Monday, April 25, 2016

[D.C. Untied 8] D.C. United vs New England Revolution, April 23, 2016

The Backstreet Boys had it right in their 1996 hit song “I’ll Never Break Your Heart”: It’s time to let go. Acosta deserves a try, honey.

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.)

Monday, April 18, 2016

[D.C. Untied 7] D.C. United vs Toronto FC, April 16, 2016

The game on Saturday was essentially over when Sebastian Giovinco put Toronto FC up a goal in the first minute. Our defenders had once again emerged from the locker room the same way I emerge from bed--sluggish, caught in a stare, and needing a cup of a coffee--and forced us to spend 89 minutes plus stoppage time chasing a lead. The 2015 team seemed to use the chase as a focusing mechanism, coming back from behind to victory over and over again throughout the year. The 2016 team, on the other hand, becomes dangerously unhinged when they’re down a goal. After Giovinco scored D.C. United attempted to rally. Once the game settled down, about ten minutes in, United played like we saw them last week against Dallas and in the first half against LA. They were dangerous, organized, and prowling for goals. If we’d scored an equalizer then, we probably would have gone on to win. But we didn’t. We went into halftime down a goal and the second half was spent shooting wild shots from increasingly ludicrous distances. Even defender Sean Franklin got into the action launching a rocket so far over the net it seemed ready to enter orbit. They seemed to already have given up the game as lost with 45 minutes to go.

(United trolling us with that smoke.)

Monday, April 11, 2016

[D.C. Untied 6] D.C. United vs Vancouver Whitecaps, April 9, 2016

At first I wasn’t sure what to think when I read Srdan’s message to the District Ultras earlier last week. One of the leadership, Matt Parsons, was banned from MLS for an entire year? For using a smoke bomb in the parking lot? How can you be banned from MLS? It didn’t make any sense. I was half-convinced it was an inside joke that I was just too new to understand--like the periodic requests from Ultras members for bucket hats. But then the angry comments started pouring in. And the articles and more articles and open letters. The banning of Parsons was a match tossed onto some very, very dry kindling. And the complaints are not just about new logos, old stadiums, a losing team, or prioritising the pearl-clutching suburbanites who come for one game every couple of years over the fans who show up week after week, the complaints are about a lack of respect.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Hype! A grunge documentary.

Recent events in the D.C. United fan community resulting in a year long ban for one fan and the shuttering of a long running fan podcast, which I’ll talk about more when I write about the game on Saturday, led me to a re-watch of Doug Pray’s 1996 film Hype!, a documentary on the rise and further rise of the Seattle grunge scene.

Monday, April 4, 2016

A long dumb post about Idols! (I LOVE IDOLS!)

I’ve thought a lot about Japanese pop idols in recent years. I’ve read some things, written some things, watched many, many hours of delightful entertainment, and listened to idol songs from all across the decades. Japanese pop idols share some surface level similarities with their counterparts in the West but--like many things in Japanese pop culture--it is not helpful to view the two in an apples to apples comparison. One cannot evaluate Japanese pop idols using the same set of criteria that one would use to look at Western pop stars like Justin Bieber or Taylor Smith.

But when the groups do crack through to the more general English language press, the surface level is generally the only level that’s looked at. Idol groups are treated as a joke (“Can you believe this boy band is 40?!”) or as fodder for scolding, social justice warrior outrage (“Why isn’t this girl group more empowered?!”). And just to make it a condescension trifecta, I’ve also seen cultural commentators--generally the type looking to “corner the market” on some underexplored angle of pop culture--attempt to look at mega-popular Japanese idols through the standard “music critic” filter. And guess what? The results of any of the above are always embarrassing to the Westerner.

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