I returned home from abroad recently having missed the Cubs' annual visit to the Nation's capital. Chicago swept the four game series, I did other things, and this may be the first year in a decade that I'll have not seen a Cubs game live during the season.
I am not troubled by the deprivation -- I doubt my daughter would like the sport in the first instance and I am none too eager to chase her around any baseball stadium. So, instead, I'll focus on soccer.
Last night, when most soccer fanatics in the region headed to M&T to watch Onyewu's AC Milan take on Shevchenko's (?) Chelsea, we went to an early evening game at Richard Montgomery High School between Real Maryland and Charlotte Eagles. Because of the start time (6 pm), the fact that Real Maryland has a more interesting exhibition match with Guatemala's C.S.D. Municipal tonight, and the alternative entertainment available on a Friday night in July, there were probably less than two hundred in the stands. In any event, the few number of fans in attendance was probably better for the team overall as only those few were treated to a horrible performance which featured Ryan Cordeiro being questioned for his sportsmanship repeatedly by overly-sensitive Charlotte Eagles players and the referee continually picking fights with Fabien Lewis.
On paper, Charlotte won the match 3-0. Watched live, the match was a mess, with a disturbing level of internal disagreement between and amongst the players and a referee who put in a performance that may have been biased but was clearly incompetent. Although I have seen this particular arbitro before and have been untroubled by his past performances, last night was a travesty. Certainly the amount of yapping from unhappy Real Maryland players did not help, but for most of the game, Charlotte's defensive strategy against corner kicks was simply to go down in the box and wait for the whistle, while, for all other parts of the match, the Eagles' players buried hard shoulders into the chests of their Real Maryland opponents without repercussion. On two separate incidents during the match, I watched, incredulously, as the referee whistled Real Maryland players for fouls without having actually seen what took place because he was not in position. All of this, of course, is expressed to excuse the fact that I finally began screaming at the ref late in the second half with a thirteen-month old in my arms. I, you see, had no other choice (who screams at referees in third-division US soccer matches?).
Setting aside the pathetic performance on the field, we had gone to the match partially because I had the bright idea of attempting to acquire autographs on a soccer ball of the Real Maryland players for the season, so that we would have a memento of my daughter's first season following the team. This was an even worse idea than going to the game. The players were not happy with the result and probably were less than thrilled with the turnout, so despite formal announcements that the players would make themselves available for autographs, they simply stalked off the field. To add to my general embarrassment of standing at the fence with a ball, a sharpie, and a toddler, I tried to call out to Gary Brooks for an autograph -- he was the last player on the pitch and our daughter had seen him play numerous times with Crystal Palace last season -- and was pointedly ignored.
But the soccer ball does have one autograph: Jeff Carroll's. One of the first matches that our daughter went to featured Jeff's brother Pat when DC United beat the Chicago Fire in the US Open Cup at the Soccerplex in Boyd's. I've met Jeff and Pat at past DC United events. And, yet, this time, when he was kind enough to take the moment to come over and sign the ball, he responded to my apology for the imposition by thanking us (quite genuinely) for coming out to see the game and apologizing for the performance. All I could muster was a weak, "Well, you played well...," in reply, but the truth was that I remain embarrassed for both Jeff and Pat. They seem to be nice people, they've always seemed to be nice people. They also seem to be talented at the sport, and elder brother Brian has carved out a place in Columbus. I can't imagine that they are thrilled about playing at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville and, still, they still put out great efforts every time their number is called. I hope that I'll get a chance to see them both play at a more fitting level next season.