Sunday, July 25, 2010

Requiem for a Franchise

Last Sunday, we took the whole family to watch DC United take on the LA Galaxy at RFK and, once again, heading downtown felt like an event. Although the result was disappointing, the atmosphere at the stadium was tremendous, capped off by the emergence of casual fans in our section (the type who asked us if there were any players on the field from the U.S. national team? and which one is Landon Donovan? and whatever happened to Freddy Adu?). Even with a late Sunday night start, our two-year old wanted to stay until after the final whistle. Our enjoyment was heightened by seeing Terps A.J. Delagarza, Omar Gonzalez, and Stephen King on the field. It does not seem that long ago that we were watching them play at Ludwig and each of three -- along with the injured Rodney Wallace -- have firmly established themselves as Major League Soccer players.

On the subject of the Terps, we continue to be blown away by the sheer number of quality players that come through that program. While following our adopted Northern Irish team's graceful bow out of the Europa League competition to Azerbaijan's Qarabagh this week, we were reminded that the U.S. U-20 national team that is currently in Northern Ireland preparing for the Milk Cup features two current Terps -- the very impressive Ethan White and Zac MacMath.

We could not go to the Pompey friendly with DCU tonight -- unfortunate, as the reports from friends who went in our stead made it sound like a spectacle that will not be matched anytime soon -- and I missed the U.S. Open Cup game on Wednesday, so I insisted on going to watch Crystal Palace take on AC St. Louis at the Soccerplex this afternoon in 100 degree heat. My daughter and I were probably the only people that wanted to be there. I like the team. I like the franchise. I want to support professional soccer in Baltimore. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to watch Mathew Mbuta play. But I cannot imagine that the club can survive much longer in its current state. There were less than, we thought, seventy people at the game this afternoon. No one seemed to want to be there, not the players, not the club's staff, not the stadium employees, not the players' wives and girlfriends, and not the youth team that was being recognized by the club. The whole thing was embarrassing... all the more so, because we estimated that there were over 100 people outside the stadium waiting to get in for the Washington Freedom game two hours early.

I've been a season ticket holder for CP Baltimore for three years now. I have tried to get friends to go with me to games, with some modest success in years past. I made a half-hearted attempt to recruit people today and, frankly, I am glad that I failed. No one at the club has ever reached out to me -- we've never been invited to take part in an event for season ticket holders and we've never even met any of the players (although the club did send us a CP soccer ball signed by this year's team, which was greatly appreciated). The team's move to Towson, its current plight, and the fact that today will probably mark the last game we attend saddens me, but, at the same time, I don't really feel like we were ever a part of the team. I was surprised to hear my wife wax nostalgic about the club today, as she recalled the joy of going to Annapolis and watching Crystal Palace surprise the Red Bulls. With a Charlton alum anchoring the backline, and personalities like Shin Harada, Val Teixeira, and Mbuta on the squad, we felt like we lucked into something at the ground floor. Alas.

While that slips away, our ties with Real Maryland have grown stronger. In addition to having season tickets, we've sponsored the team commercially and the club has kindly participated in supporting an awesome charity in DC that works with kids. The staff has always been friendly and has gone out of its way, at every game, to make sure that they appreciate our custom. In contrast to CP Baltimore, our expectations for Real Maryland were pretty low. We largely went initially because of the number of DC United alums in the roster. Now, I think my daughter looks forward to going to the games that we can make at Richard Montgomery and that she'll enjoy going tomorrow night after meeting D.C. United's players earlier in the day. Not expected, but as long as she enjoys it and I get to take in a footie, I am not one to complain.

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