This was ground hopping with a difference for me. This was the first soccer match I had been to outside of Europe.
As you will remember I was in Washington DC on 12th & 13th May having completed the Police Unity Tour and attended the Candlelight Vigil on 13th May. I was due to leave DC on 14th, but having realised that DC United were playing at home that night, I decided to extend my stay there.
Unusually perhaps for US sports venues, this one is well served by public transport, being on both the blue and orange lines on the underground / metro / subway. As there was extensive engineering works on the metro I left central Washington early to ensure I got to the ground in time for the game.
As sod’s law would have it, I managed to get a train easily and was at the ground around 1 3/4 hours before the kick off. The ground looked rather familiar when I got off the train. Why? Well only54 hours earlier I had arrived here at the RFK Stadium in the Police Unity Tour. It was at RFK that we met up with the other rides.
Getting there early was very useful. I had been in touch with the club and had been given a code to buy tickets at a discount price – thanks to Brad Snook at DC United. Sadly, when I tried to buy the tickets online I was unable to as the Ticketmaster US site cannot cope with anyone from outside the US. As I could not put down a state in my billing address!!! I went to the ticket office and explained the situation and after speaking to a second person there I was given a ticket at a discount price. I bought a ticket for the cheapest section. The game would be the same wherever I watched it from.
I knew from the last two PUTs that RFK was not a new stadium, but that is all I knew. Once I got my ticket, I went straight into the ground. Turnstiles are much less imposing than in the UK, but it seems that people in the US are more honest and do not try to force their way into grounds without tickets.
Immediately inside the ground, there was a table where they were giving away programmes and team sheets for free. Are you listening Mike Ashley? That price was FREE. Oh and they were giving away free DC United T shirts to the first 5,000 people in the ground. So, I got a ticket for the game, two programmes and a T shirt for under £10. I call that a deal.
The ground itself was originally built in 1961 and was the first major stadium designed specifically as a multisport facility for both American football and baseball, It is rented by DC United from its owners. Looking around the ground, it was clear it was not built for soccer. The seating is set out for baseball and American football. There are no lower tier seating sections behind each ground. It has hosted international soccer matches in the 1994 FIFA World Cup, 1996 Summer Olympics and 2003 Women’s World Cup.
For DC United games, only the lower tier of seats is opened. That is a good thing as the lower tier alone was not anywhere near full. The ground capacity is 45,243 and the crowd for this game was 12,499.
I was in the ground early so had a walk around the ground. Under the stand there are wide open walkways with lots of food and drink concessions. The prices are not cheap though. This did not seem to stop the locals feeding their faces during the game. Crowds at sporting events in the US tend to “tailgate” i.e. have picnics or BBQs in the parking lots before the game, so I was surprised how busy the concessions were.
After wandering around the ground, I found my seat – which was located near the corner flag at the one end of the ground that had seating behind part of the goal line.
The teams came out onto the pitch and lined up together before the national anthem. They play the national anthem before every Major League Soccer game. The game itself was a classic game of two halves. Colorado played the way my neighbour told me they would – i.e. very physical. At half time they were leading 1-0 and it looked as if there was only going to be one winner.
However, the second half was a very different game and DC dominated. They should have been awarded a penalty when there was a clear foul in front of us. Somehow the referee despite being perfectly placed waived play on. I suspect he knew he was wrong as a few minutes later he awarded DC a very soft penalty from which they equalised.
I must give a mention to the two males sat next to me, Kyle and David who were with their wives, Robin and Jamie ( hopefully I have their names correct). They were good company and very knowledgeable about the game, both in the US and across Europe.
They pointed out and explained about the “Screaming Eagles” who were stood on the halfway line area to my left. This is effectively the singing section of the ground. They did their best to make some noise and atmosphere despite numbering around 1000 at most in a huge open bowl of a stadium.
The day had been a beautiful sunny day, but by the end of the game it started to rain, so we had to move seats further back in the stand. This is one advantage of a big ground – you can move seats.
What about the standard of the football? Well, it was a lot better than I expected. I would have said that both sides would easily hold their own in the Championship in England. Both sides lacked someone to lead the line for them. The approach play was there but the goal scorer was lacking.
In the second half, Colorado showed themselves to be tactically naive. DC had a man wide on the right touchline and he was not once picked up by either the Colorado left back or another player. All DC’s attacks came this way. I would have expected someone to have marked the wide player, but no one did. Strange.
After the game, I made my way in the rain back to the metro station and got on the train next to someone wearing a Manchester city top. After chatting to him about their FA Cup win that afternoon. He turned out to be a Colorado fan. I must have found the only travelling fan at the game – a distance of some 1500-1700 miles each way. Not exactly a local derby then!
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would happily go back to watch MLS games. Surprisingly given that there is no rivalry between fans, there was still an atmosphere and noise at the game. Due in no small part to the Screaming Eagles