DC United fans are coming off the team’s worst year ever. The 2013 season will be remembered mostly for one stat: the team’s measly three league wins were the worst in Major League Soccer history. From the fans’ perspective, it was a brutal season.
And yet, everything is relative. As a lifelong Washington Redskin fan – I remember avidly watching the Redskins play the Dolphins in Super Bowl VII in January 1973 – I have to say that things sure could be worse. In fact, I’m positively delighted about the prospects for DC United in comparison with the Redskins.
So, here is my 2014 Attitude of Gratitude List for DC United. Comments welcome.
1. Thank Goodness for Normal Owners
Yes, normal. At times I was extremely frustrated during the 2013 season. There was at least one tweet on my part directly to the owners demanding to know whether we actually had a club strategy. For much of the season, it felt like we were winging it. The future looked bleak.
And yet, the offseason so far has told me that ownership is really trying to turn things around. Out with the old (DeRo is gone, and other players), and in with the new. There’s no telling what will happen in a new season, but seeing names like Johnson, Franklin, Boswell, and possibly Espindola tells me that 2013 was unacceptable to the ownership.
2. What They Say Is What We Get
At the last home game of the season, I spied DC United co-owner Will Chang quickly making his way through RFK Stadium. I shouted out to him, and he immediately turned to shake my hand.
Yes, he looked like he didn’t want to talk with me, but not because he wanted to avoid a fan. I had the strong sense that he needed to get quickly from one part of the stadium to another for a reason unrelated to me, but in no way was he going to ignore a (disenchanted) fan. His words when I quickly stated that I was a season ticket holder? “We’re going to spend money.” And the last month has proven that what he said they would do, they are doing.
I recall a Washington-area sportswriter recently suggesting that Redskins owner Dan Snyder invite fans to sit with him in his owner’s box, in order to get a grip on reality. Fat chance of that. I’ll take Will Chang shaking hands at fan and supporters groups tailgates instead.
3. Financial Responsibility Is Beautiful
Yes, the club is spending some money to grab new players and refresh the squad. But they also cleared a lot of salary cap space at the end of the 2013 season. You could see it coming: prepare for a new lineup by cutting your expenses. The expenses that didn’t pay off.
I compare this to what has been going on over at Redskins headquarters for close to fifteen years. What a joke. For example, give a $100 million guaranteed contract to mercurial defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. Then hire a head coach who is known to have “control issues,” who then — rightly or wrongly — installs a defense that is not suited to your high-priced lineman. End result? Millions and millions of guaranteed dollars thrown down the drain. That’s why I refuse to buy even an inexpensive Redskins-branded door key. I don’t want a penny of my money going into Dan Snyder’s fool-and-his-money pockets. But the DC United-branded stuff continues to grow in my household.
4. United’s Stadium Is Better Than the Redskins’ Stadium
Yes: you read that right. For years and years, DC United and its fans have struggled to make the most of crumbling RFK. To the club’s credit, an agreement is in place with the District of Columbia to build a new stadium. But there are a lot of details and deadlines to attend to before the dream becomes a reality.
In the meantime, you get the sense that the club is trying to do the best with what it has. In recent years they have built out new stadium amenities and continued to offer we-appreciate-you events for fans and season ticket holders that cost nothing. One can only imagine what it will be like with a new stadium.
Contrast that with the Redskins experience: a stadium in the middle of nowhere (with due apologies to Prince George’s County residents for whom the area is home). In other words: it’s hard to get to Fedex Field, and once you’re there, there’s nothing else to do. The “NFL Experience” of blasting music during game timeouts and the high cost of Skins tickets don’t give me any incentive to see a live game. I’ll watch snippets of dysfunctional Redskins games on TV so that I can get more important things done at home, thank you.
Then there’s the Unforgivable Stadium Sin: Actually reducing the number of seats in Fedex Field a couple years ago. Dan Snyder has so destroyed the once-beautiful culture of the Redskins that the streak of stadium sell-outs that stretched for decades from the mid-1960s is gone. Seemingly forever. Seats may be sold, but it’s always easy to spy the no-shows when watching on TV.
Yet during the suckiest of seasons, United wins the 100th US Open Cup and introduces its own beer, appropriately named “The Tradition.” I’ll drink to that.
Give Me DC United Culture
Instead, I’ll take my DC United Culture. Despite 2013, our team actually does make the playoffs. And when we don’t, we know that the team’s desire to win an unprecedented fifth MLS Cup is encapsulated in Head Coach Ben Olsen’s own words: “it’s an endless longing that haunts me in the darkness of the night.” (See at 0:59 of video clip below.)
What’s more, there is nothing so beautiful as the club’s “Blackout” playoff culture – a sea of fans dressed in black, augmenting the already-beautiful tension of must-win playoff games. Another trip to the playoffs is my soccer wish for 2014. I genuinely believe United’s ownership is doing what it can to continue the club’s winning tradition. And I’m thankful for that as we enter the new year.
Top photo courtesy: Screaming Eagles supporters club.