Monday, October 21, 2013

Done and Dusted

That D.C. United is terrible is no longer noteworthy. 

When United closes out the season on Sunday against Houston with 3 wins in 34 matches, the more remarkable measure of futility will be that if they are shutout, both Mike Magee and Marco Di Vaio will have a chance to score as many goals (both have scored 20 this season with a game to go) as D.C. United has scored collectively as a team (21).

Even more remarkably, the management of the squad is so spectacularly inept that there isn't a plausible basis for expecting significant improvement in 2014.

Ben Olsen, despite coaching the team to a U.S. Open Cup championship, needs to be separated from the team.  That he will not be -- based, ostensibly, on the U.S. Open Cup run -- is hysterical; this is a competition of so little meaning to the club that the games are not held at RFK but out at the SoccerPlex.  While we love the games and look forward to the trips to Boyds every season, this is not a venue that is practically accessible to many United supporters.  The feat is therefore largely a theoretical notion, abstracted because it happened entirely separate from the crap United supporters have had to endure for league games at RFK.

Still, we go.  And still, the club has found ways to make the gameday experience so enjoyable that it doesn't matter to my kids that the team we're supposed to root for is abysmal.  My girls have taken penalty kicks on the field, my eldest was able to "train" with United players on the pitch at RFK, my youngest asks to go just to get her face painted, we've seen a practice, and the Meet the Team Day 2013 was fantastic.  When the Fire ripped apart United, while the VW Garage was closed and there was basically nothing for the kids to do, they cracked themselves up by making up goofy cheers and encouraging other kids to join in.

Nevertheless, it is fitting that the lasting memory I will have of this D.C. United season will be unpleasant and took place at, of all places, Ludwig on Saturday night. 

We walked into the Wake Forest game a little late and, handing over our tickets, I looked up to see Josh Wolff standing next to us.  Two of Josh's sons trailed behind him, alongside my girls, and Wolff hustled them forward.  The reason Josh was asking his boys to move quickly became clear when we rounded the merchandise booth:  Standing over by the courtesy ticket overhang was an agitated and animated Kurt Morsink ranting at a staff person. 

Retelling the story at FedEx this afternoon, a friend called it the most pathetic "Do You Know Who I Am Story?" that he'd heard.  The total cost for bringing in the partial Wolff clan to the game was $20 at the ticket booth.  A dude who works for a professional sports club should appreciate, beyond most, the minimal discretion afforded to staff holding comps.  But there was Morsink, who looked, from where I stood, to be berating staff.

Now maybe this is wrong or maybe there was some good reason for Morsink's behavior.  I could have walked over to confirm what I think I saw, but by the time Wolff had pulled Morsink away, I was so viscerally angered by the sight that I was shouting epithets in front of my kids.

It is beyond comprehension that Morsink is a scouting coordinator for a first division professional soccer team.  Perhaps he's objectively great at the job.  But there is no way that I would ever treat someone working at DC United in a similar fashion.  And I cannot imagine behaving like that at a place that has produced several of the members of your first team roster and where academy players are currently housed.

This is a different D.C. United in terms of the boy's club that now runs the player side of the club.  Forget accountability.  Instead it is kerosene.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Taking Care of the Kids

I overemphasize process.  The end result, the actual execution of a game plan, is what ultimately matters.  But the development of nascent talent or the construction of a strategy can be just as captivating. 

I enjoy spring training.  Not for the fake games, but for the chance to see coaches working directly with players and eavesdropping on evaluations or advice.  I am probably one of a handful of supporters that was excited about D.C. United opening up a single practice to season ticket holders this year.

Maryland football opens a scrimmage to fans this last Saturday?  I'm there.  If nothing else, it is an opportunity to watch the implementation of the read option by a group of quarterbacks with different skill sets.

