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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. ", 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 And yes, I saw how Seattle fans already set up


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."


And yet....

"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."

Stadium Stinks

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.

(By Manuel Balce Ceneta - AP)

By Dan Steinberg  |  September 3, 2009; 11:49 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. United  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: A Heartwarming Redskins Story
Next: Caps Win D.C. Attendance Contest


zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz wh cares soccer sucks

Posted by: jonthefisherman | September 3, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

"I mean, we sure as hell know they're not cheering for their baseball team," Young said.
Yes they were - the Red Sox were on in every bar in the city.

Posted by: Kev29 | September 3, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

"This is a Cup final," Danforth said. "Everywhere else in the world, this sells out."

False. Outside of England and Scotland, domestic cup competitions are treated in a similar way by fans - with mild indifference.

Posted by: Kev29 | September 3, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

I know DC United has a large following in Virginia, but for some of us in Maryland, school has already started. By the time my son gets home from JV soccer practice, it is after 5:30 and he still has 1-2 hours of homework ahead of him. There was simply no way for us to go on a school night.

Plus, maybe more casual DC United fans would care more if the organization cared a little more. The fact that DC United plays this tournament with sub-prime lineups until they get to the final does not show much appreciation of this tournament, despite the media blitz attempted this past week.

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | September 3, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

If Seattle has the best sports fans, then how come all those Seahawks home games got blacked out over the past 30 years?

Posted by: dchooligan | September 3, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Congratulations to the Sounders. They were the better team last night. They were the better coached team last night. They deserved to win. They had a good amount of fans in their section. That was one of the larger traveling sections to come to RFK for a MLS-MLS match. It was a final and their fans and the team treated it as a final. The US Open Cup has often been an insignificant tournament that has MLS sides trot out reserve teams until the final(depended on the opponent). USSF barely cares about the tournament and MLS sides rarely take it seriously because of schedule congestion. This is Seattle's first season and they want to win everything for their fans. Except for the semi-final match, they played at a ~4,000 seat stadium and used several reserves like MLS teams often do in the tournament. There is no doubt that they would have sold more tickets, but that is not why Qwest wasn't selected. The match would have had to be played on Tuesday at 1pm on the west coast. That wasn't going to work for USSF and FSC. DC's total bid was better than Seattle. This was known around the time of the quarterfinals so the fake outrage is ridiculous and disingenuous. Much of their attendance is a direct result of heavy marketing and good timing(how about those Sonics?) so complaints about DC advertising the match are just ignorant. Seattle was given a product that has gone through a lot over the past 13 years to get where it is. If it weren't for the fans around the league supporting the league through good and bad while MLS struggled to even exist and find an identity, they wouldn't have any of what they have now. United's fanbase has changed a lot since the inaugural season. A lot of have come and gone. DC is fortunate that so many have stayed with the team and support has grown. Other teams haven't been as fortunate even with their own stadiums. League stability has allowed TFC and Seattle to be what they are. I'm sure they'll proudly hang their Open Cup banner right next to their attendance banner.

Posted by: sitruc | September 3, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, it's soccer.
Dude needs to chill out.

Posted by: TheOriginalEgon | September 3, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Sorry this soccer column is distracting you from the underreported story about Dan Snyder fleecing his customer base. Back button's to your upper left.

Posted by: Section117 | September 3, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Last night was my first DC United game and, honestly, unless they change some things, I won't be going back any time soon. First of all, a $12 ticket is a great deal. Until Ticketmaster dumps $8 worth of fees on top of that. (We got around that by going directly to the DC United ticket office but not everyone can finagle that!) Plus, if you are going to have cheap beer and food as your draw, you should probably make sure there are enough people selling it or you are going to end up with lots of cranky fans.

The only reason we ended up enjoying ourselves is that we left our cheap crappy seats and snuck closer to where the loud fans were.

