Friday, December 23, 2016

D.C. United Fan Interview #2 with Jason Anderson [Part 3 of 4]

During the off-season I plan on speaking with a handful of D.C. United fans to try and capture some of the fantastic stories I've been hearing all year at the tailgates, on the bus, and in the stands.

Maryland-born and raised Jason Anderson is a long time presence in the Washington-area soccer scene and has been a D.C. United fan since before D.C. United existed. He is currently managing editor of Black and Red United, SBNation’s D.C. United website, and co-host of the Filibuster Podcast.

This conversation was recorded on November 23-24, 2016. This transcription has been edited slightly for smoothness and clarity. You may re-post the link to the interview but please do not re-post any of the content.

Part 3: The Doldrums, 2008-2012.

Filmi Girl: Okay, so moving on from 2007 and the disappointing end to the season to 2008.

Jason: 2008 is its own animal.

Filmi Girl: Yeah, let’s talk about 2008.

Jason: Well, [DC United president] Kevin Payne was up front that he wanted to win everything. The team had always been ambitious but he wanted to take it to another level. And that’s why they went out and they tried to sign Juan Sebastián Verón. Apparently, the myth goes, that they were very, very close and he was like give me another day to think about it and he ended up signing for [Estudiantes] not just his club growing up but the club his father had been a star at as well. And it turned out great for Estudiantes because he led them to the Copa Libertadores [in 2009] and people in Europe had been saying that he was past it and then it turned out he just needed to be in the right place and he was fantastic.

Verón would have been a perfect designated player. This was back when, even more so than today, if you’re going to sign someone for that amount of money you had to get it right. The salary cap hit was a bigger percentage of your cap budget so if you screwed up a designated player signing your team was pretty much going to be bad. There was no way around it. And Verón would have been a good signing. He would have been the right move. The mistake DC made was not pulling back and considering what to do next.

They were coming off of a Supporters Shield season so they didn’t have to worry too much about how good they were but instead they came so close to Verón that I think they couldn't resist finding somebody else. And they signed Marcelo Gallardo who had also played a bunch for Argentina, just like Verón. He had played in Europe just like Verón. He’d been at PSG [Paris Saint-Germain] for a few years. The problem for Gallardo is he’s small. I mean his nickname was the doll, el muñeco, and it’s because he’s a very small, very frail man. And MLS in those days was even more physical and frenetic than it is now and so the concern was like, obviously he’s got the skill and the intelligence, it’s just what happens when a random MLS defensive midfielder kicks him to bits? And also he had a long track record of getting injured.

And that is exactly what happened. He took a little while to get adjusted but then in May of 2008 to June DC was borderline unstoppable. Gallardo had figured the league out, he was in good shape, everything was working out great. They couldn’t stop scoring. [Gallardo] scored basically a full volley from the endline, like this impossible goal which somehow didn’t even win Goal of the Week, which I’m still upset about because this was back when to get nominated for Goal of the Year you had to win Goal of the Week so he couldn’t go up for Goal of the Year even though it was like the best goal of the decade in MLS. It wasn’t even close. It was an incredible goal.

But then he had a hamstring problem and then a back problem and then a different hamstring problem. He went back to Argentina, which echos now the Galaxy having Steven Gerrard go back to England to work on a hamstring strain as if England and Argentina have better ways to treat hamstring strains than another place. It was obvious that it wasn’t working.

They were up in the [North American] SuperLiga [which only ran from 2007-2010] and they were also in [CONCACAF Champions Cup and Champions League]. They were in that as well and Kevin Payne’s stated goal was win all of these tournaments. He wanted to win MLS Cup. He wanted to win the Open Cup. He wanted to win the Supporters Shield. The SuperLiga. He wanted everything. And this was-- MLS squads were smaller, numerically smaller, and at the bottom of the roster were guys making six thousand a year. So it was already an impossible dream. There was no way this was going to work but he had pushed all his chips in on this.

United had signed Gonzalo Martínez who’d been playing in Serie A and playing for Colombia [national team]. I’ve heard this through the grapevine but I’ve never seen it reported so I have no idea how true it is but the legend goes that halfway through the season [Martínez] decided that Soehn had no idea what he was talking about and he wasn’t communicating with his teammates either and he would just go out and do whatever he wanted in games. He was a defender which is the position where you have to be more scripted and more regimented and he was just doing whatever he pleased. And this was a guy that was supposed to be a cornerstone of that team. They signed Gonzalo Peralta [who sadly just passed away this year] who was supposed to be his defensive partner and it turned out Peralta just wasn’t good enough to play in MLS.

At the same time they’d gotten rid of Christian Gomez and fans were upset about that because they’d gotten rid of [Gomez] to make room for Gallardo which made sense but it was like, man this really sucks because everybody really liked Gomez and then Gallardo got hurt and Gomez was sitting the bench with Colorado because much like today Colorado is not really interested in soccer, they are interested in the prevention of soccer. But, yeah, it was a rough year. Because it looked like only injuries had stopped them from winning a cup the previous year and then they tried to make the next jump to like an All-Time Great MLS team and obviously they’d flown too close to the sun.

And it became obvious midway through the season so you just had to deal with the back half of that year being-- the team was obviously broken. Soehn obviously didn’t know how to fix it, and they were stuck with Gallardo. They couldn’t get rid of him. And then they managed to win the Open Cup in the midst of all that anyways. Which was a strange game because the Charleston Battery had made a run and gotten to the Open Cup final and it was one of the only games that Gallardo played [in the back half of the season]. He came in as a sub, if i’m not mistaken, and there was a brief moment after the game where the players were all celebrating with the trophy and the fans, the handful of fans, because only 8,000 people came to that game.

