Sounders Fans Take On D.C.
"There'll be a new site next week," a Seattle Sounders fan promised me after Wednesday night's U.S. Open Cup, as his team celebrated their first title. "WeWinTrophiesToo.com, bitches. I'm gonna put a big D.C. United logo with a red slash through it and a trophy. Twenty-eight days of hype, and what did it bring? Eleven thousand fans?"
Look, I was obviously asking for such red meat by wandering around the 400 level with Seattle folks before and after this game, but this was all a new experience for me, being told that D.C. United's fan base was somehow deficient. The back-and-forth between United and the Sounders has been well-documented, and I was curious to see how it'd all play out in person.
(And no, I didn't tell that Sounders fan that he should have registered WeWinTrophy.com. And yes, I saw how Seattle fans already set up ButYouDidntWinThisOne.com.)
To be fair, plenty of folks on both sides had nice things to say about each other. The leaders of the Sounders's 150 or 200 upper-level supporters complimented the United supporters after the game, saying "Barra Brava has always set the standard" and "that seeing the concrete move up and down is pretty awesome."
Some also said the never want to see D.C. without United, and that if having the Cup final here was necessary to help the club, they can understand.
"D.C. better get a stadium deal, because I don't want to see this team get relocated," Patrick Mead said. "This town has to have a team."
"Look, I can't complain," another fan named Patrick said said. "D.C. has a much greater history of winning titles than us, fair enough. If this helps them stay in the city, I'm all for it. Being a Sonics fan and seeing them leave, I never want to see anyone else go through that."
"It's a shame that D.C. can't fill that stadium," Robby Branom of the Emerald City Supporters said, words that I heard over and over. This wasn't a jab at the Barra Brava or Screaming Eagles, but at the casual D.C. sports fan, who didn't want to come out to see some hardware awarded on a picture-perfect summer evening with 1996 concession prices.
"It's a pretty empty stadium now, huh?" Jon Danforth noted about 15 minutes before kickoff.
"Seriously, what the hell is this?" asked Anna Grimes, who noted the $2 beers and $12 tickets available for the match.
"You offer that at Qwest Field, we'd sell 67,000 tickets," Danforth said.
"That's the cheapest happy hour in Seattle," Jason Young added. "You don't even need a game."
The announced attendance was more than 17,000, one of the largest Open Cup final crowds in the MLS era and more than double last year's crowd at RFK. From a D.C. perspective, this was a great showing. From a Seattle perspective....
"Everyone brags about 'We Win Trophies,' but trophies don't matter if no one appreciates it," Danforth said. "We admire Barra Brava, they've been here forever, they show up, they cheer, but where are the casual fans?"
"I mean, we sure as hell know they're not cheering for their baseball team," Young said.
("Hey, I have Adam Dunn on my fantasy team!" someone else called out.)
"This is a Cup final," Danforth said. "Everywhere else in the world, this sells out. You support your team, you travel for your team, you die for your team; that's why we well out. It's a Cup [bleeping] final."
"You have the most successful club in the history of MLS; whatever they're doing, they're not connecting with their fans," Young said. "Four MLS Cups, and even their regular season games, there's no one here....Their supporters are good supporters, but there's just no connection to the city."
"We met more people here in bars that were supporting the Sounders," Grimes said, saying a local bartender had told her that Sounders fans were the best in MLS.
"We traveled 2,700 miles to drink beer and support our team," Lee Rayl told me. "Where's your fans?"
"Qwest Field would have been sold out tonight, or yesterday afternoon, or whenever you wanted to play the game," Alexander Sever said, also before the game had started. "The couple hundred Barra Brava supporters that are here, great, but where is everybody else? The stadium is empty. It's a great Cup final, and U.S. Soccer's trying to drum up support for it and make it more prestigious, and you have it in an empty stadium?"
"Look at this, across the country and we bring this," Ben Fox said, gesturing to the Seattle crowd. "They have as many supporters as we do, and we're across the country. They've got nothing."
The Barra Respond
From my perspective, both teams' supporters came off well. For Seattle to have the presence they did for a midweek Cup final across the country was fairly remarkable, and the team saluted the fans repeatedly after the game. The Seattle folks kept singing until after 10 o'clock, when RFK's lights were shut off and security escorted them to the Metro.
On the other side, the United folks were in full voice and full smoke bomb mode. It's a few days before Labor Day weekend, probably the deadest time of the year in D.C, and we had two teams contesting a trophy that, for the average U.S. sports fan, means very little. And for all the "empty stadium" stuff, those 17,000 fans would look just fine in an appropriate venue. The not-easily-impressed Steve Goff used one word to describe the atmosphere: great.
"For a Wednesday night, this was a good crowd," Barra Brava founder Oscar Zambrana of said after the game.
"We did our job," another Barra member said.
"We have the best traveling support for any club; we take more people to L.A. than New York takes here," Paul Planzer said.
But they didn't like some of what they'd been hearing from Seattle, the boasts about their massive home attendance, the suggestion that Sounders fans were the best in MLS, the arrogance of the D.C. critiques.
"They need to show respect," Zambrana said, shortly before Jaime Moreno showed up for a hug-filled late-night parking lot visit. "They can say whatever they want. We've been here for too long. They can't just come into the league and say they're the best fans. You have to earn your stripes....I respect them for coming from far away, but I don't like them talking [junk]. That's why they've become to me, if not No. 1, the second place people we hate, besides New Jersey. We respect people as long as they don't mess around. They need to show respect."
If there's one thing the fans agreed upon, it's that RFK is a hole. The section the Seattle fans were sent to featured just unreal amounts of bird droppings, large tree branches, and general decay.
"Your stadium is a piece of [trash]!" one guy was yelling. "Build a real stadium! Hey, join the 20th century!"
"This place is a dump," Marty Walz said.
"We're standing in bird poop, and lots of it," Troy Ragsdale noted.
The Seattle fans made their section of RFK shake. The guard said he didn't know the upper level could shake. One Seattle fan crossed herself.
At least some of the She Seattle fans and DCU fans also began gesturing at each other, and I heard at least a few "[Bleep] Seattle" cheers.
"Look at Bravo Bravo," one guard said with a chuckle. "They want to come up here and kill them. This is gonna be a fun night."
An Interlude From Me
I don't write about United much any more, because of Web traffic issues and the lack of Alecko Eskandarian, but there's still no better fan experience in D.C., despite the craptastic stadium, the thousands of empty seats, the bird poop and everything else. Ok, Caps games are now pretty great, but to get down low will cost you.
Plus, not to take sides here, but there were Seattle fans in Matt Hasselbeck and Deion Branch jerseys. I know the color schemes are the same, but still.
Jabs aside, there were plenty of Seattle fans who just wanted to watch some soccer, and the primary emotion after the win was joy. Real joy--hugging, screaming, photo-taking, cell-phone-calling, sprinting-up-and-down-the-aisle joy. "First trophy!" some of them were yelling. "
Some of the fans had already designed a U.S. Open Cup tattoo, and at least six people promised to get it.
"People will jump in when they see it looks good," Mead said.
"It's gonna be pretty boss," Danforth said.
"I'm gonna get it on my ass," Grimes promised.
The Sounders players kept coming over to the corner to salute their fans way above them, to slap and dance and sing. Branom, of the ECS, said the environment was the best two-club scene he had experienced in the U.S., and he said he didn't care that he was celebrating on the road.
"This is why you travel thousands of miles to support a club, is to experience this sort of joy," he said, as Seattle supporters ran around wildly, while others gathered outside the stadium to sing. "This could be a once in a lifetime experience. There's nothing like it in the world."
Then they all went out to get drunk.
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