Soccer still seems like just a bunch of running to me, but as a hockey fan, I understand the frustration of loving a sport deemed "lesser" but stupid football fans! I will say that I was impressed with the fan base that was there. Having never been to a pro soccer game, it was certainly a learning experience. If they played at a smaller stadium that was easier to get to, I might consider going to more games, as I enjoyed the atmosphere.

Posted by: amberlynne | September 3, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse


La Norte and the Screaming Eagles say 'Hi'.

One more thing to point out: DC has all five professional sports, whereas Seattle has 3, and there's a town 30 miles away from here with another 2.

There are only so many dollars folks can throw around going to sporting events, so it all gets divvied up between them.

And last I saw Quest field isn't full. They stop selling tickets when it's half-full. So they've got this big stadium that's got a ton of empty seats, too.

Posted by: kolbkl | September 3, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

The rest of DC's owners wish they had just a handful of the 1000s of United fans who actually support the team passionately in the stands.

Don't believe me? Ask Ted Leonsis why he's recruited a veteran Barra Brava member to develop a supporters group for the Caps.

Skins games haven't had the sort of atmosphere on display last night since they left RFK.

Wizard's games are nothing but piped-in music and scoreboard led chants.

And Nats games... look like a great place to go if you want to pay $9 for a beer and take a nap with a few hundred other people around.

Considering 17k is a good crowd ANY night of the week in 3/4s of the league, attendance-smack talk by Sounders fans is just silly.

Blame Sodexho for long-lines at the taps. I went to get beer after helping set up the tifo, took one look at the lines, and said screw it.

Dan, that sneak attack on Oscar by Jaime was a classic Barra moment, good thing we had someone on hand to chronicle the event. The opportunity to chat with Jaime for a few minutes made my drive back down to Durham much more tolerable. Still disappointed you didn't have any chevre on hand.

Posted by: alecw81 | September 3, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad you had some good experiences at your first match, amberlynne. Everybody hates TicketBastard. You can always call the team offices and buy tickets without most of the fees and walk-ups also don't have fees. The supporter groups also sell their own tickets. The concessions have been a mess for years although there can be endless arguments of if the problem is with the vendor, DCSEC or DC United. It has gotten worse since around 2006-2007. RFK hosted MLS Cup in 2007. It was nearly a sell-out and most of the stands were closed. I'm not sure if United chose the vendors back then. I think DCSEC controls the stadium while United can now chose the vendors. I'm hoping United seriously re-evaluates pricing and matchday operations this off-season.

Posted by: sitruc | September 3, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I'd bet that concessions were a mess because the contractor looked at the calendar and guessed on 10k showing up for a weekday game.

Posted by: kolbkl | September 3, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

The Sounders were one of the better draws in the NASL before that league collapsed, and the Seattle/Vancouver/Portland rivalries were tremendous. Youth soccer here is enormous. Yes, thanks to DC being a longtime MLS club, but really, what took MLS so long to come back to Seattle? It's not just marketing, it's not just the treason of the Sonics. Qwest Field would have sold out the lower bowl (32,000) even when the Sonics were here and without the marketing. If they bothered to open the upper bowl for regular-season MLS games (as they have for friendlies with Chelsea and Barcelona), they'd sell a lot more seats -- maybe not 67,000, but 45,000 easy. I've got to hand it to Sounders management. They didn't take anything for granted, the game experience is great for fans, and the City loves the team. I wish all MLS teams enjoyed the same support.

Posted by: mandelboffus | September 3, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

You must admit that public and media support changed quite a bit with the departure of the Sonics, mandelboffus.

Posted by: sitruc | September 3, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse

Go Sounders! Wuhoo! It's nice to see so many posts from DC fans that hate the Sounders. Nothing drums up interest in sports than a nasty rivalry. For my part, I'm still pissed that DC came back to tie the game in Seattle 3-3.

