D.C. United

by Benjamin Malcolm


Ben chats with his fictional friend Hector, a composite of several people he's met at D.C. United Games.

"Separate people; separate camps,
rooting for the same thing in different voices."






"Look at those fandagos," says Hector, as he gestures toward the mass of people who sit behind the far goal in RFK Stadium's dark confines. "They're all Salvadorans. Bastards ...."

Hector is Bolivian. A Bolivian, he says, like the cagey midfielder Marco Etcheverry. A Bolivian, he says, like the quick-footed Jaime Moreno.

"We've got pride for the team, man ... what do they do? They lose a Salvadoran off the team, and they just come here and whine and moan ... a country of babies..."

" '... a country of babies...' "

Two years ago, D.C. United, one of the few teams in Washington, D.C. that seems to win consistently, traded away their Salvadoran star, Raul Diaz Arce. A sizeable number of Salvadoran fans, one of the loudest groups in the hodgepodge of nationalities that make up D.C. United's fan base, have repaid the soccer team in the verbal coinage of everlasting contempt. D.C. United is no longer their team.

"The times when they bother to show up at games, they cheer for the opposing side, especially for any Salvadorans," says Hector. "Arce, meanwhile, what does he do? He just bounces around from team to team."

Indeed, Arce seems to sail through Major League Soccer waters like a lost cargo ship. New England, San Jose, Tampa Bay... all pit stops on the great traveling one-man circus of Salvadoran pride.





Hector speaks of a time when Arce scored a goal against his former team, causing pandemonium among the 2,000 or so Salvadorans at the game. 2,000 out of 15,000 total. The goal was booted in off a beautiful crossing pass. Left to right.

"Confetti's flying in the air, beer's coming down from the upper decks, whole section's are jumping up and down like crazy. Like a ticker tape parade, man... the team felt like it was playing on the road. You couldn't tell we were at home with the amount of noise after that goal."

Hector is a card-carrying member of D.C.'s Screaming Eagles, a loose affiliation of soccer fanatics who occupy Sections 135 and 136 of the stadium nearest the field. Noisy, exuberant, armed with drums, whistles, and horns, and carrying banners and flags of the team's colors of red, white, and black, they spend nearly all 90 minutes of the game singing and chanting.

"I'm about the team, man," he says. "It's D.C. United for me."

"El Diablo!" he screams suddenly, as Etcheverry one-times a quick pass out to midfield.

El Diablo is Etcheverry's nickname. "The devil" in Spanish.

" ...they spend nearly all 90 minutes of the game singing and chanting."

Hector points out the scattered fans who don miniature red devil horns, some glowing, to commemorate El Diablo. He then points to what looks like Marco Etcheverry in the stands, with the same oblong face and long, curly, dark hair -- a Marco Etcheverry with a few pounds, a few inches, and a giant bass drum.

"He's Bolivian," says Hector, his face lighting up. "His name's Edwin."

Edwin wanders the stadium's walkways, beating on his large D.C. United logoed drum in an attempt to spark the crowd. He gets drowned out amid the Screaming Eagles. From afar, in other sections, he has stood out like a cacaphonous foghorn of pride.

"RFK looks like some kind of U.N. or something when United plays, man. You better believe that," says Hector.

"You should have seen when New York came to town. They had some Iranian defender on their team. A bunch of Iranian fans from Fairfax County showed up, paraded all around the stadium."





I see in the upper sections, flags draped over the railing -- Trinidadian, Jamaican, and Salvadoran. Columbus, the opposing team, has two players from Trinidad and a midfielder from Jamaica.

"Look at the Brazilians!" yells Hector, whirling me around, and pointing behind and above us.

Just above our spot, a Brazilian-attired quartet is swaying, jamming a Samba tune in strange syncopation to the drumming around us. Whistles and drums and horns are sprinkled throughout the stadium but are most prevalent where the Screaming Eagles bounce up and down endlessly. Our sections shake like there's an earthquake. A simulated, fan-driven joy ride. RFK Disneyland.

" ...he has stood out like a cacaphonous foghorn of pride."

"This stadium is the great melting pot. It's America," Hector screams into my ear. "We've got Latinos, soccer moms, the whole crew ... the announcements, listen to them. They're in both English and Spanish ..."

Separate people; separate camps, rooting for the same thing in different voices. A Tower of Babel of languages and music and rhythms. They are there to root for the game, but they have their national interests at stake as well. Especially, it seems, the Salvadorans and the Bolivians. The fiber of tribalism that is woven into the American shirt appears like a bright swath of color at this soccer game in the nation's capital.

I ask Hector about the fights, the fights I've heard about between fans.

"Yeah, there have been fights. Some fan got stabbed a month or so ago. I don't think they ever found a reason for that. It was the Salvadorans... of course..."

Seemingly, they are the scapegoats of Latin America. Hector's scapegoats.





I ask Hector about the other sports in the city.

"It's a different scene at the MCI Center. It's all big money over there. They priced a whole bunch of their fans away. Hell, that guy who used to make fun of Charles Barkley when they played over at USAir Arena ... even he can't afford to go to games anymore. They're loser teams anyway ... why blow $40 to watch them."

I ask him about the Redskins.

"Yeah, this is a Redskins town. They all flock over to Redskin Park. But the Skins haven't been hot for years."

D.C. United has been where the Redskins haven't been for many years -- they've been to the conference finals each and every season, and have two golds and a silver for their efforts. They have been a model of consistency. The New York Yankees of American soccer. And in this international city, with its Embassy Row and myriad international associations and universities, it is somehow fitting that the powerhouse of the nascent U.S. soccer league should be here.

"That's Bolivia scoring on your ass!"

"I don't know why soccer hasn't ever caught on in your country. Maybe it will," Hector says. "We love it. Look at this crowd. It's people from all over. In Bolivia, this place would be filled and the place would be shaking. This section we're standing in ... that would be the whole fucking stadium, man. It's like religion."

Hector keeps speaking of soccer. He lives the sport, breathes it. On weekends, he plays in a league with fellow Bolivians, one of the many semipro nationality-specific soccer leagues that dot the city and suburbs. Some of the leagues recruit, and some players make big money, while gamblers work the sidelines, hawking betting action from spectators.

I ask Hector what he would do if Etcheverry or Moreno were ever traded away. How would he react to that?

He seems to be caught off guard by the question, and then brushes it off like a question that has no good answer.

"I don't think that will happen," he says. "They're the core of the team."





Hector gets caught up in the latest song for his team... an ode to D.C. United which starts with the line "It's a good day for United," when Marco Etcheverry stops a pass at midfield, jukes a defender and drills a long pass up to Jaime Moreno. Moreno drops the ball to his right foot, and bullets a beautiful shot to the far left of the lunging goalkeeper. Goal by Moreno. Assist by Etcheverry. Bolivian to Bolivian.

Hector points a finger to the sky and yells skyward, as the confetti explodes in the Screaming Eagles section. The earthquake rumbles throughout sections 135 and 136.

He looks at the area behind the goal, where the Salvadorans are standing in mostly silent witness. A few clap; some cheer.

"That's right... that's us!" he screams, pointing his finger as an accusation of triumph. "That's Bolivia scoring on your ass!"

He closes his eyes and the crowd swallows him alive. Awash in the sounds of celebration for his team.




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