Saturday, October 29, 2016

[D.C. Untied 26] (FINAL) D.C. United vs Montreal Impact, October 27, 2016

A note from me: If you enjoyed reading this series I’d love to hear from you. I had a lot of fun writing these pieces and would love to hear what people liked (or what they didn’t). I’m not sure what my project over the next few months will be. I’ve grown very impatient with film and the discussion around film and television. But on the other hand, I have a stack of 1970s Japanese cult films never released with subtitles and that have no reviews in English so that might be fun… anyways. Please enjoy this final installment of D.C. Untied!

Consider Icarus, pasting those sticky wings on,

testing that strange little tug at his shoulder blade,

and think of that first flawless moment over the lawn

of the labyrinth. Think of the difference it made!

There below are the trees, as awkward as camels;

and here are the shocked starlings pumping past

and think of innocent Icarus who is doing quite well.

Larger than a sail, over the fog and the blast

of the plushy ocean, he goes. Admire his wings!

Feel the fire at his neck and see how casually

he glances up and is caught, wondrously tunneling

into that hot eye. Who cares that he fell back to the sea?

See him acclaiming the sun and come plunging down

while his sensible daddy goes straight into town.

--Anne Sexton, “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph”

Utter devastation was the price demanded, that I paid, for all the high-flying optimism of the previous couple of months. The bubble of expectation fed by glowing press coverage, confident quotes from the team, and a bombastic winning streak of the sort we hadn’t seen in years was burst just 4 minutes into the play-in game on Thursday night when big ol’ bald Ciman got his head on a corner kick sent in by Donadel and made the score 0-1. United would never recover. The score would be 0-2 before halftime and 0-4 by the 80th minute. We did manage to claw back 2 points in a frenzy of stoppage time attacking but--unlike at Red Bull Arena in September--the damage was already too great. There was nothing positive for the fans to take away. There was no game this weekend. There would be no more games until 2017. This was it. It was over.

There was a trophy-sized hole in my chest.

I wasn’t angry. No, all my anger had already been unleashed during the match yelling at the referee for not handing out yellow cards for Montreal’s blatant time wasting and abundance of cynical fouls and at Montreal’s players for callously committing those crimes.

By the time the fourth goal for Montreal had come and gone without United even threatening a comeback, all I felt was numb. I stripped off my flower crown, my jersey, my sweater, and joined the shirtless bros behind me in their frenzied beer-fueled dance. What else could we do? “May as well party until the end!” I yelled to my brother. This was the first game he’d been able to attend since his little daughter, my adorable little niece, was born. My sister-in-law knew how important the playoffs were and even though she’d worked the night before and would be working the following night, she’d offered to solo parent for the evening so my brother could attend. His face was grim. His shirt stayed on.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We’d been so happy all day. The promised rain had failed to materialize and it was warm enough that we didn’t need the jackets and hats we’d brought along. The D.C. United team store had even stepped up their game and had surprised us all with limited edition raccoon dolls, playing on the reputation of RFK Stadium as home to all sorts of feral animals, as cute and clever as anything I’d ever seen in Japan, the ultimate benchmark for cute and clever goods. I’d dug out my 2014 playoff scarf, the one with “We Want Five” written on it. And I’d spotted a few others in Lot 8. We’d won the home field advantage. We’d rested all our starters. We were on a hot streak. We were already talking about going up against the Red Bulls in the semi-finals. They’d knocked us out the last two years but this time we’d get our revenge.

And then… pop!

I’d known I was flying too high but the momentum kept pushing me forward.

It was too late to stop.

The wax began to melt and I went plummeting headfirst into the deep, blue ocean of despair.

It turns out that despite the personnel changes, the hot streak, all the goals scored in the second half of the season, this was at heart the same team I’d watched give up three goals to FC Dallas at home in March looking like deer caught in the headlights, ultimately unsure of themselves and suffering from performance anxiety.

It was a completely different feeling to last year when we reached the playoffs like a runaway car with the brakes cut, just sputtering until it ran out of gas.

This year we’d really choked.

United couldn’t deliver when it had really counted.

And so that’s it.

We fans now enter the pre-preseason earlier than expected. Instead of focusing on the nitty gritty, focusing only on the game to come, counting points and eagerly watching our rivals for clues to their undoing, we move to picking apart our own season-wide performance. In the end it doesn’t matter that the ref should have called out Montreal for time wasting and fouling, that Coach Ben shouldn’t have killed the momentum by resting all his starters, that the front office had been going overboard on the playoff hype, all that matters is United didn’t have the mental toughness, the discipline, to battle through it. And you aren’t an MLS Cup team if you don’t have that.

But I’ll say this… 2016 was a hell of a ride and I don’t regret one single second of cheering for this uneven, frustrating, exhilarating, inspiringly good, devastatingly poor, ultimately flaming out in a spectacular fashion of a team.

It may have been heartbreaking at the end but I was never bored.

And I meet a lot of really great people.

And learned more about soccer than I thought possible.

And learned how much I still need to learn.

And drank a lot of Tecate outside.

Ate my weight in pupusas.

Danced like a crazy person.

Ripped off my shirt.

Gave away too many scarves in trades with other teams' fans.

I had fun.

And I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

There are a lot of stadiums across the country I have yet to visit and new friends to make at RFK.

Just a few more months until I get to send out my “welcoming committee” tweets to our new draft picks…

Feel the fire at his neck and see how casually

he glances up and is caught, wondrously tunneling

into that hot eye. Who cares that he fell back to the sea?

See him acclaiming the sun and come plunging down

while his sensible daddy goes straight into town.


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