Filmi Girl: But you were at that game? [September 3, 2008]

Jason: Yeah, I wasn’t missing that game for anything. But there was a moment where Gallardo got the trophy and people were not sure whether to cheer or not. Because it was like the symbol of everything that had gone wrong. And it wasn’t necessarily his fault that his body broke down. He’s just a guy in his early 30s who had a long history of injuries. But it was a real contrast of emotions even on a night where the team had won a Cup, which was unexpected, because this was a team that missed the playoffs.

And also Emilio wasn’t as good that year. He’d gotten a big raise because the previous year he’d gotten the Golden Boot [Emilio scored 20 goals in 2007; 11 goals in 2008 - FG] and then it didn’t actually work. Moreno was starting to show his age. It was a very frustrating year because it seemed like coming in that they were trying to set some sort of history. In the SuperLiga they got knocked out early and the CONCACAF Championship League turned out to be a disaster.

[In 2007 in the CONCACAF Champions Cup] we ended up playing [C.D.] Guadalajara and in the second leg [of the semifinals] in Guadalajara, Moreno [had] scored on a bicycle kick. A bicycle kick lob from the top of the box so it wasn’t a conventional bicycle kick, he chipped the goalkeeper with a bicycle kick. It was ridiculous. DC was very briefly going to go through but Chivas had a shot from long range that [goalkeeper, 2004-2007] Troy Perkins got his hands on but it slipped through his fingers in the rain and it went in.

Filmi Girl: But you had a sense that Kevin Payne was still pretty outspoken in the media?

Jason: Yeah, he was always pretty bold about his media pronouncements and sometimes it was really good and sometimes it was really cool to be the arrogant team. Especially in a league where the Galaxy was they were trying to be that team it was nice to be able to back it up like, you guys aren’t that team, we’re that team. We’re the team with the loud brash owner and we back it up by winning games. But it backfired that year obviously. Soehn made plenty of mistakes but the 2008 team was unsustainable. And DC was paying the price for that season [2008] really until they hit the reset button in 2013 and rebuilt the roster there. That 2008 season hung over everything that happened for five years.  

Filmi Girl: Just the sense of I have is that 2007 final game was the end of an era and from 2008 to 2013 was another chunk of history.

Jason: It didn’t feel like it at the time. The 2007 playoff loss it was like, well our forwards got injured, what are you going to do? They’ll be back next year and they'll be a contender again. So the additional thing was that it was unexpected. It wasn’t like they made a bunch of bad moves and it was clear it wasn’t going to work. It was a surprise that the team didn’t’ carry on in the tradition of the previous few years.

The 2009 season they-- I wouldn’t say they righted the ship but they at least fixed some of what was wrong. But it was still one of those years where it was like, this team isn’t going to go anywhere. They did come very close to making the playoffs. It came down to the final game of the season which was um one of the most ridiculous games I’ve ever seen. [October 24, 2009] They played Kansas City and Kansas City was waiting for Sporting Park to be built so they were playing at a minor league baseball stadium and DC entered the game and they had to win to get into the playoffs. Kansas City took the lead; DC came back to equalize; they made their 3 subs and Julius James pulled his hamstring. And it was obvious that he could not go on but they were out of subs so they sent him to stand up top and he was just limping around up front. He was trying to use one leg to win headers, like hop up on one leg and win headers and just get in the way and he scored a goal in that condition. But then Kansas City ended up--I think it was in the 89th minute--there was a corner kick scramble, Kansas City took a shot, Fred was standing on the line and he knew the ball wasn’t going to hit him in the chest, he had to reach out and slap it down with his hand, so he took the red card. He knew it was coming. Kansas City converted the penalty kick. And then Rodney Wallace in the 93rd minute hit the post on a 20 yard shot and if that ball had gone in DC would have made the playoffs in spite of all that. And I assume that there would have been a spontaneous effort to build a Julius James statue at RFK but the ball hit the post and Kansas City cleared and DC missed the playoffs.

So they did come close but it was one of those things where it never felt like they were going to be a playoff team until the very end. They picked up a few points and it was like, oh, actually they might squeak in anyway.

2010 came and you know [Curt] Onalfo [Set to be the Galaxy’s head coach next year. - FG] was kind of an unknown. He hadn’t done well at Kansas City but he hadn’t been bad, he’d just been sort of middling. I remember Olsen taking the assistant coach job and it was almost like he was like, “Well I retired but I don’t really know what to do with myself so I’ll be an assistant and see if I want to be a coach or not.” And going to into the season it seemed like the team wasn’t going to be very good but didn't seem like they were going to be bad. And then they lost the [opening] game. [March 27, 2010]

I remember having to go to a bar to watch that game because the TV deal was bad that year and Comcast had not built in enough broadcast windows to broadcast every game that wasn’t on national TV. So, I had to go to a bar. I think the team put on the event at some bar because there were like a good two or three hundred people there to watch this game and they had players that didn’t make the trip to sign autographs or what have you and they lost 4-0 to Kansas City. And they didn’t just lose 4-0, you felt the 4-0. It was not one of those games where it was bad luck that Kansas City scored four it was like, oh my god, we’re terrible.

Andy Najar came into that game at halftime which was cool because they had signed to him to a homegrown deal but it was still an unknown thing. He was very young and he’s very small and no one really knows what’s going to happen here. And he played fairly well, so it’s like, maybe that’s good at least.

Filmi Girl: And how old was Andy Najar?

Jason: He was 17.

Filmi Girl: But I’m sure everyone was like, well, remember Freddy Adu?

