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.