Sunday, April 23, 2017

[D.C. United 2.5] D.C. United vs N.Y.C.F.C, April 8, 2017

One of my favorite Season Ticket Holder events last year was the Fan Forum, a town hall style question and answer session with some of the D.C. United staff. Last year we were able to go deep on questions about the new stadium, strategies for the upcoming season, and what all this change would mean for long time fans and supporters. It made me feel like our voices mattered. Unfortunately, that was not the case this year.


The Fan Forum held last Tuesday (April 4th) was a waste of my time. Instead of an open forum we were treated to pre-selected Q’s such as, “Sean Franklin, what is your favorite color?”And even if we had been able to ask those in-depth questions, nobody on the panel was in a position to answer. While I certainly appreciate the willingness of Ben Olsen, Lloyd Sam, and Sean Franklin to come out on a weekday evening and tell us what their favorite restaurants in D.C. are, I know for a fact I wasn’t the only one disappointed with the event because I stayed at the bar afterwards and discussed it in depth with some of the Barra Brava members also in attendence.

The biggest concern we supporters have is the same concern we’ve had since the stadium was announced: Will the front office be working with us to preserve as much of the game day traditions as possible? The answer--silence--seems to indicate “No.” (An answer even more frustrating when we read on the official MLS site about how Orlando City SC worked with the supporters groups to make the game day experience really special.)

There are currently three different D.C. United supporter groups with three very different memberships and styles. The differences in culture among the groups was one of the first things my sister--a black belt in people watching--noticed when I started taking her to games this season: The orderly Screaming Eagles with their roped off tents and formal announcements over the PA system when the keg of K├Âlsch runs out; the Barra Brava with their no-nonsense attitude towards beer, meat, and partying--the attitude being they like lots of all three; and the collectivist DIY District Ultras whose tailgate varies depending on the motivation of the members in attendance that particular day.

If you mix us all up by giving us assigned seating with no regard for supporter group membership, it will blunt our quirks and maybe even snuff out the troublemakers entirely. But it will also wash away twenty-plus years of community that was grown and nurtured at RFK, a project already started with an increase in scolding memos and nitpicking by rent-a-cop security. If that is their intention, the nagging and memos are working. I can report increasing apathy and disengagement in the trenches and a good number of supporters may not make the transition over to Audi Field.

But who they count on to come out to the games rain or shine, win or lose? Who is going to make the banners? Provide the drumming and the cheers and enthusiasm and comradeship? Who will we see every week? A random collection of lookie-loos, school soccer teams on a once-a-season outing, and tourists who couldn’t afford Nats Park? I suppose none of these things matter as long as somebody way up the supply chain is making big bucks. They could play to an empty stadium, every seat purchased by a corporate partner, and it would be the same to the owners. There will be nobody to remember Jaime Moreno, Marco Etcheverry, Luciano Emilio, the miraculous 2013 Open Cup run, the heartbreak of the Christian Gomez handball in the 2007 playoffs, Ben Olsen in his prime, that time a bottle-rocket hit the MetroStars bench in the 1990s, Raul Diaz Arce packing the stands…


(Thanks for being good sport, Lloyd!)


***

The loud side was empty.

Kickoff on Saturday afternoon against N.Y.C.F.C. and the supporters are still leisurely filing in, banners and drums just about ready to go by the time NYC goalkeeper Sean Johnson catches the header blasted in by Bobby Boswell--who is on fire--about ten minutes in.

Perhaps it’s too early in the season to feel the urgency, maybe everybody has channeled their sports energy into the Caps and Wizards, but even though this should be a revenge match, payback for the frigid 0-4 drubbing last month, the crowd isn’t here for blood. The mood in the stands is placid and cheerful.

As the drums start up in the Ultras section and the cheering picks up in earnest, I feel a bit of the old spark. “Oh no you don’t, Rodney Wallace!” yells Lori beside me as the former D.C. United winger attempts a shot on goal. It goes wide! I join her. “You’re not scoring at RFK!”

Halftime, 0-0 and it’s already a miles better performance than a few weeks ago in New York. Even with the way the refs continually give Pirlo the benefit of every single call, the old Italian looking like he’s been yanked out of the vineyard or a photoshoot for high fashion men’s lifestyle magazine. Ben Olsen is wearing white shoes with his suit.

The second half has us within heckling distance of N.Y.C.F.C. goalie Sean Johnson, infamously--allegedly--goaded into a verbal altercation with a Chicago Fire fan last year in which he threatened to meet said fan in the parking lot to finish the discussion. “Hey, Sean John, YOU SUCK!” Not my cleverest work.

And then a bad touch from one of N.Y.C.F.C’s defenders gives Lloyd Sam a golden opportunity and a nearly open goal! He sends it through Sean John’s legs and GOAL!!!!!!!!!!!

1-0!!

The game picks up as N.Y.C.F.C. tries to equalize but soon we’ve collected another from Acosta, casually sliding in a rebound from a Sam volley while Sean John is still scrambling to regain his footing.

2-0!!

And then D.C. settles back with the 2 goals in hand but you can’t turn your back on David Villa.

2-1 as N.Y.C. claws one back in the final minutes of the game. Bill Hamid hitting the ground in frustration, his hard work undone by lax defending.

D.C. has reawoken and puts the pressure back on, Ian Harkes almost scoring his first professional goal in stoppage time.

The whistle blows and that’s it. We won!

But even victory feels subdued in the early evening shadows. It’s not quite enough to erase the awful taste of those four goals we ate in March and it wasn’t a conclusive enough of a performance to make us feel that our early season woes have sorted themselves out. We won this game but the details are already growing fuzzy.

I’ll rewatch the entire match during the week and still take away nothing but a pleasant memory of a lovely afternoon spent outside in the sunshine with my friends.


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