Jason: Oh, yeah. That hung over every young player signing for years. When Bobby Convey [2000-2004] signed with DC, he signed at 16. Santino Quaranta [2001-2006] signed at 16. Well Quaranta actually came before Freddy Adu but there hadn’t been this incredible amount of hype around his signing. It was like, well, he’s very young but 16-year olds sign professional contracts elsewhere and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. He didn’t have a Sierra Mist commercial with Pele which is maybe a mistake in retrospect. But yeah I think United was definitely burned by their part in handling that. There was a stretch of time where people blamed DC United almost exclusively for how that went, when I think the league also had a tremendous amount of input on how that went as well. And over time people came to realize that it wasn’t just the team’s fault, it wasn’t just the league’s fault, the people that were around Freddy Adu were also involved in over-hyping things and demanding too much, too early. But, yeah, that definitely loomed over anything that DC did. Bill Hamid had been signed just a little before Najar and it was clear that he was very promising.

Filmi Girl: He must have been very young too

Jason: He was 18 when he signed but it was like he was promising and it’s a big deal that he signed but don’t expect him to show up tomorrow and play a game. He’s not going to play anytime soon. And Hamid had played on the youth national teams and all that. So it was kind of known that he was potentially a big deal down the road. Najar, I think the story is that the coach at the high school he was going to happened to see him playing in a pickup game on the school grounds after school one day and was like, “Why are you not on my team?” And [Najar] was like, “Uh, I don’t know? I just got here?” And then he got enrolled in DC’s academy all that from there but he did kind of come out of nowhere. And so there wasn’t much of a reputation with him. He just was sort of an unknown. They hadn’t even defined what position he was going to play.

2010 was when Black and Red United opened up, which is not the best timing to start a blog about a team, when the team is unable to play well or win or anything. Martin Shatzer contacted me after the 2009 season ended and we did a bunch of draft prep. I guess we were up and running when the 2010 draft happened because I remember writing a ton of articles about the draft.

Filmi Girl: You just knew him from the Soccer Insider comments section?

Jason: Yeah, he had had a blog called DCUMD and Steve Davis, the soccer journalist, was starting up SBNation’s soccer pages and he was looking for a DC United blogger and at the time there wasn’t really much out there because Steve Goff [the “Soccer Insider” -FG.] is kind of the Death Star, so to speak. He’s going to break all the news so there’s no one even trying to do anything off to the side. There was United Mania [Ceased in 2016 - FG], they had posts, and I want to say some of the supporters groups used to have occasional soccer analysis or game recaps or something like that but it was spotty. And Martin was doing stuff on a regular basis mostly just because he wanted to write about sports on the side.

Steve Davis contacted [Martin] and he was like, “Do you know anyone that could write for you?” And he’s like, “Well, I don’t have a staff or anything it’s just me doing this thing but I could try and find someone.” And he contacted me because of my incredibly long-winded comments [on Soccer Insider] and was like, “Do you want to write about write for a blog rather than writing comments elsewhere?” And I was like, “Yeah, sure, I’ll do that.”

That Kansas City game that I mentioned--because we didn’t know that this was going to be a serious operation--nowadays we have a photo editor, we have subscriptions to photo services that we can legally use and we don’t go stealing photos from the Internet. At the time none of that was on the table so for our first recap I remember using MS Paint and I took a photo of a tank, like a cartoon from some past war where there was a tank and a soldier running away afraid and I put the Kansas City logo on the tank and the DC United logo on the soldier running away afraid and that was our recap photo for our first ever game recap. Because it was an accurate depiction of how the game went. I’m pretty sure it has been scrubbed because it was clearly not our photo so it got taken down.

But, yeah, it was kind of good in a way that I was having an outlet for that season because that season was miserable. And my friends had started to get married and move here and there and I wasn’t having as much fun elsewhere. So it was kind of a transition year in my life and then on top of that DC United was bad. But at least getting to write about it I got to like make fun of it. I mean it was all gallows humor but at least it was something.

We didn’t get very many commenters at first but I remember one of the games that season that kind of sparked our comment base was DC played at Seattle and there’d been a ton of bad blood because Seattle had come to RFK and won the Open Cup the year before [September 2, 2009] and Seattle fans had been extraordinarily obnoxious about pretty much everything.

Filmi Girl: That doesn’t sound right. (Laughs)

Jason: (Laugh) Actually the funny thing is I get along with the guys from [SBNation’s Seattle Sounders website] Sounder at Heart very well now but at the time they were as brash as the team. They weren’t as mean about it as some of the fans that came to RFK for the Open Cup, for example, but it was still definitely a new team, the brand new thing that everyone was excited about and DC fans were still having to adjust to no longer being the thing that people were excited about. And so there was a lot of bitterness mixed in on the DC side and DC played at Seattle in 2010 and beat them 3-2. [June 10, 2010, on a Pontius Hat Trick!!!!! - FG]

And the 2010 team was a lot like the 2013 team they didn’t score any goals and they certainly didn’t go on the road and score three goals against anybody. And Seattle was very good that year so the combination of things, that game was kind of a spark, kind of a catalyst that our site maybe needed. I remember it might have even been Brendan [Check out my interview with Brendan C. here. - FG] who screencapped-- there was Sounders fan with his head in his hands at the end of the game and he screencapped it and that was huge. Everyone loved it. Everyone was going crazy because the team was obviously bad. Everyone knew this was not a turnaround point, it was just like one bright moment in an otherwise terrible season. So they had to embrace it as best they could. We didn’t have many tools at the time but we managed to make sure that stayed up on the front page for a while because Sounders fans would come in and be like, “Why are you guys still going on about this? You realize you guys are in last and we’re possibly going to win the league?” And we’re like, “That’s why we’re still going on about it because we have nothing else to be happy about. It’s either that or post pictures of potential first round draft pics because that’s all we have to be excited for so yeah we’re going to post this picture of this guy with his head in his hands because it’s fun.”

