[The Athletic] D.C. United’s self-defeating feud with supporters groups...

Fuck it. I love the Athletic and think everyone should subscribe based on their content, but here is the section about the supporter groups. I cut out the stadium fluff and roster building sections.

D.C. United’s self-defeating feud with supporters groups marred what should have been a marvelous opening night for Audi Field

By Paul Tenorio 2h ago 8
This day​ has​ always​ hovered​ in front of​ D.C.​ United,​ a real-life version of those​ “chase​ the carrot”​ cartoons,​​ a new stadium hung by a string in front of a franchise that would never catch it.

The reward wasn’t just a new building, of course, it was all that was supposed to come with it: A bigger budget, star players, a consistently competitive team that didn’t need to be rebuilt every year, and, most tantalizingly, a potential return to the glory days of Major League Soccer’s first dynasty.

The promise has been hovering for years, and for those who have spent any time in D.C., there has been more disappointment around a potential stadium than excitement. No one thought this day would actually come.

The stadium was finally delivered on Saturday, and it was supposed to be a celebratory day. The team even provided a resounding 3-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps. And yet there was as much to rue about the situation in which D.C. United finds itself—has created for itself—as there is to celebrate

I grew up in the D.C. area and went to United games as a kid as far back as the inaugural season in 1996. I introduced friends to the sport by guiding them over to the supporters’ section at RFK Stadium to bounce with the Barra Brava. I also covered the team’s protracted battle to build a new home for five years while working as a reporter at The Washington Post. On a night that was so perfect—a beautiful sunset, a gleaming new building, a gorgeous goal from Yamil Asad, the debut of Wayne Rooney, the Washington Monument visible in the distance, a positive result—there was something about it that felt… well, empty.

What was wrong? On the surface, the crowd was maddeningly quiet for much of the game. People filled the seats, but they were not filling the beautiful new building with noise, save for a few moments mostly surrounding the entrance of Rooney and the goals. In fact, the noise died so quickly after the third goal that Rooney had to wave his arms to get the crowd to cheer again before Vancouver kicked off.

“They got there, the energy [eventually] got there,” D.C. coach Ben Olsen said of the crowd with his usual wry delivery, attributing the lower volume levels to the same nerves the team felt in its first game in a new home.

If people were at all confused about how much D.C. United and its most ardent fans are connected, Saturday night provided a healthy display of evidence. D.C. United has been in a standoff with two of its most well-known supporters’ groups—the Barra Brava and the District Ultras—and the reality is that it’s a fight the club can’t really win.

In February, D.C. United designated a supporters group called the Screaming Eagles as the team’s official supporters group, stripping two other major groups—the Barra Brava and the District Ultras—of the right to resell tickets to their members, the mark-up on ticket sales being a primary source of revenue for the activities of both clubs. The dispute has since devolved into a very public he-said-she-said that has resulted in the Barra Brava and District Ultras opting to protest the club’s new stadium until the groups find a resolution. Saturday’s protest included a one-mile march to the stadium with flags, signs and the songs for which D.C. United games have long been known.

While there, I spoke with fans who said they found a family at D.C. games by jumping into the mix with the Barra Brava and District Ultras. One fan said he experienced the game in the stands, then went home and actually watched it on replay on TV to see everything that happened. One long-time area high school coach brought his fiance and son, who pumped his arms to the beat of the drums while watching from his stroller. As the protest marched along M Street SW, past the MLB All-Star game festivities set up near Nationals Park, fans who didn’t know it was a protest stopped to shoot video and take pictures. It was as good an advertisement for D.C. United as anything that occurred leading up to the game and anything that happened inside the stadium.

“They absolutely use us,” Barra Brava vice president Jay Igiel told The Athletic. “Look at every advertisement that D.C. United or MLS has done. It all features supporters’ group, smoke, tifo, banners, flags, and in the meantime there is a trend in MLS… where they are fighting against the supporter group culture.

When they arrived at the game, some fans went into the game but didn’t take part in the supporters’ section. Others returned to a local bar to watch the game on TV.

Charles Boehm ✔ @cboehm · 15 Jul Hard to sum up a complicated occasion, but I'll try: Last night was great. It could be greater. Work still to be done. It was water in the desert for a long-wandering tribe. They also need to bring the rest of the fam into the fold. It was a starting point, not an ending. https://twitter.com/cboehm/status/1018385697705791489

Charles Boehm ✔ @cboehm Addendum: I don't think anyone who experienced the glory days at RFK would deny that Barra Brava and District Ultras were missed last night. With a full house, the base level of noise and atmosphere should be higher in a venue that intimate and compact.

Anyone who attended D.C. United games in the glory days of the franchise will remember the fans, who became just as important to a United gameday as Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Raul Diaz Arce, John Harkes, Ben Olsen, or any other player. These days, all MLS teams have a rowdy supporters section, however small. That was not the case in the early days. The Barra Brava used to make the old stands at RFK bounce to the rhythm of their chants, and they pioneered the supporter atmosphere that now sets MLS apart from every other American sports league and that the league uses to sell itself to the public.

Major League Soccer ✔ @MLS From LA to the PNW, @LAFC's supporters are out in numbers. #SEAvLAFC

The passion sells, and yet it was lacking at Audi Field too often on Saturday night.

RFK was falling apart, but at least it felt like a soccer game was being played.

D.C. United deserves better. The players do and the fans do, and as much as I looked around the stadium and shook my head at a reality I’ve long hoped to see—a soccer-specific stadium in downtown Washington D.C.—it just didn’t feel complete.

It certainly was not an atmosphere that will pull new fans back in to watch more soccer. A sales plan that revolves around Rooney bringing in curious people may work once or twice. Ultimately, those fans will only keep coming back if the experience is different and better than what they can get at other sporting events. That’s what happened in Orlando, where Kaká brought them in and the crowd made them stay. On Saturday night, that atmosphere lagged far behind what we’ve become accustomed to seeing in cities like Portland, Atlanta, Kansas City, and Orlando.


RFK was a difficult place to play for visiting teams because the crowd made it that way. D.C. United was beer thrown raining down in celebration, mosh-pit dance circles in the tunnel at halftime, and the steady beat of drums pacing the chants that now echo in nearly every other stadium in MLS. All of this was missing on Saturday night.


Let’s hope that if they get there, the environment in the stadium feels the same way it did before. Because D.C. United without the Barra Brava doesn’t really feel like D.C. United.

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