Whatever deficiencies might arise from the lack of a stadium of our own, all of that falls away come game time.
Walking up an escalator from the Stadium-Armory Metro Station last night, I was struck by how excited I was for the event and the intense surge of emotion at the anticipation for what was to come. I have had the same feeling over and over again in my life -- most often walking from the L station to Wrigley, but also when hopping off the tube to go to The Valley and ambling towards any number of stadiums around the world. But it dawned on me that I do not feel like this about any other DC-area sports team; the same excitement is not elicited by CP Baltimore or Real Maryland or the UMd or the Wizards or Nats or Mystics or, even, the Hoyas. I go to those games because I love sports and enjoy taking in the spectacle of a competition. I have come to love United and to welcome it into a part of me that is prepared to die a little bit with every loss and disappointment, just for the false promise of some glorious success over the horizon. Charlton won me over easily and quickly, but my feelings about United have developed gradually over time and have, I believe, largely been the product of the efforts of the incredible men and women that work in the club's front office. They have endeavored, consistently and without fail, to make my family feel welcome at RFK such that each of us feels a deep connection to the team and its fortunes.
The walk from metro station to stadium gate is long enough to ponder such self-involved piffles, with the walk from turnstile to seat allowing for contemplation of the number of beers I planned on consuming (answer: as many as possible as it was very hot and humid) and Mario Vargas Llosa's writing regarding the 1982 World Cup in Spain -- in particular his essay penned before the opening match between Argentina and Belgium. In that piece, the Peruvian batted back a theory pressed by a Brazilian intellectual who argued that the world loved soccer because it presented the world as it should be, a place where effort, talent, and skill were rewarded within the framework of universally agreed upon rules that were uniformly enforced rather than continuously corrupted. Llosa argued that people sat in the stands not because of a pining for an ideal world that would never be possible in our day-to-day lives but, instead, that what brought them out was the simple desire to have fun.
Having read the essay on the metro ride over, I puzzled over why I found his take unpersuasive, but the answer, of course, is clear. As a supporter, watching a game is not fun. It is a gamble and last night, United fans lost. A beautiful performance on the pitch was wiped away by a lost ball by one of United's youngest yet most reliable players.
However, although I am a Cubs fan, I do not go to games because I am masochistic either. Whatever emptiness existed from the result and however pleased Sounders' fans were with another victory at RFK, United fans have two things that they do not: Andy Najar and Julius James. Forget points and standings and playoffs, at this moment in time, Andy Najar is, on his own, worth the price of admission. What he did on the pitch last night was ridiculous and just watching the fear that a 17-year old kid strikes in seasoned professionals made it worth sitting through a match where we saw the beer man once in 90 minutes.
And then there is Julius James. In two games now, James has neutralized potent attackers from the Sounders (Montero) and Red Bulls (Angel) and has developed into the strongest, most confident center half that I have ever seen play in a United shirt.