Monday, October 26, 2015

DC United goes down 5-0 against Columbus and I'm compelled to write on being a fan.

It's taken me many, many years to come around to professional sports. For one thing, here in America, a lot of sports-talk is dominated by the same assholes who tormented me when I was in school and who made me feel like shit for not looking like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. Anything they liked must be shitty, right? Multimillionaire athletes, drug scandals, wife-beating, concussions, gun violence, homophobia, bullying, and now the shitshow that is Draft Kings... that is the image of professional sports. Why would I want to get involved in that mess?

Well, I'll tell you. I became a real DC United fan. That's right, Major League Soccer. MLS.

(Little bro, DC United Mascot "Talon", and me... way back in 1998)

(Me, photo taken by little bro, in 2015. Yup. But I now often spot myself in photos of the crowds.)

I'm a fan 20 years in the making. My brother and I have been coming to games for just about that long. He was soccer crazy and I enjoyed spending time with him so we came to games at RFK. We'd stand with the supporter's groups and he'd explain everything to me as the game went on. Who the players were, what was happening, the gossip behind the scenes. I listened, even if I didn't understand, even if all I knew was that standing and yelling for my--no, our--team for 90 minutes was incredibly fun.

But something happened. Maybe 20 years of accumulated facts finally hit a tipping point. Or maybe I just finally reached a place of understanding. Or maybe, this year, after all the terrible things that had happened, the horrible illness I suffered, I just really, really needed somebody to cheer for. Without even realizing it, this year, the names of the players started sticking. Party Boy Pontius, who lives in my neighborhood; our new Finnish player Markus Halsti, hair always on the verge of escaping its band; gifted goalkeeper Bill Hamid, himself on the verge of escaping up to a higher league of play; our serious young Ghanaian defender, Kofi Opare; Jario Arrieta, and his propensity for offsides...

My favorite, though, is former Chicago Fire striker Chris Rolfe. The Bernie Sander-supporting, infamously be-headbanded, toothachingly sweet aspiring farmer Chris Rolfe. (DOESN'T HE KNOW THAT I WANT TO OWN CHICKENS TOO??!! #FarmFresh4Life) And the more I read about Rolfe, the more I liked him and identified with him. Here's a guy with talent, who had some very early success, played his heart out, went to Europe... and then came back. Things didn't quite work out, maybe he got homesick. (Denmark is great and all but is it worth not being home?) Plays for the Fire for a couple years and then they trade him to DC for essentially just a pile of beans. Fire basically tells Rolfe that he's done for. Over the hill. But do you know what Chris Rolfe does? Does he retire? Does he give up? Does he throw a petulant temper tantrum? NO! My boy throws himself into DC United, works hard, and makes himself an invaluable member of the team... (Hope that pile of beans was worth it, Chicago. We're not giving him back.) Something about that level of maturity in life and commitment to craft and the game really just hit home with me. No matter how much talent we're given at birth, success is what we make of it. No matter how much talent we're given at birth, success is not guaranteed. If you wait for the world to hand you things, you'll be waiting a long time. If you let the world define you, you'll always be a disappointment. It's a lesson I learned the hard way. Fighting my way through those early expectations put on me didn't pan out. Defining my own success through love of my work. I feel like we've forgotten how to do this in America... most of us, anyway. But not Chris Rolfe.

My moment of epiphany happened while standing in the rain at RFK stadium on Friday, October 2, 2015. DC United was coming off a 6 game winless streak. They were one goal down against New York Football Club. That one goal scored in the first minute while we were still trying to get to our seats. The first 45 minutes is a grind. But then. Then, Benny Olsen must have put the fear of God into them during halftime because DC United comes out fighting. Running up and down the field with purpose. No longer aimlessly drifting, following the ball. I'm not shivering from cold but jumping up and down with excitement. Rain dripping into my beer, unnoticed. We score once. Equalizing. And then a second goal comes just seconds from the end of the game. WE WON! WE WON! The elation I felt was overwhelming... but familiar. That feeling of seeing a Superstar Rajini movie in a packed theater. That feeling of seeing A.B.C-Z in concert. That's when I knew it for sure. I was a DC United fan.

What I learned about soccer, by osmosis, over those 20 years standing side-by-side with my brother is this: it's a real team sport. Goals are the goal, pardon the pun, but in order to get there you need to have a team. 10 people running around on the field in it for themselves will get nowhere. You need 10 people (and the goalkeeper) working together, willing to pass to a team member with a better shot, willing to play their part, no matter how defensive and unglamorous. When it works, it's beautiful. When it doesn't, it's DC United against the Columbus Crew last night where they crushed us 5-0.

I ended up going to watch the game at local bar at an event hosted by one of the supporters groups. I was nervous, having never attended anything like this before by myself. Would I get mocked for being female? That I only liked "cute" players? Would I be ignored? Hassled? Hit on? Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Despite the loss, I actually had a really nice time. DC fell apart on the field but spending time with the fans, who treated me so kindly, was fun. Commiserating, complaining, (WHY DIDN'T OLSEN TAKE KEMP OUT SOONER?!), laughing in sympathy at poor Bill Hamid's mouthed "ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?????"... the loss matters but it doesn't. I was sad. Sad for the team, who just fell apart. But at the same time I was happy to feel like I belonged. That we were all in this together.

So, yeah. Maybe DC fell apart out there but it will just make the next win that much sweeter. And in the meantime there are things to discuss. Strategies to second guess. All the fun analytics, the shared language of fan bullshitting. And you know I'll be RFK on Wednesday for the first round of playoffs, cheering my butt off in my #18 Chris Rolfe jersey because I am a DC United fan. It's taken me 20 years to get here but you know what? Being a DC United fan is pretty damn great.

Big Billy Hamid getting caught out on camera. Heh. His instagram feed is fabulous, by the way. My man is photogenic.

And one more reason to be proud to be a Chris Rolfe fan. Seriously, what a class act that guy is. ♥

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