My eldest decided to join me for the afternoon and, as is convention for Maryland football events, Pepsi-sponsored activities were provided for kids, including a bounce house.  The equipment sale let her buy a used jersey that she quickly converted into a dress.  And the families of players in the stands provided the rest of her entertainment for the day.

The key to enjoying Maryland's "Fan Appreciation Day" is moving quickly away from seats within earshot of Maryland "supporters" who loudly criticize the players, the coaches, the school for their obvious collective and individual incompetence.  There's no way to get away from this pestilence once the season starts and you are wedded to your seats.  But this is just a scrimmage and you can move around until you find a section populated by players' families, for whom the novelty of seeing their kid play Division I football has yet to wear thin.

An example:  The fans know that the quarterback should have taken the obvious option.  They know that there was a man open in the flat and they know a football should have been delivered there.  The families, on the other hand, remark at the speed of the game.  They remark at how much bigger and faster everyone has become.  They marvel at the development of these young men, even when there is much, much further to go.

These observations are further driven home later, after the scrimmage, when you are down on the turf with your kid watching the players interact with their parents, siblings, and extended family.  My daughter could not get over how big some of the players were.  Some of the players' families could not get over hearing their sons called "sir" by fans.

It ain't all light and sweetness.  The bulk of the people that have come out were angling for a Stefon Diggs autograph or memento.  While the team sat easily at tables spread the length of the field, barricades were set up at midfield to create two distinct lines.  One for Coach Edsall and one for Mr. Diggs, although the extra demarcation for the former didn't seem necessary.  Diggs is the show -- and he deserves to be -- but his tangible benefits from the limelight at this moment are no different from any other scholarship athlete.

My daughter has never waited for an autograph from Maryland's #1.  She does not know who he is, other than when I repeat to her (for no apparent purpose) that she saw him play at Good Counsel.  Instead, she knows Joe Riddle and Michael Tart, having bought a #29 jersey in honor of players that have always happily signed her helmets and let her know that her presence was appreciated.  She knows Dexter McDougle, having seen him repeatedly at gymnastics meets.  She knows Shawn Petty, Alex Twine, and Anthony Nixon Jr., because I can't stop telling her how good they are.  She knows Zimuzo Nwaigwe because I tell her how hard he's worked to sit behind that table.

She knows all of them because the program makes the players accessible to its young fans and because the players, in the main, participate with good humor and a convincing sense of gratitude that the kids have taken an interest.

And so it ends up not just being a practice session for the players.  Saturday afternoon was also a dry run for me.  My eldest now says she wants to go to games this season, as long as it is not too hot.  There's a process:  open events for fans + bouncy house + likable, good-humored players = fans.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Meeting the Team

This has been a tough season as a United supporter.  There is no shortage of things about which to complain.  Despite a league win last night and a decent run in the U.S. Open Cup that continues Wednesday, there is little hope for any meaningful turnaround.  And the long term prospects for the franchise are weak.

Still, there is nothing better in the professional sports world than being a D.C. United supporter and season ticket holder.  Today was the club's "Meet the Team Day."  In the midst of a historically bad season, players mingled easily with fans and the club made nearly everyone involved with the operational management of the team available to the public.  Coach Olsen didn't man an autograph table, but he did conduct a question and answer session with fans in the visitor's clubhouse.

The "Meet the Team Day" is a specially-calendered event with my daughter, the only absolute must-do of the season.  Every year it seems to get better.  More access, more activities, more opportunities for interactions.  The club may not be able to sell a stadium experience or an on field product that merits significant investment of time and treasure, but it can sell its people.

For professional athletes, the bulk of United's roster are ridiculously nice people.  Beyond their enthusiasm for making connections with supporters, the stories that staff tell about individual players paint a portrait of down-to-earth athletes who value camaraderie more highly than their own glorification.

This is the first year that my eldest has wanted to stay until the very end of the event.  That is almost entirely due to the players (face painting and dipping dots also played a role) and their families.    