But, yeah, that season was brutal. And I remember at the end of the year meeting up with Martin and [current Black and Red United Contributing Editor] Adam Taylor, who had come on. We met up at the end of the year and Martin’s take on it was well we’d kept writing throughout this entire terrible season so obviously we’re not going anywhere because if we were going to give up we’d have done so already and that’s true we definitely would have dropped this months ago if the badness of the team was a factor in our participation and so I guess we’re going to stick this out.

And in 2013 Adam was the managing editor at that point and he got to have the exact attitude: well, if you got through this season and you want to keep writing obviously you’re in for the long haul. Hopefully i’m not going to have that speech anytime soon. I don’t want to have to endure a season that’s so terribly bad that I’m worried about people quitting just out of sheer self-preservation.

Filmi Girl: When “Own Goal” is in the running for leading scorer?

Jason: Oh my god. [2013] really was that bad. I will say, I maintain that the 2010 team was worse than 2013. I think the 2010 team was more bad but had average luck whereas the 2013 team was very bad, almost as bad as 2010 but much less lucky. Whenever they did anything right in 2013 it still didn’t work whereas the 2010 team just generally didn’t do anything right. There were moments in 2013 where it was like, this team would be capable of not being --like yes, they’re going to be last, yes they’re the worst team in the league--but not like historically bad. And they showed it during the Open Cup run. They showed that they could put together a coherent game of soccer once a month basically. But, yeah, they were horribly unlucky. But in 2010 that team was middle of the road luck but just genuinely top-to-bottom not good.

Filmi Girl: Do any players stand out from that 2010 team?

Jason: Emilio had left and came back briefly and was clearly not in shape enough to make a difference. They had to deal with the fact that Moreno was no longer able to be a starter. Noticing that Najar deserved to be a starter. That was pretty cool. I remember feeling really bad for Olsen stepping in having spent a couple months determining if he wanted to be a coach full time or not and then stepping in as temporary head coach, not necessarily because he was ready but because no one else was going to take the job. There was no other option and the team knew they needed to give some sort of good news to people so they were like, let’s send out this old hero and hope that people are delighted by it and they’ll maybe ignore that the season is a disaster. And I felt bad for him because clearly it was like, you’re falling on a grenade at that point.

And then also at the end of the season they were like, no you’re not going to be the coach, there’s no way you’re going to be the coach. That just made it like, god, this guy is going through so much for the club and the return on this is like, no, no thanks. Back to the assistant coach ranks with you. But then the well at that point was so poison. I mean it was obvious that the team was broke, that being at RFK was slowly killing them and they couldn't really afford to do better. That’s why Caleb Porter didn’t take the job. The financial side of it made it obvious that it was too difficult of a task and that’s why Olsen ended up taking that job. Because it was like who else is going to take it? And he was like, “I’ll do this i’ll stick this out.” But that’s really not the situation you want to be in when you first start out as a head coach.

But, yeah, the 2010 team (laugh) I think back to all the games of like Danny Allsopp trying to find goals. He scored a goal in a friendly that was actually a pretty good goal and my reaction, I think a lot of people’s reactions was just to start laughing because of course in a friendly that doesn’t mean anything you’re going to have a great game and score a great goal. [Possibly during the July 24, 2010 friendly against Portsmouth where Allsopp scored a hat trick. -FG] And then the rest of the time it’s going to become abundantly clear that you’re just not good enough for MLS.

And then Carlos Ruiz sort of did the same thing in 2013. I remember we played Chivas [C.D. Guadalajara] in a friendly and he had a good game and the game was on ESPN and the broadcasters were like, “Why doesn’t Carlos Ruiz play more often for this DC team? They can’t score any goals and Ruiz is out here playing great.” It was like, you guys haven’t watched us play all year. He’s terrible. He’s playing well in this game because Chivas doesn’t care. Because it’s a friendly. And Allsopp was kind of that guy except he didn’t come with Ruiz’s baggage where it felt like you were signing a deal with the devil and not even getting a good return, with Ruiz.

I remember the distinct sense on--I guess it was just the comments section on Soccer Insider at that point--the distinct sense that Allsopp was not going to be good. Someone went and looked up his history because he had played for Manchester City but this was before Manchester City was owned by billionaires. This was when Manchester City was a terrible team. [Allsopp was with Manchester City from 1998-2000; Manchester City were in the third division in 1998-99 and the second division in 1999-2000] So reputation-wise it was like, oh he played for Man City, and then you look up where they were at the time and it was like, oh he played for a team in the third division that happened to be Man City.

He had been like playing in like United Arab Emirates or something like that and he’d played for Australia but the coach for Australia or the previous coach for Australia at the time had stopped calling him in and said that he was like the worst international striker he’d ever seen or something like that, like some over-the-top insult for a player that’s in your pool of potential national teams guys. [I think the quote referred to here is in 2009 Australia’s then-coach of the national team, Pim Verbeek, referred to Allsopp as “utterly hopeless”.] So the signs were bad. So that was it. This was the guy that’s going to lead the line for DC United in 2010.

Filmi Girl: Was it a cost thing?

Jason: Yeah, I guess. This was just the beginning of them making a bunch of misses in the international market where they didn’t have the money to do the proper scouting to go watch [Allsopp] play in person and it was a lot of taking people’s word for it and they probably just had the wrong people to tell them what was going on and they ended up with just a team that had no chance.

