months pregnant and tailgating is a lot less fun when you can’t drink and standing around is uncomfortable. We stopped for crepes from the food trucks that hang out right by the underpass to the stadium proper, sitting on the curb to eat. It felt good to sit in the sun and eat delicious, sugary pastry.
We spotted members of the Washington Football Team marching band heading into the stadium. This wasn’t just any game. We were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first D.C. United home game at RFK. And the marching band had been invited to play at halftime, their first time back at the stadium since 1996, an overlap year when the football team had shared it with D.C. United before FedEx Field had opened. My brother explained there was still some bad blood between D.C. United fans and the football team from those days, which made it kind of ironic that they’d invite the marching band to play but irony or not, a good marching band is still a lot of fun to watch.
Inside the stadium, the sound system was blasting tunes from 1996. “DC 101 still plays this stuff,” said my brother. “Except now it’s classic rock,” I replied. The nostalgia was overwhelming, as strong as the sun that beat down on us, warming my face and arms. I have so many memories tied up in RFK stadium. Hearing the guitar riff from the Smashing Pumpkins “1979” waft over the field as the teams finished their warm ups, I may as well have been 16 again, diligently tracking all the cool songs on the college rock charts and desperately trying to get tickets to the HFStival, a local all-day rock music festival held by now defunct radio station WHFS. Those weren’t happy days for me but as I grow older, the embarrassment at my past self has turned to fondness. We aren’t the people we were 20 years ago. Some of us weren’t even born yet. Luciano Acosta would have only been a year old. “And we don’t know just where our bones will rest to dust I guess forgotten and absorbed in the earth below.”
“The baby’s kicking!” My sister-in-law said. “Do you want to feel her?” I put my hand on her stomach and for the first time I felt the fluttering that is my little niece stretching her legs.
I ran down to join the Ultras for the second half and caught up on the news. It turns out Ben Olsen had stopped by the Ultras’ tailgate sometime after we’d left! Goalkeeper and brewmaster Andrew Dykstra also came by our section during the second half. Was it a sign the front office was willing to talk? I pulled out the Ben Olsen doll I’d squirreled away in my purse. I’d strapped bells to it, turning it from a delightfully cheezy marketing tool into a totem. Ben Olsen, the D.C. United defensive midfielder turned D.C. United coach, whose grit and hard work had become D.C. United tradition. The man who probably cared just as much about marketing and branding and slick corporate doublespeak as we did-- meaning not at all. He just wanted get on with the next game. And that’s all I wanted, too.
We drove out of Lot 8, high with the lightness of winning, the sun setting, windows rolled all the way down, blasting "Darling Nikki" in honor of the dearly departed Prince. Life moves on. Everything was going to be alright.
(Just because I thought it was funny, I actually completely missed Dykstra when he stopped by our section because I was keeping an eye on ten small children who were hopped up on sugar and moonpies. They'd streamed into the Ultras sections and were having fun jumping up and down and yelling with the rest of us. When we found out later, my brother was like, "I thought that was Dykstra! We saw a hunk in a press pass walking around fist bumping people." Only cool guys allowed.)