Thank you, D.C. United, for another very nice afternoon.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


How quickly can a flailing, comically incompetent franchise turns its fortunes around?

It turns out that with capable management, pretty fast.

Attending Mystics games the past two seasons has been more of a political act than a chance to catch a sporting event.  I want my daughters to see women's professional basketball at Verizon because women's professional basketball should exist.  But its been a drag.  The coaching and management have been so horrid that you walk away feeling bad for the players and happy for the ones that were able to escape.  And with DC BasketCases bringing to a close their terrific blog, if the Mystics were terrible again this season, it is a tree falling in the middle of the forest.

So no pomp and circumstance for the game against the Lynx tonight.  I justified the trip downtown with reference to the homecoming of Georgetown's Sugar Rodgers and Rebekkah Brunson.

Now it bugs me that Washington opted for Ohio State's Tayler Hill over Tianna Hawkins in this year's draft.  But, with Hill getting significant minutes on the floor and Monique Currie and Crystal Langhorne at the 3 and 4, the 2013 iteration of the Mystics' is well-balanced inside and outside.

Yes, Washington fell apart in the fourth quarter.  But after scoring only eight points in the first nine minutes of the quarter, Washington notched ten in the last fifty-one seconds, including making eight of eight free throws and a back breaking nothing but net turnaround fadeaway jumper from Kia Vaughn.

Three wins in four games.  For a team that won five all of last year and six the year before that.  It has been a long time -- a long time -- since we have paid attention to the end of a Mystics game.  That was fun. 

Now if the team can convince enough people to show up to justify re-opening the Dunkin Donuts on game nights, we will be back in business.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

Doing the Maths

The face paint and dipping dots on offer for the Sporting KC match meant no problems convincing the family to spend a Friday night welcoming Rodney Wallace back to RFK.  More face paint and more dipping dots allowed me to see number 22's game winner and Darlington Nagbe's goal.

Neither kid asked to leave.  Instead, after watching Pajoy sky a beautiful ball from DeRosario that had unlocked Portland's defense, I decided I was not having any fun.  I left the stadium angry, along with hundreds of other supporters.

One story supporters appear to be trying to convince themselves of now is that a cheap and apathetic front office has handcuffed the coaching staff.  As if it would matter if more high priced talent was sitting on the bench.  This is a team headed up by someone who is incapable of figuring out how to play the highest-paid player on the roster with Carlos Ruiz.  This is a team headed up by someone who would not play Branko Boskovic or Hamdi Salihi while perennially taking shots at the Rapid Vienna alums perceived fitness deficiencies.

But, sure, the front office sucks for not tossing more good money after bad.

With the Galaxy's 4-0 drubbing of the Sounders, the single table for the MLS looks like this:

Rankings Team Points
1 FC Dallas 27
2 Red Bulls 25
3 LA Galaxy 23
4 Montreal 23
5 Timbers 22
6 Sporting KC 22
7 Houston 21
8 Real Salt Lake 21
9 Colorado 19
10 Philadelphia 18
11 Columbus 16
12 New England 16
13 Seattle 15
14 San Jose 15
15 Vancouver 13
16 Chivas USA 11
17 Chicago 8
18 Toronto 7
19 DC United 5

And if you do the arithmetic for the MLS salaries published by the Major League Soccer Players Union through May 1st -- conceding that this listing doesn't reflect recent transactions -- it is true that at the highest levels, large team salaries correspond with the top of the table:

Rankings Team Salary
1 Red Bulls $10,860,961
2 LA Galaxy $9,685,263
3 Seattle $5,958,812
4 Montreal $5,452,074
5 Vancouver $4,809,279
6 Toronto $4,710,844
7 Chicago $4,333,356
8 FC Dallas $4,244,861
9 DC United $3,906,064
10 Philadelphia $3,832,575
11 Sporting KC $3,783,882
12 Houston $3,648,642
13 Real Salt Lake $3,646,401
14 Columbus $3,615,002
15 Timbers $3,564,502
16 New England $3,482,085
17 San Jose $3,371,908
18 Colorado $3,371,325
19 Chivas USA $2,607,147

But it doesn't exactly dictate D.C. United's position in the league table.  If for some reason you support Chivas, you can complain.  But you'd still be rooting for a team that has twice as many points  as D.C. United, for a third less in salary.