They signed a Salvadoran winger [Christian Castillo, later one of the players banned by FIFA for match fixing. - FG] who had played for the El Salvador national team at the time and he had played really well in their last [World Cup 2010] qualifiers [September 5, 2009, Castillo scored. - FG] and it looked like maybe they had found somebody but right from the start it was like, he’s not cut out for MLS. It was the classic thing of someone playing really well for their national team but not being able to replicate it on a day-to-day basis and that was it. It was like once those signings did not pan out it was like well, there’s nothing else here. We’re just bad and that’s it.

And Chris Pontius, that was the first year he got injured.

Filmi Girl: What was Chris Pontius’s first year?

Jason: He came in in 2009, him and [Rodney] Wallace. They were picked number six and number seven in the [2009 Superdraft]. [DC United] took Wallace and then Pontius and they turned out to be really good finds. But Pontius had his first injury problem in 2010 and Wallace ended up bounced around under Soehn. His position was not really set which wasn’t really a good idea because it was obvious what he should have been but, yeah, that team was a mess and there’s no really redeeming it other than Najar. You know, Olsen gave Hamid his first start that year and it was more like, well look nothing else is going right we might as well let these kids get some games. Which set the stage for 2011 being a not a great team but at least a better team.

Filmi Girl: Dax McCarty and Charlie Davies came that year.

Jason: And Josh Wolff came in. It was funny because the first game of 2011, they won 3-1 and felt to me a lot like that first game of 2004 that I mentioned earlier.  [March 19, 2011, watch the highlights for Josh Wolff whipping of his shirt and jumping into the crowd. - FG] It was a similar off season, like who knows what this team is capable of and they came out and played pretty well against a decent team. They won at home and it was like maybe this team is capable of being better than we thought. I definitely was not like, it’s just like 2004, but it did kind of have that same feeling at the time. I was telling myself, don’t get ahead of yourself on this one. And the team played well for a while and then they lost their way.

So, yeah, the team was at least kind of fun to watch. Najar was blossoming into a bigger deal. Wolff, I always liked Josh Wolff going all the way back to--I mean, he had subbed into that first Dos-a-Cero game and he ended up scoring one goal and assisting the other. He was always my kind of player. He was kind of cerebral. He was fast but he wasn’t relying on his speed and that was it. So him coming in at the end of his career was really cool. Him and Davies looked like a good partnership but the team kind of ran aground midway through the year and Olsen being his in his first full year as a head coach didn’t really know how to pull them out of it yet. Psychologically, didn’t know and tactically, wasn’t ready to fix it. He wasn’t even planning on a being--2 years before he was probably still planning on playing at this time.

Filmi Girl: Because he wasn’t that old.

Jason: No, he wasn’t. He retired early because he couldn’t walk, essentially, after a game. He was 34 and assistant coach. And then the 2010 season happened and he ended up head coach all of a sudden. So he was still learning the trade. But at least that 2011 team was the first time in a while where I felt like this team is going towards something.

2009 was nice not to not be so miserable but it was still not a team to look like there was great hope there. 2011 was like, this was a logical first step when you’ve been as bad as you were in 2010. You’re most likely not back in the playoff pool again. It’s most likely you need a year to re-orient yourself and get back on course and build toward a playoff season the next year.

Some of it didn’t work out. Dax McCarty, Olsen misread what to do with him. He gave him the number ten shirt and was trying to play him first as a number ten and then sort of dropped the idea of having a playmaker and dropped him a little closer to a second defensive midfielder but just higher up the field. There was sort of a little confusion as to what they wanted out of him. And then that ended up turning into Dwayne De Rosario, which short term was fantastic because DeRo was unstoppable that year. It’s the bizarrest thing to win the [MLS Player of the Year] trophy on a team that didn’t make the playoffs, having spent at least one game on 3 different teams. That is definitely not going to happen ever again. That’s a once in a lifetime season. But it still wasn’t enough. It was cool and it was fun to watch. I remember that he set a record for-- not the record for fastest three goals but it was like a hat trick in the least amount of time for a guy that started. Some obscure qualifier. He scored a hat trick in 35 minutes from the start of the game against RSL [September 24, 2011] and all three of the goals were really difficult goals too. So the team was really fun to watch but ultimately the team wasn’t good enough to get into the playoffs, so it was sort of bittersweet, I guess.

[It was the quickest hat trick in MLS history. The Bradley Wright-Phillips record from this year is “fastest from the start of the game” with three goals coming before the 27th minute. Quickest seems to mean fastest from the start of the first goal scored, I think. -FG]

Filmi Girl: And then 2012, I think the memory that stands out for a lot of people is that playoff game.

Jason: Before I jump to 2012, I was just talking last night about Branko Bošković on twitter. In 2011 Bošković got injured and playing in an Open Cup game that I went to out at the ‘Plex. And I will say, for anyone reading this, you should always go to an Open Cup game because you never know what’s going to actually happen and that includes if they play [the] Richmond [Kickers].

A couple years ago they played [the] Pittsburgh [Riverhounds] and I went up to that game that was really fun. [June 17, 2015, current DC United player Rob Vincent scored for Pittsburgh. -FG] The Open Cup is always remarkable and you never know if the streaming is going to work so it’s always best to go there because you never know what you’re to see. You never know if you’re going to see Cuauhtemoc Blanco headbutt a staffer and punch Clyde Simms. [7/8/08, United went on to win 2-1 against the Fire in extra time 10-10 after Blanco was ejected and then Marc Burch ejected for retaliating. Another video. Staffer headubtt. - FG].

