When in Rome goes the saying, and in terms of football this should apply to any and every place you visit in the world. Never has this been the case when the real G McDowell headed off to Washington DC last week. He made a Schoolboy error of not checking the fixtures before he went. We soon put him right.
So, a little history. A little over 4 weeks ago I booked myself two holidays, one to New Zealand and the other to Washington DC. A little under 4 weeks ago, I broken my arm playing football with the usual crew from work. Now depending on who you ask, this was either the result of (a) an 8 year old girl guide mugging me off (b) a swan (they can break your arm you know © Peter Kay) (c) a good challenge where my bodyweight still caused me to fall on my wrist and break it. Anyway I digress – the morale of the story is that I now wasn’t going on either trip and my male colleagues were having a field day at my expense!
As the date got closer, I managed to rearrange the return leg, the airline says I was ok to fly and I was back on again.
Now seeing as this is a football blog and not a holiday/fracture blog, let’s start to talk about the soccer. I’ve never been to an US based soccer game, and I didn’t really intend to either but upon my initial photo uploading to Facebook I got a very quick response from @theballisround, asking ‘are DC United at home?’ Hmm, I thought to myself, when The Ball is Round Bat Phone rings, you answer it pretty damn quickly. So I started a little Googling.
Yes, DC United were at home this weekend, on the Saturday evening, to a team called Real Salt Lake. I think I had Stuart at “Yes”.
DC were not enjoying the best of form…patchy is what you’d call it, a little like my own team Sheffield Wednesday but at least they were a point off the final playoff spot. I’d like to add that by finishing 10th in the MLS you can be in the final playoff spot. No doubt this is some tactic of making the sport seem more popular but I’ll get to that later.
Now I’m a big cynic, a massive cynic at times and as I mentioned, I’m a Sheffield Wednesday fan, so that might have something to do with it. The boys from S6 have been flattering to deceive for a number of years now. Shedding managers like they’re owned by a Russian oligarch but with the financial management of a small third world country.
We were ‘saved’ by Milan Mandrich after a protracted number of muted take-overs and hopes are high yet again. Except, well except, we just can’t seem to put it all together. Yes we have an ex-player as a manager (and I’d like to point out, another one managing the pigs, who we’re hoping is doing an inside job). Yes he can trot out as many hackneyed clichés as you might expect from the type of throw-back manager he is. Yes he’s spent a bit of cash – not overwhelming cash but I wouldn’t trust him with my hard-owned dough either but something’s not right.
A former colleague of mine, and a Stevenage fan, emailed me after their 5-1 mauling of the Owls and he said no-one could quite believe how bad they were. We have a front man who can’t stop scoring in Gary Madine, showing promise and at home we seem strong but away, well away it’s appalling.
The simple stat against Charlton Athletic showed we had one shot on target and one goal – they mullered us. Have Charlton ever “mullered” anyone? Well they have now. So, all in all, we will finish mid-table and another new manager plus probably losing our new prolific front-man but this is now what we expect!
Back to our US based story. DC United doing so-so but what about their opponents? Well RSL as I like to call them now, were on the back of a five-game hot-streak. They are pushing for the title and had secured an away victory mid-week. At this point I decided two things (1) I was going (2) I was having a cheeky £5 on RSL based on my Owls experience.
A little more research showed that the ‘Stadium Armoury’, home of DC United was a mere three stops from my hotel on the subway – result! Tickets could be purchased on the day and that it was still typical for crowds around 25,000 – impressive. So, a few Buds (Lites for the waistline) down my neck later I set out.
A simple subway ride later and I was heading with a large throng of people towards the stadium. I’d heard of the tailgate parties and was keen to sample the faire. I followed a chap in a Dempsey shirt – all good but was slightly surprised to be hearing the growing sounds of samba drum beats. Wow, I thought to myself – sod the tailgate, let’s have a carnival!. As the turned the corner from the metro station it soon became apparent that there was a double booking in the area. There was some sort of student rave starting to congregate, they were making the noise and from what I could tell, the tailgate party looked a little sorry for itself in comparison.Unperturbed I headed for the ticket office and official merchandising shop to stock up on giant foam hands and DC United slippers – I know Stu loves those puppies.
Tickets were very easy to come by but not being particularly clued up where to sit, I opted for a VIP ticket as befitting my status, which put you squarely alongside the pitch action.