Olsen's Army.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Good Time

Supporting D.C. United has descended into torpor.  With Ben Olsen as coach and three former Terrapins on the roster, I cannot bring myself to get that angry about the team.  And complaining more that I have already done ain't exactly cathartic.  But, this is depressing and going to matches isn't a priority, even if we've paid for a season of tickets.

Still, we went yesterday to watch the match with Sporting KC, driven largely by the opportunity to see Graham Zusi in person again.  Come for the Zusi, stay for a D.C. United starting lineup of Taylor Kemp, Casey Townsend, and Ethan White (18% Maryland!).

Sure, Kemp was bizarrely substituted out at halftime rather than placed at left back with Daniel Woolard making way for Chris Pontius.  And, sure, just as space started to open in Sporting's defense in the final third, Casey was replaced by Lionard Pajoy -- a substitution at the hour mark that preceded a Kansas City corner kick that inevitably led to a goal.  Whatever.  At least I got to see Taylor and Casey play in a real game.

More to the point, whatever.  Because what happens on the pitch is, at this point, secondary.  While the club continues to be killed for supposed failings in building a competitive roster (really?), the team's management builds an even better gameday experience in a ridiculous environment. 

We watched the first half at the VW Club.  Waiting in the club?  An excellent face-painter for children, wonderful staff, and a neat little contraption composed of an elevated treadmill with dribbling cones.  If I had problems getting the kids up for going to a United match before, that obstacle has been removed.

After Townsend was withdrawn from the field of play, we walked up to the Champions Club for the rest of the second half.  It was our first time up in the newly christened space and delivers exactly what was promised -- no lines for good food and alcohol, lots of kids running around, and nice perspective from behind the goal opposite the VW Club.

It is RFK.  The stadium is dire.  D.C. United could get away with just letting everything crumble around them.  They don't.  Instead, the club does what it can with the space.  The club hasn't given up and is not asking supporters to suck it up until the pipedream of a new stadium comes to fruition.   No one is going to give the club's administration kudos for putting lipstick on a pig.  That's wrong.  Ben Olsen's United may be unimaginative and plodding, but D.C. United itself has built a little wonderland that is remarkably kid-friendly.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Inside Look

Another miserable couple of hours at RFK and it is now fashionable to malign D.C. United's management as not caring enough.

Don't believe it.

The club has done more to connect with fans this season than at any other time during our tenure as season ticket holders.  From the owners down through administrative staff, the message that is being conveyed is that the organization values its customer base.

On Saturday, we attended a training session opened up for STHolders.  For my daughter and I, it was a unique and awkward opportunity to see professional athletes prepare for a match.  So unique, in fact, that some of the staff noted that it was their first chance to see a practice as well.  And awkward because of the insight afforded into the inner workings of United's coaching and player personnel.  Stuff maybe you wish you didn't know or could forget... like, wow, this is exactly what I thought the coaches screamed at players... holy schikes, this season is going to be awful.

The timing couldn't be worse.  United's efforts to enhance fans' experience is simultaneous to an on-field product that insults the fans' (limited) knowledge of the sport.

It won't get better.  The talent level on the roster is fine.  It is good enough to win games in the MLS.  Injuries aren't a substantial limiting factor.  The answer is not better execution.  Better execution of a crappy gameplan is a well-executed crappy gameplan.

7 games, 4 points.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Give Em Something to Talk About

I loved Brian Straus's terrific story for Sporting News on dissension within the U.S. men's national team regarding Jurgen Klinsmann's leadership.  I loved it even as a huge fan of Klinsmann's philosophy and approach and a totally over-the-top, unfair, irrational critic of Bob Bradley's regime.