To those posters who say soccer sucks. What a sorry life you live that you don't understand how fun it is to watch the beautiful game. Are you the same people to believe in "Death Panels". But I digress.

What DC and the rest of the teams in the league should learn from Seattle and Toronto is how to market a soccer team. Seattle has a huge advantage with their partnership with the Seahawks. Those of us who watched the Sounders piece together a franchise, it was obvious that they knew what they were doing. Sophisticated marketing can make a difference.

But again, I digress. The important point is Go Sounders! One trophy in the case, more to come!

Posted by: cougardave | September 4, 2009 12:47 AM | Report abuse

Dan, a lot of what the Sounders fans had to say last night was absurd. Cup finals, as Kev29 states, are afterthoughts in most of Europe and don't even exist in Latin America. As for Sounders fans meeting more of their own in a bar, they had orchestrated a meet-up. Of course you're going to meet more of your fans when you pick one place to congregate (not to mention that DC fans don't pre-game at bars; they tailgate in Lot 8).

Mostly, though, it's just a lack of perspective. Saying DC has "no one" at their games, when we're in the upper half of MLS attendance this season, is ignorant. Seattle's attendance is an anomaly in MLS. It's not like we're 4 or 5k behind everyone else. Obviously you found some Sounders fans who know about MLS before their team existed, but it seems like there's a vocal majority of people associated with their team that believe that they invented MLS. Here's a perfect example: you have a guy yelling at DC to build a real stadium. Last I checked, Qwest Field was built for the Seahawks. The Sounders are the dude renting out the basement.

It's awesome that any MLS team can get the numbers Seattle gets. Frankly, I didn't expect MLS to have a team drawing 30K before the salary cap was at least triple what it is today. Seattle also deserved to win last night. They were tactically set out to take advantage of DC's weaknesses, matched our intensity, and most importantly they stayed disciplined (looking at you, Wicks). It's just a shame that their fans seem to be going out of their way to trash the people that helped build MLS and then let them in after the tough lifting was done.

Congratulations to the Sounders organization, players, and the fans that were there when Seattle soccer meant USL-1 play. To the rest of them, I hope you stick with the team when it stops being a trend in your city.

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | September 4, 2009 3:06 AM | Report abuse

Chest_Rockwell, Qwest Field was sold to voters as a venue for both football and soccer. There was a clear need for a top-notch facility for soccer as well, and so Paul Allen sought out that community for support. If you check out the Wikipedia entry for Qwest Field, you'll find it was also designed specifically with soccer in mind, including squaring of the endzones, sight lines, etc. There are separate locker rooms for soccer. There's no question that any franchise is selling a complete game experience, not just the product on the field, and Safeco and Qwest are just really great places to go to see a game.

citruc, I'm not sure what circles you travel in, but there was huge support for the Sounders before the Sonics left. Something about the Sonics experience costing $125 a game per spectator, years of mediocrity, etc. The last Sonics game I attended about two years before they left was about two-thirds sold -- maybe 11,000. The Sounders drew six times that for each of Chelsea and Barcelona this season alone.

And to all, no, Seattle didn't invent the sport or the league, but it was shortsighted of MLS not to put teams in one major (and successful) part of the footprint of the old NASL. Anyone with any knowledge of the sport in Seattle (large youth programs, great college teams, very successful run as an NASL franchise) could have predicted most of the Sounders' success. Kudos to Sounders management for making it even better. The upper left-hand corner of the country is going to be great for the league and the sport.

Posted by: mandelboffus | September 4, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

This was my second away match as a Sounders FC supporter. I gotta hand it to La Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles. You guys were awesome. You were incredibly loud and in sync with large numbers, something every supporters group in the league should strive for.

It was a great match with lots of attacking soccer; the way the game should be played. We definitely enjoyed ourselves and hope that you guys make it to Seattle next year.

-Crollaa of ECS

Posted by: ziusudrasdeluge | September 4, 2009 10:13 PM | Report abuse

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