Next I checked out what I believed to be the official shop…but on reflection it might just have been a car-boot sale or raffle?! Sorry Stu, you will have to wait for those slippers for another day.
So, with about 20 minutes to kick off, it was straight in for some beer and snacks. Now did I mention I have a broken arm…yes you say, enough already. Well, it makes carrying more than one thing tricky. So, rather than a huge hotdog as recommended by @lugepravda, our resident US correspondent, I could manage the statutory beer and a pretzel shoved into my back pocket.
Now, let’s get to the match itself. Firstly I have to say, the Americans are a patriotic bunch and do you know what, I think we could learn a thing or two. Rather than being cloying to hear the star-spangled banner, it was great to be part of it. We sing ours for internationals – they do it for league games – awesome. Secondly I was by far and away sitting in the wrong end of the ground. Directly opposite me was what I can only describe as the DC Barmy Army (The Barra Brava on investigation). They had full on continental huge flags waving away and were busily bouncing up and down to songs I couldn’t quite hear but they seemed happy. Now I didn’t have an official TBIR photographer with me, so apologies for the poor camera work. The ground itself felt odd. Odd because there were no fans behind either goal, it was strictly a down-the-sides layout of seating and good old-fashioned benches for both the home and away team to sit on pitch-side. It felt quaint but within what was clearly a fairly large and relatively new stadium.
Now at this point something dawned on me and more fool me really. Why would soccer ever work in the US? No really. You have the massive franchises of, American Football, Basketball, Baseball and Ice Hockey – where on earth could a ‘new’ sport get traction? Well they’ve done a pretty good job. The system is all geared towards entertainment.
Why would you want to come and watch the equivalent of lower-league English players stomp out a boring 0-0. There’s no place for no scoring games in the US – it’s GOT to be entertaining. So the big name players showing flair, the trade system and the poor quality of goalkeeping help ;-)
So to the match. Both teams started poorly. Settling into very direct patterns of play, trying to hit a tall front man each – it was like watching two John Beck teams play a training match. Ironically for how the match transpired, RSL were the quicker to start trying to knock it around with their upright, dreadlocked number 5 showing good control and distribution but he was alone in the thought process of what he was trying to do, so the passages of play broke down too easily. RSL created the first real chance, a header high wide and handsome after 11 minutes.
No sooner had that happened then one of the two loudest cheered players at the team lineup put the home side ahead. Dwayne De Rosario slotted the ball between the centre halves who were pushing up and Andy Najar, a veritable jet-heeled winger, sped onto the ball, held off his man and finished neatly. 1-0 DC and we were flying like the Bald Eagle mascot. Now the manager had mentioned pre-kick off that the team needed time, they were a young side [insert cliché here] but the match-day programme, sorry magazine, also heralded the return to the team of a recently traded player, De Rosario, the ‘game-changer’.
On 21 minutes he did change the game. Najar returned the favour of earlier by swinging over a ball from the right and De Rosario ghosted into the area and headed home. As this point, it looked game over and after RSL conceded possession deep in the DC half, the home team countered with pace, culminating with the ball rolling to De Rosario just outside the box who curled a beauty into the top right corner – a peach. The Barmy Army were now in full swing and I had also just noticed a homage to past DC United players, including one John Harkes, formerly of Sheffield Wednesday fame.
Just as I was declaring my new alligence to DC as my US team, De Rosario grabbed his hat-trick and became the new league top scorer on 13 goals and snagged the accolade of the fastest hat-trick ever scored in MLS history. He claimed it with a curling direct free kick into the opposite corner from his last. A good finish but the keeper was both slow and short making it seem more impressive in the cold light of day. No-one was going to deny De Rosario his day in the sun though. Standing ovation and game over before the break.
In all honesty as most matches can do, it petered out somewhat in the second half. There was a lot of toil and RSL wanted to keep the score respectable. That they did with a consolation on 86 minutes but most of the crowd had started leaving by then. I later found that RSL had been resting their star players after mid-week exertions and of course my £5 was gone but I didn’t care and neither did the home fans. I got bored having to try and get my ID out of my pocket every time I wanted a beer despite going to the same server every time – I mean how many other 6ft 1inch one armed Englishmen were there in a crowd of twenty odd thousand? Most of the fans around me were middle-class, well to do families, and there’s nothing wrong with that in a sport which really needs to entertain and find a niche to survive. It’s about the showmen, it’s about the hat-tricks, the cart-wheel celebrations and it’s about my new US team – Go DC United!