In substance, Straus's reporting communicated exactly what I want to hear:  the U.S. players are being challenged to be more than automatons meant to execute strategic orders.  They are, instead, professional footballers responsible for forming a cohesive whole based on a loose structure, their own aptitude, and creative chaos.

That this challenge is being made in the wake of former conservative management of tight control and preparation is all the more perfect.  Straus's narrative walks off the silver screen of the fictionalized account of Brian Clough's doomed attempt to replace Don Revie at Leeds.  After The Damn United establishes Revie's obsessive scouting and game preparation, the film portrays his former wards directly challenging Clough at Elland Road for his failure to brief them in advance of a match against Rangers.  Clough's response?

You're professional footballers.

Stop Stan Bowles.

That's all you need to know about QPR.

And I don't have justify myself to you . . . not how or when I conduct training . . .
Of course, things didn't exactly go swimmingly for Clough in West Yorkshire.  And there is a substantial risk that Klinsmann's revolution will leave the U.S. without an invitation to the party in Brazil. 

Straus's story ignited a national conversation.  Much of it is unhelpful -- it doesn't matter who talked or why they talked and, as Greg Seltzer notes, attacking Mr. Straus's journalistic integrity is completely inappropriate.  But all American soccer fans should be talking about the culture of domestic soccer.  Klinsmann, by both word and deed, is mounting a powerful challenge to conventional wisdom.  Let the kids play.  Let them have fun.  They'll figure it out.  It's ludicrously naive and impractical.  It's also thrilling.

You can get results by industry.  The athletic gifts and talent of the elite American footballer are enough to stay on the field with the globe's powers.  But discipline and execution do not create a platform for evolution.  Creation is reined in for the sake of cohesion.  It is also miserable to watch.

D.C. United drew over 17,000 for its opening home match against Real Salt Lake.  After managing a single goal in three matches played with a mind-numbingly tedious game plan of useless possession, only 11,000 showed up for home game number two against the Columbus Crew.   That's twenty percent below last year's average attendance during the regular season (13,846).  In fact, only three out of the seventeen home matches last season had less fans in the seats -- and everyone of those games was a midweek (Wednesday night) fixture.  I was out of town and could not attend, but found three takers in my absence.  The other four season tickets in our group went unused despite being offered to any taker gratis.

United supporters and the club can keep pretending that it is the decaying stadium, the weather, or a college basketball tournament that's keeping seats freely available, but the games have made for miserable viewing (whether live or on the television).  We can also continue to endure excuses about purported failures to execute, but that's not going to convince anyone that there is an interesting product at RFK.  It is particularly hard to argue against unleashing the talent on the roster when there is little functional difference between losing matches 2-1 or 2-0 and losing them 5-4 or 6-3.

We are, nevertheless, where we are.  U.S. soccer is rigid and mechanical.  Klinsmann's critique has not been met by supportive voices amongst the coaches of the MLS.

One of the other things that makes the story great is the identity of the person who penned it.  Because the story was authored by Brian Straus and not, say, Grant Wahl, the focus is more on football than on personalities.  It is not a gossip piece.  It is reporting.  And that bodes well for the future of the sport in this country as too much of what is written about the game is short on giving fans greater insight into what they are seeing or why things unfolded in a particular way on the pitch.

Well done Brian.  Good job out of you.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013


On the way out of RFK last night, a father says to his son:  "D.C. United won!  Did you have a good time?"  The kid replies:  "I guess.  Nothing really happened.  It was boring."

Olsen's Army!

The club is going to ridiculous lengths to enhance fan experience -- including having representatives stand by the exits to thank supporters personally for coming out -- without having an on-field product that will build the next generation of season ticket holders.

