The last month has not been fun from a sports perspective. The horrible, abysmal play of both the Bulls and Bears, coupled with the ineptitude of those managing both underperforming teams, has overcast most every other cool development of the last four weeks: the resurgence of Illinois football under Ron Zook, culminating in a 28 to 21 win over Ohio State on November 10th (and a performance by Juice Williams that will be passed down in Illini lore); Charlton's four game November winning streak in the Championship (that will, with luck, continue against fellow relegees Sheffield United on Tuesday night at the Valley); the Georgetown Hoyas racking up its first three wins -- with an impressive dismantling of Beilein's Wolverines (before Western Kentucky beat them); and Darren McFadden's star-making turn in a gritty Razorback triple overtime win over LSU.
What Scott Skiles and Ron Turner haven't been able to do, however, is effect how much I am enjoying American soccer. On Thursday, November 8th, DC United invited planholders to RFK to meet the team. My sister and I attended, trying to swing in and out of the stadium quickly so as not to miss a pre-scheduled screening with Uwe Boll's "Alone in the Dark" later that night. After purchasing far too many game worn jerseys from the team in a room packed with United fans grabbing everything they could, we stood in line for a chance to get autographs from, and say hello to, every United player but Jaime Moreno. I've asked for autographs from Cubs players at spring training and my sister and I had once stood together in a line as kids in a suburban Sears in west Chicago to meet Wilber Marshall, but I've never stood in a line with other adults waiting to meet professional athletes that I barely recognized. Whatever reluctance the circumstances might have created in me was wiped away quickly upon getting a chance to greet Tom Soehn. To a man, United's players appeared to be happy to have the opportunity to meet fans and made those who took the time to drop by feel as if both the fan and the player were better off for the interaction. I had the opportunity to thank Bobby Boswell for his blog and to tell Guy-Roland Kpene how much I enjoyed his flair on the field and the joy he brought to the game. I did not, however, take the opportunity to sing my rendition of James Blunt's "Beautiful" to Emilio. I am certain that he would appreciate my forebearance. I called to renew and upgrade my season tickets the next day.
Nine days later I was back at RFK, this time with my wife, to take some kids to a free event that Major League Soccer was hosting for area kids involved in club soccer. We were not sure what we were going to, but the event featured DC United's Nicholas Adderly, the Fire's Chris Armas and Diego Gutierrez, and two other MLS players, running drills with children on the auxiliary field at RFK:
Now I knew who Adderly was before the event -- after all, I had asked for his autograph a little more than a week earlier -- but I did not, in all honesty, recognize Chris Armas or Gutierrez and that's embarrassing. All the more embarrassing not only because of who Armas is, but how he acted throughout the day. Armas was amazingly patient with the kids and spent time with them with a smile on his face, laughing the entire while. Whatever Armas has meant for U.S. soccer or for the Chicago Fire, these kids, who also did not know who he was, greatly enjoyed the time he set aside for them. Nicholas Adderly spent even longer on the field. Had I taken the time to learn more about Adderly prior to the event, I would have loved to have asked the Jamaican-born striker how he found himself playing professional soccer in Trinidad and Tobago (South Starworld Strikers and San Juan Jabloteh) before ending up in Vietnam playing for a club team (Dong Nai FC) and then with DC United in 2007. But whatever else Adderly has done, whatever else he achieved, he dealt with a gaggle of screaming young girls with equanimity and joy.
The next day we took ten people with us to the MLS Cup match between the Dynamo and Revolution. I admittedly know little about soccer and my ignorance may be the reason why I cannot understand why European ex-pats living in the U.S. spend so much time denigrating American soccer. I've watched enough Fizzy Pop football now to, I believe, say with conviction that I'd rather watch Houston play New England than Scunthorpe take on Cardiff. Regardless, the Cup match was thoroughly entertaining. Canadian international Dwayne De Rosario, American international Taylor Twellman, and Grenadian international Shalrie Joseph played eminently watchable football. The announced crowd of just under 40,000 (and there were well over 30,000 in the seats) was fully into the game. Andy Dorman, who will likely be in the Championship come January, subbed in for Steve Ralston at the 79th minute and almost sparked the Revolution. Michael Parkhurst, who has been linked to Fulham (and would be the fifth American on the South London squad), also played a good game.
And this is important, to me, in that I can read about the Bulls losing to the Knicks and the Raptors and listen to Ron Turner further Shoopify the Bears remarkably talented offense and think happy thoughts about what is waiting when the CONCACAF 2008 Champions Cup begins.