You might see Jaime Moreno sub into a game score two goals and then sub out before the game is over. Not through injury just because he had done his job and it was time to give him a rest. [ June 30, 2010, Open Cup game against the Richmond Kickers where Moreno scored, had an assist and then subbed out soon afterwards. - FG]

So, Bošković, it’s the game that on Black and Red United that we refer to as Brankostock [April 26, 2011, Open Cup qualifier against the New England Revolution]. Because it’s an Open Cup game barely anyone was there and it wasn’t online so we were relying on radio feeds and things like that but we were playing the Revs at the SoccerPlex. DC was all over them. The Revs scored a counterattacking goal, DC continued to be all over them. The revs scored another counterattacking goal. It was pretty much the only attacks they had in the game. They were up 2-nothing and Bošković ended up scoring one long range shot and then one direct from a free kick and he’d also hit the crossbar from a free kick.

Up until that point [Bošković] had been struggling with MLS, he had been struggling to adjust to Olsen wanting more running from his playmaker. This was the game where it looked like he had made the turn and was starting to figure out exactly what he needed to do and the Revs had this rookie named Alan Koger. He only played the one year and this was one of the only games he’s appeared in. He had a bunch of family because he went to a university somewhere in Virginia, close enough that people came out to see him, specifically, and Koger went to tackle Bošković and the ball was gone and he just took Bošković’s leg out and just tore his ACL. So the people that were there got to see Bošković’s peak as a DC player more or less, other than the pass that clinched the 2012 playoff spot, and actually I can send you the gif if you want. This is the first gif I ever made in my life.

Filmi Girl: Yeah, sure.

(Gif courtesy Jason Anderson)

Jason: Because you couldn’t find a simple highlight of the goal and so I looked up the long ten minute highlight package [October 20, 2012] that existed and I made a gif out of this because Bošković made this pass--he was off along the sideline and he made a no look pass to Lewis Neal that sent him in all alone on the Crew goalkeeper to score the goal that clinched DC their first playoff spot since 2007, so it was a huge goal and Bošković had played a part in it. So the game--

Filmi Girl: And that was 2012?

Jason: Yeah, that was 2012.

Filmi Girl: Wait, that was their first playoff spot since 2007?!

Jason: Yup.

Filmi Girl: Whoa, I guess i hadn’t put that together.

Jason: Yeah, they missed the playoffs in 2008, 2009, 2010, it was all bad from there.

Filmi Girl: Just hearing it like that is kind of startling.

Jason: Yeah, it’s unpleasant to say. You know, the people that were there in 2011 got to see Bošković have his best moment in a DC shirt and have the moment where it looked like he was going to be the playmaker for the future and it all got taken away by a clumsy tackle by a guy that had less that played one season and then got cut. And I don’t even think he played in USL, I think he just hung it up after that.

He wasn’t trying to hurt Bošković, he was just late. And he was a forward trying to make a defender’s tackle. It was just clumsy. Because, of course it was an accident. It’s like a classic tragedy where it’s not even out of malice, it’s just an accident of fate. That was the kind of thing that would have happened [in 2011]. There are good moments and then also something went wrong that just nothing could be done about. And that team managed to come so close to a playoff spot. I think it was the same situation as 2009 where if they just won the last game of the season on the road they would get in. And it was frustrating but I suppose the team wasn’t quite good enough to get into the playoffs so in a way it was easy to make peace with, because it was like, well they’re not quite there yet.

Filmi Girl: Then 2012 and the first playoff since...2007.

Jason: Yeah, the 2012 season was interesting because they were on the bubble for a while and then De Rosario got hurt playing for Canada in World Cup qualifying. He sprained his MCL and was out it turned out, for 2 months. And it was that early September qualifying window so it was right as that stretch run was starting and him being injured, it was like this is pretty much our only source of attacking inspiration.

Olsen couldn’t bring himself to trust Bošković as a starter a lot of times yet and so it really looked like the team wasn’t going to be able to put it together. Hamdi Salihi was there but Olsen wanted him to be more of a worker bee. Salihi wanted to be a goal poacher and the Olsen system had no room for a passenger. There’s no room for a number ten who doesn’t run; there’s no room for a striker that doesn’t run. And so it looked like the parts didn’t quite fit together. DeRo being hurt meant that having this guy that could bail everything out, it just wasn’t going to work.

But they managed to put it together. they were very strong defensively down the stretch and I remember the way they set it up was that they would use Bošković at home or if they were trailing on the road but if they would sit him on the bench and only bring him in if they needed a goal so he was like the roll of the dice player. And they went five wins, two draws, and no losses down the stretch to get into the playoffs. But it still ended up coming down to the second to last game of the season. And that’s where the Bošković  pass to Neal was, the no-look pass to Neal.

Filmi Girl: With the gif.

Jason: Yeah, that I still think about at random from time to time because it really did require so much from Bošković, awareness-wise. He had a defender tracking him, his back was to the rest of the field, he was trying to keep the ball in bounds, but he knew that there was a counterattacking opportunity. He knew that someone was making a run. But he never actually had a look to see Lewis Neal. He just had to trust that run was coming down the middle where he passed the ball. It’s one of these things that you get to experience when you play is that if you’re aware enough and you know your teammates well enough it starts to become something where you don’t have to see them to know that they’re going to be there. And it’s a rare thing and to see.

It’s one of those things where especially for someone like me--I was never very good as a goalscorer. I was always big on assists so to see these assists where you know someone’s making a pass where they didn’t even see their teammate, they just knew they were going to be there that’s like the highest form of the art. And to see Bošković--to see DC clinch a playoff spot on an assist like that was really special and of course it’s Lewis Neal. “Big Game” Lewis Neal with his penchant for scoring enormous goals. He did it for Orlando [September 3, 2011, Neal scored the equalizing goal in the 116th minute for Orlando that sent the game to PKs, which they won 3-2.] and then he came to DC and scored the goal that got us to the playoffs for the first time in five years and then the Open Cup winning goal the next year. Some people just have a charmed life, I guess.