United won.  They controlled large portions of the match and bottled up Real Salt Lake.  When needed, Bill Hamid was clutch, making at least one unreal reaction save to preserve the shutout.  Dejan Jakovic was terrific, putting in one of the most solid shifts I've seen him play in a United uniform.  The young Panamanian, Marcos Sanchez, was fun to watch with some creative flourish and quick turns.  And Nick DeLeon was run into the ground but still managed to play a great ball forward very late in the match.

I should focus on the positives.  It was a fun night out.  17,000 plus saw United earn three points.  United's staff is great.  I'm glad I went.

But a moment on the scorer of the game-winning goal:  Lionard Pajoy is being described as the polarizing figure on United's roster.  I can't imagine that he will be more polarizing than Carlos Ruiz, but Pajoy is unlikely to become a fan favorite even if he scores a dozen or so goals this season.  Pajoy's yellow card in the 28th minute was fully deserved for a dirty, entirely unnecessary kick at Kwame Watson-Siriboe.  And the caution failed to prevent Pajoy from chirping endlessly at Sorin Stoica for the rest of the half every time a call didn't go his way.  It is not exactly a privilege to have to cheer for a player that underscores the worst of Bennie bite ball.

The best sequence of the match came late in the second half when Marcelo Saragosa, subbed on for an injured John Thorrington, received the ball fifteen or so yards from midfield, watched his teammates launch forward, and dribbled backwards toward four RSL players so as to make a bizarre back pass to Hamid that left little room for error.  That one pass would have erased roughly eighty minutes of conservative, sleep inducing soccer.

Still, maybe everything changes when Dwayne DeRosario is back in the lineup.  I watched DeRo for a bit this afternoon at Ludwig and he's ready to step right back in.

In terms of soccer, the scrimmage today with Maryland was more compelling than the home opener last night.

Patrick Mullins can more than hold his own against professionals, showing once again that he's ready whenever he wants to make the jump.

Mullins saw several familiar faces in the DC United side, with Casey Townsend getting time up top and Ethan White anchoring the back line (along with Daniel Woolard, Henry Kalungi, and Robbie Russell).  After Russell pulled himself out of the game with a leg injury, he was spelled by another Maryland alum, Alex Lee.

I had hoped to have seen the last of Kurt Morsink chewing out teammates for perceived failings after Kurt retired but, alas, Morsink played alongside Conor Shanosky in the midfield.  True to form, late in the scrimmage, Morsink lit into Ethan for something that neither I nor Mr. White appeared to think had been a mistake.  Kurt continued to press the point, whatever it was, after the final whistle.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Baseball & Snow Flurries

I know next to nothing about college baseball.  After attending and enjoying a couple of Maryland baseball games last year, I bought season tickets this year and filed away the intent to check out games when possible.  With our kids otherwise engaged on Saturday, the first opportunity this season corresponded with a double header against Princeton.

Although bitterly cold (and snowing (?)), it was several hours well worth spent.  The opening game was a rout, with K.J. Hockaday, Kyle Convissar, and Charlie White going a combined 10 for 13 to put more than enough runs on the board for Brady Kirkpatrick's second win of the year.

I had to leave early in the second game, but stayed long enough to see why freshman Kevin Mooney was Maryland's high school player of the year.  It was also apparent, from both games, why Maryland's last coaching regime was so high on the pair of Brooklyn recruits out of Grand Street, Kevin Martir (C) and Jose Cuas (2B/SS).  Cuas let a routine grounder that should have been a double play eat him up late in the first game, but otherwise looked solid in the field and at the plate.  Martir's a solid backstop who looks like he can carry his own with the bat as well.

The lasting impression from the games, however, was the incredible bloodlines on display for Princeton.  I should have recognized head coach Scott Bradley from his time with the Mariners (as Randy Johnson's personal catcher, no less), but when any American soccer fan sees him the first connection drawn is how much he looks like his older brother, Bob. 

