Monday, July 11, 2016

[D.C. Untied 17] Philadelphia Union vs D.C. United, July 9, 2016

“What the actual fuck!” Halftime at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania, and I was furious. It’d been 46 minutes of terrible soccer from D.C. United, compounded by a terrible ref who had handed away two penalty kicks to the Philadelphia Union, which they had promptly converted to a two goal lead over us.

“Two penalty kicks? TWO?” I looked around hoping to unleash my exasperation at somebody but the D.C. United section is emptying out, heading down towards the concourse to get more beer and maybe use the bathroom.

Defeated, I collapsed into my seat and closed my eyes. The breeze from the Delaware River hit the back of my neck. It felt nice. High above the playing field in the away fans section, I hoped for something--anything--positive from United in the second half. After all, hadn’t I just watched Montreal come back from behind and beat the Revs 3-2 last weekend?

I’d walked into Talen an hour or so before feeling hopeful. United had destroyed the New England Revolution at RFK two weeks ago and then managed to draw Real Salt Lake 1-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium, despite Bobby Boswell’s truly horrendous performance that almost cost us a couple more goals, thanks to a stoppage time Jared Jeffrey header. Bill Hamid was back. Jalen Robinson proved himself a capable starter, alleviating concerns that we’d be defenseless if Steve Birnbaum fucked off to play in the apartheid state. Patrick Nyarko was almost ready to return to the line-up. And to top it all off, we’d just signed the (now former) Red Bull Lloyd Sam, a speedy winger who had been the bane of United’s existence in more than one game. Things seemed headed in the right direction after a patchy start to the season.

And then United went and spent 45 minutes, plus a minute stoppage time, taking a giant dump on the field at Talen. Fabi and Marcelo were in competition to see who could give the ball away faster. Taylor Kemp seemed to have forgotten how this game called “soccer” worked. And thanks to the lack of midfield competence from Nicky and Jared Jeffrey, who were doing their best barnyard chicken impersonations, poor Kofi Opare, who had finally earned his first start over ol’ veteran Bobby Boswell, was getting hammered by Philadelphia’s offense.

Whatever hopes I had left--bolstered by a couple verses of, “They’re never going to believe us, we’re winning 3 to 2”--were completely smashed a couple minutes into the second half when the Union scored a third goal, a non-penalty kick goal.

I watched as Taylor Kemp headed a ball out that was already going out, converting a goal kick for us into a corner kick for the Union. I watched Alhaji Kamara get subbed off just as he was finding some sort of rhythm in the game. I watched as Kofi Opare got a second yellow and was ejected from the game and, knowing Ben Olsen, erasing his name from the starting lineup for the rest of the season. And then I watched Ben Olsen decide that down 3 goals, the best thing to do was sub in trusty ol’ center back Bobby Boswell for winger Lamar Neagle because protecting that 0-3 scoreline was clearly the safest course of action.

As the game dragged on, the mood in the away fans section, at least my corner of it, packed with District Ultras loudmouths, went from angry to depressed before finally settling on aggressively sarcastic. A round of “You’re not singing over there” from the Sons of Ben was answered with, “We’re not caring over here.” The lyrics to another song were changed to, “I could be doing my laundry right now.” A series of successfully completed backpasses earned a large sarcastic cheer as the ball finally reached Bill Hamid, who booted it back up the field where it was promptly won by the Union. “Bobby Boswell, give us a hat trick!” alternated with variations on “Fuck you, Pontius. You’re a baby killer.” And finally, “Kill this game now. Kill this game now.”

After far, far, far too long, the final whistle blew and we were put out of our misery. Some of the players clapped in our direction but the away fans were having none of it. How dare they show their faces after that shit show. “Go back to the locker room!” I flipped a double bird toward the field, hoping they could see both of my middle fingers silhouetted in the flood lights. A D.C. United staffer whispered to a couple of the players to take off their shirts to toss into the crowd, although none of us were allowed down near the field so I’m not sure who the shirts were for, nor who would want a precious, sweaty memento of the time United took a collective dump on the field in Chester, PA.

What the actual fuck.

Walking through the post-industrial wasteland of beer stores and boarded up houses surrounding Talen Energy Stadium, happy Union fans munched on free bagels provided by the team’s sponsor, the baked goods company Bimbo, and ooh’ed and ahh’ed over the massive fireworks display happening over the Delaware River.

At least we had banter. Bobby Boswell, give us a hat trick!

Despite being crammed in the backseat of a car between a very sweaty Ultra and a soccer-loving graduate student from Morocco who’d been roped into attending this shit show as his first D.C. United game (“I hope you enjoy back passing.”), the ride back to D.C. went by more quickly than the game had. Banter isn’t polite but it is fun, more fun than watching Taylor Kemp head out a ball that was already going out, turning a goal kick into a corner and being depressed about it.

After that display this week I’m glad this is my last game for a month or so.

(Sad face in my Rolfe jersey. And speaking of which: GET WELL SOON CHRIS ROLFE! My sister was saying that a friend of hers who has been suffering from concussion since March has been able to do podcasts and audio books to help focus her mind. I recommend this podcast times a thousand if you need something new to listen to.)

What motivates professional soccer players to play? What is missing from this team? Is it money? Is it enjoyment of the game itself? A desire to win?

I can’t pretend to understand why this 2016 squad swings wildly from competent to apathetic on what seems to be a weekly basis but as a fan it is beyond frustrating. Is there no cohesion in the locker room? No leadership? What the fuck is Ben Olsen doing? What the fuck is the management doing? Why did I waste an entire Saturday on that shit show when the team never bothered to take their heads out of their collective ass? Do they actually want people to show up to the brand new stadium when it opens? It sure as hell doesn’t feel that way.

And on that sour note, this series is taking a much needed break before returning in August. Bobby Boswell, give us a hat trick.

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