Filmi Girl: Did you make it up for the playoff game in Red Bull arena?

Jason: I went to the game that didn’t happen. [November 7, 2012] I got on the bus--the busses that the League and the Red Bulls supposedly paid for to make up for the change in venue. [The order of the legs was reversed due to Hurricane Sandy - FG] I was very uncharitable, I guess. Even though the people in north Jersey had been through enough I still felt that they should have just arranged a venue change up there and kept the order of the playoff games the same, which is not really a mature way of thinking about it but at the time I was like why don’t they just play in another venue? You know, make them play somewhere else, make them play at a neutral venue, some other MLS team’s stadium that didn’t have a storm nearby. But, yeah, I got on the bus. The rules for the bus trips are like no bottles, no cans and then I got on the bus and people were immediately pulling out bottles of beer and I was like I should have just gone for it and if someone said no bottles I would have been like fine, I won’t.

Filmi Girl: (laughing really hard) I didn’t know that was a rule I just assumed everyone brought beer.

Jason: I did bring a Black Russian in a water bottle. I had my vodka in the freezer so it was pretty cold and I asked somebody else to put it in their cooler until we got close to the stadium and then for the last half hour I just drank my water bottle Black Russian. Also, I ended up on a bus where I didn’t know that many people so I was just kind of sitting there. And I was also dressed for winter because I knew the game was going to be like super-cold. I was down to like snow pants with the suspenders that snow pants have and a long sleeve shirt. So I was dressed oddly and I was on a bus drinking and it was a weeknight.

We get up there and the place is empty. I’d never been to Red Bull Arena before. I’d never had any reason to go to Harrison, New Jersey before so I was looking at this town that’s basically shut down for the storm. Superstorm Sandy, the non-hurricane, had hit a few days before and that’s what caused all the damage. And this storm was a traditional winter snow storm that just came early. It was windy and it was probably like 28 or 29 degrees and it just snowed the whole time but they were like, the stadium is not damaged from Sandy and the electricity worked, everything that needed to work, worked.

[On the bus] we were under the impression that there might be a thousand people in the whole stadium and we might be five hundred of them but there will be a game and when we arrived I remember coming off the bus and people starting to make phone calls and from the DC fans that were already inside we started to hear that the field had too much snow on it. And people were like, how is there snow on the field? Why isn’t there just a tarp on it? And so security met up with our bus and they walked us in because they still follow the same procedures even though there was no one there to accost the fans.

Filmi Girl: (laughing) No one was there yelling “sucks” every time you yelled “DC United.”

Jason: Right. There were no hostile fans in the parking lot to walk through. There was no one to walk through at all but they still went through the procedure. So, we get walked in, as you do, and they put us in the away section and you walk out into the actual seats and you see the field is covered in snow and it’s like, why is the field exposed? We’re far enough out from kickoff that no one is going to warm up yet, shouldn’t they leave the tarp on there until the last possible second? Didn’t they know there was going to be a snowstorm? I knew there was going to be a snowstorm, how did they not know? Like, they were running an event and I’m just a guy who has access to weather reports and the internet? That was never answered.

The red bull stadium staff I guess did not understand how much snow was going to fall or something. But maybe after like 45 minutes of standing there and we weren’t really getting much information as far as what was going on, they announced that there was going to be a delay and after about [another] 45 minutes everyone gave up all pretense of there being a game it was just snowing too much and so we started watching the people shovel and people were trying to spot--once it became obvious that it was not just stadium staffers but people in dress clothes were out shoveling--we were trying to figure out who they were, like which league employees they were. And we’re kind of chanting at people shoveling and the DC players came out and were sort of wandering around and then they went back and we didn’t really know what was happening with that at all.

People were becoming adjusted to the fact that there was not going to be a game any time soon, if at all, and it felt like we were there forever but it was probably only a couple of hours before they gave up. But the game was on NBC Sports Network. They had been advertising it all over TV and I think there was significant pressure for them to play the game anyway but eventually they caved and they canceled it because it was just not going to stop snowing anytime soon.

I distinctly remember that the people who were shoveling weren’t even being told what was going on and they found out that the game was canceled via the same stadium announcement that everyone else found out and there was some guy shoveling that when they announced it--and I assume that he had been like, they’re going to cancel it can we just stop shoveling?--and he was mid-shovel and they announced it and he just threw his shovel skyward in disgust. And that point I was like, well I guess we all just wait for them to let us out and go home.

The players came over and were standing in a corner and applauding and I couldn’t really see--I didn’t know they were coming up. I didn’t see them hop the signboards and walk up the way they did. People were chanting, it just felt like that was it. And then the ripple through the crowd starts coming, like, hey, the players are coming up here. Chris Pontius is up here. And we start looking around and I remember being very concerned because [the players] were still in their [game] shoes. They had the metal studs and it’s concrete, it’s flat concrete with no traction. And I was like, god, that’s got to be very slippery. And I remember being very concerned that somebody was going to get hurt, that one of the players was going to slip in this crowd, on concrete, and get hurt trying to do something nice for the fans.

But yeah the players coming up, that was pretty cool. Everyone went nuts. I never even got very close to the players during it, it was just very cool to see them. I ran into somebody that I tailgated with that I didn’t know was there and he was in a luchadore mask and his way of greeting me was to just jump on my back. So, that was pretty cool and after all that it was just like, well I guess we go home. My bus got back at like 3 a.m. and--

Filmi Girl: And it was still snowing?