Scott has pulled together an impressive pedigree of catchers.  The starting backstop for game one happens to look and play very much like his father, former Chicago Cub and current assistant General Manager of the Angels, Scott Servais.  The starting backstop for game two looks quite a bit like his major league father and current Mets' bench coach, Bob Geren.  Princeton has both Geren boys, with older brother Bobby spelling Brett late in the game.  As famous as Tyler, Bobby, and Bret's respective fathers are, they pale in (current) comparison to the patriarch of another catcher on the roster, Andrew Christie.

I would hazard a guess that few of the several Princeton supporters that made it out to College Park for the series enjoyed the games much.  It was cold, Princeton was overmatched, and it was a brutal way to start the season.  Nevertheless, despite the rough conditions, they were great.  They will, with luck, get much more pleasure out of the trip to Georgetown in two weeks.           

Sunday, February 24, 2013


This afternoon, we joined 15,849 others at Comcast to watch the Maryland women lose their fifth game of a season to a Duke squad that was rolling.

It is always a bummer to watch the women lose, but the game itself was not a disappointment.  Although fairly well beaten, the Terrapins did not roll over and Alyssa Thomas led a fiery comeback that sputtered and fell apart with poor shooting.

I'm looking forward to Maryland's enrollment in the Big Ten and have no qualms about the departure from the ACC.  The annual Maryland-Duke women's basketball game will, nevertheless, be missed.  The environment is unparalleled at Comcast.  While the men's game is an outpouring of fear and loathing, the women's game is a genuine rivalry teeming with energy.  Beating Maryland at Comcast means something to the Duke women.

The game obviously means something special to the community around here.  Today's attendance was nearly four times the average game attendance for the season (~4,379).  Before this afternoon, there hadn't been more than 5,153 people at a game for the season.

Even more remarkable:  the attendance for the game was higher than for all but one of the Georgetown men's home games at Verizon this season (they drew 17,474 for the game against Louisville in January).

The women's basketball program will thrive in the Big Ten, but there's not likely to be anything to this event.   

Maybe You Might Try Coaching

In nearly twenty years of living in the Washington DC area, I've managed to develop an affinity for all of two local professional franchises:  the Washington Mystics and D.C. United.

Like many Mystics supporters, we dropped our season tickets many years ago and only rarely make it to games.

D.C. United has been an automatic call.  Even with two young kids, there's never been a question as to whether we would renew our seats each season.

Not anymore.

The season begins next Saturday with the first home game a week after and we've let friends know that our seats are available, gratis, for anyone wants to use them.  Thus far, there is even less interest from our small circle of soccer supporters.

There were many great things about United's off-season:  acquiring Casey Townsend through trade, drafting Taylor Kemp and Evan Raynr, and signing Michael Seaton to a professional contract.  Add the return of Lance Rozeboom to full health, plus the two Brazilian Rafaels, and United was rolling into a new season stocked with quality young talent.

But from the very beginning, storm clouds loomed overheard.  United acquired a 33-year old John Thorrington as their only addition from the MLS re-entry draft in December.  Raynr, a talented passer with a good feel for the game, was set adrift after a brief look.  More recently, the team has added a 30-year old James Riley and 33-year old Carlos Ruiz to the roster.

The move for Ruiz has drawn the most ire from supporters, but the Riley acquisition was in the same vein.  The D.C. United that will take the field in 2013 is a cynical side led by a cynical coach that will play cynical soccer, measuring its value through "bite."

Ben Olsen is very charismatic.  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the coach discuss his take on last season and his philosophy at a season ticket holder event this month.  I think that Andy Najar became a better player under his regime, and that the same is true for Chris Pontius, Perry Kitchen, and Nick DeLeon.   

But, like with Najar, I'd prefer to see Pontius and DeLeon move on and play somewhere else.

The attacking options available to complement Dwayne DeRosario, Pontius, and DeLeon are incredible:  both Rafaels are insanely skilled, Casey Townsend is an accomplished striker and a tireless worker, and Michael Seaton's shown that he's not intimidated by being in the first team side.  We've got as much a chance of seeing these guys as we did watching  Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi last year.

What we will "enjoy" instead is more Lionard Pajoy spelled by Carlos Ruiz, all the while being lectured on the unseen, unrecognized importance of these two veteran strikers and the purportedly unassailable truth of the physical demands of the M-L-S.

No matter how well Lance Rozeboom has played thus far, Marcelo Saragosa is going to get more time in the center of the midfield.

And it will all be in the service of wins; of returning D.C. United to the glory long left behind.  Maybe they make the playoffs again by being the hard team.  And maybe the club can build up its attendance with the new-found buzz borne from victories.  If so, my complaints and concerns are parochial and of no moment to D.C. United's management.

But if it doesn't work... if you lose while putting crap on the field while simultaneously pissing away young talent?

This year should mark the resurgence of a franchise that has cemented itself as part of the District of Columbia.  Absent the addition of a big-name designated player, the way United will build long-term excitement in the community is through its young stars supported by DeRo.

But why waste time coaching the kids if you can just wind up the old warhorses and claim one-nil glories?

I hope I'm made to eat these words as the season progresses.  But I doubt it.  And in the interim, if I want to see D.C. United's good young talent in action, we'll have to venture down to Richmond.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


 As a kid, the name of nearly every player on the sports teams I followed was imprinted in my brain.  Yet the relationship with those players was, with few blessed exceptions, entirely remote.  Meeting a Chicago Bear at a promotional meet and greet at a Sears in the western suburbs was worth every minute of the interminable wait.  My cousins and I would spend hours standing outside a chain link fence in a parking lot at Jack Murphy just for the chance to get Mark Parent’s signature on a baseball.

As I’ve grown older, the distance between fan and athlete has narrowed.  But I still feel an intense sense of privilege at being able to meet, however briefly, an athlete I root for as a spectator.
I doubt it will be the same for my daughters.  

 In the last week, our eldest was at Maryland women’s basketball game on Sunday, a D.C. United season ticket holder event on Tuesday, and a college gymnastics meet last night.  At each, the highlight for her was the chance to interact with players or coaches.

At RFK Tuesday night, our four-year old found Coach Olsen mingling with fans before the questions and answers session, peppering him with non sequiturs that Bennie looked eager to escape.  But before he did, she learned that the coach had a four-year old kid and pondered when, exactly, it would be appropriate to share with him what happened when the frog’s car broke down.  A couple of days earlier at Comcast, she shared her plans to celebrate her fifth birthday at Chuck E. Cheese’s with Maryland’s Katie Rutan and Chloe Pavlech after the women’s impressive win over Boston College.

Last night was the best of the week.  Maryland’s gymnastics team has adopted the practice of granting kids autographs from everyone on the roster after every home meet/match.  It is not a minor commitment.  There are scores of children – overwhelmingly girls – at Comcast for these events.     Attendance last night was announced at over a thousand. 

And the gymnasts don’t just sign autographs.  They really seem to love interacting with the kids.  After walking through the line, our daughter has decided that maybe gymnastics is something that she can do and she’s been practicing her tumbling throughout the day.  It was and is amazing.

Almost as impressive for me were the number of football and basketball players at the meet last night that came out to support the team.  Watching Dez Wells earnestly hand out flowers as the final scores were announced it seemed, to me, as a genuine gesture of respect for fellow athletes.  For our daughters, we make a big deal out of going to see the men’s basketball team and the football team play.  Seeing Seth Allen and Dexter McDougle (among several others) in the stands supporting the team signaled how big a deal the meet was as well.  

Not that it was necessary.  The event spoke for itself.  The perfect ten that Katy Dodds netted from one judge followed an electrifying floor exercise.  Stephanie Giameo's beam routine drew audible gasps.