Jason: Yeah, it snowed until we got to like south Jersey. One of the Barra busses actually got into a minor accident. A motorist kind of skidded out and hit their bus or something like that. I don’t think anyone was hurt but people were getting phone calls and there was like ten minutes of tension but then it was like, oh, it’s just a fender bender. But I didn’t have a smart phone at the time and I didn’t have a laptop with me or anything so I didn’t know that people were signing up to take the bus up the next day.

I got home and I went straight up to find out how I could go to the makeup game and there was a form on the team site and it was like, all the spots on the buses are filled up. It’s gone. It didn't occur to me to look into any other way, I was just like, I guess I’m not going to go but I was also kind of wide awake so what I did was I went to my DVR and watched the broadcast that I had set to record of the Game That Never Was. So, I got to see Ben Olsen come out and declare, “My guys are ready to play and Hans Backe come out and say, “You can’t possibly play in these conditions.” And Thierry Henry talk about how it’s inhumane to play like this and all this other stuff. And I was watching that and I remember being absolutely certain that DC was going to advance because of the switching the venues, switching the order, and now you guys can’t even put on a game? We’re still ready to play and you guys are the ones saying you can’t play? I was certain that we were going to advance.

And the fact that the game [November 8, 2012] played out the way that it did. My memory of watching it live is that it was kind of a blur, just a lot of emotion and a lot of screaming. I didn’t sit and watch that game, just a lot of pacing the living room. Anger. I was really angry that Hamid got sent off even though I had to admit later that it was a red card. At the time I was like, no, he didn’t make enough contact. It’s not enough for a red card. But then for Joe Willis to come in and make the save on the second attempt--the retake. It was funny because in 2011 [May 29, 2011] we played at Portland and [Kenny] Cooper was playing for the Timbers and they got a penalty kick and [the referee] ended up ordering two retakes. Cooper’s penalty had been saved and then he ordered the retake and then the same thing happened again and they actually said Cooper don’t take the penalty, they sent somebody else to take it and I don’t know that he’d ever missed a penalty kick up until then. And then with him playing for the Red Bulls and there’s another retake and then he ends up with a penalty kick saved--it’s a once in a 15 year kind of thing. It’s going to be a long time before we see something that dramatic.

I remember being furious that Márquez, Rafa Márquez should have been sent off for that first yellow card he got because he just punched Pontius in the face. It was just an obvious red card and [Referee Mark] Geiger didn’t give the red. I was livid. And then Márquez made sure he got sent off with a studs up tackle on Pontius that also should have been a straight red and Geiger only gave him a second yellow.

It was funny that for all the animosity that united fans have towards Lionard Pajoy, he ended up playing the key pass that opened up the field to for united to score the goal that won that game. They moved upfield, they played it back to him, he took one touch and he was the only player that seemed to aware that there was a big gap. Robbie Russell had made a run into some space and Pajoy played a perfect pass to Russell and then Russell used his first touch to fool a defender into leaning the wrong way and then played Nick DeLeon in behind into the space that that opened up to score the goal. But Pajoy for all his--

Filmi Girl: You think he gets a bad rep?

Jason: Well, he definitely deserved to not be here anymore. He was definitely a bad player but there was a--God, for the whole time he was here it was a constant--The argument online ended up being like, yes, he’s bad but he’s not always bad versus he is the worst player in human history was essentially the camps that were involved. There were people who wouldn’t give him credit for anything he did and that pass-- I mean it was a very good pass that led to the biggest goal in years for DC and people were like, oh whatever. I mean, give the man credit for what he did. It doesn’t have to be absolutes. But I remember after that game thinking that they were definitely going to go on. They were definitely going to go beat Houston, even with having to play Houston on three days rest instead of four [because of the snow delay] which is always bad.

And they were outplaying Houston [November 11, 2012] and then Pontius pulled his quad or his groin or something. He tried to take a freekick, he tried to shoot from 40 yards. Apparently he’d been dealing with the injury and they told him not to overexert and he tried to have a long range shot and he pulled it.

United had to use [another] sub [for Marcelo Saragosa] and ironically enough it was Raphael Augusto, who barely ever played for DC. He ended up being played through on goal and Andrew Hainault was playing for Houston at the time and just took him out. It was obvious if he didn’t make contact Augusto would have been in behind. It would have been a clear breakaway and the referee opted to only give a yellow. DC pretty much emotionally ran out of gas after that. 1-nothing DC in Houston and Houston would have been down a man so it would have been a great chance for DC to pile on and get a second away goal and instead DC had the lead but didn’t have the man advantage and Houston ended up scoring 3 in the second half when DC got tired because of the short rest, because of the Red Bulls’ inability to put on a game. It left them with too much of a gap to close and then Houston came to RFK [November 18, 2012] and Houston scored early and that point it was obviously not going to happen.

I remember being just sad after that game because it was like this team should have gone further. This is not a just ending to the year. This required a horrible, amazing sequence of circumstances: the game getting delayed, the Red Bull game playing out as it did, the Houston game going off as it did with an obvious red card not being given at a juncture in the game that would have been huge for United. Instead it didn’t work out. And also it was pretty much the last thing Raphael Augusto ever did for United because I don’t think he played in the second leg and he definitely didn’t stick for the next season.  One of the several Brazilian loan signings that didn’t work out.

But, yeah, it was a frustrating end of the year and it was really sad because it felt like they deserved to go further. That team deserved more than they got and then to follow it up with 2013 is kind of incredible. In the worst way. (laugh)

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