From the Stands: A Soggy Champions League Date With DC United

DC United defeated Tauro FC in the Champions League and qualified for the quarterfinals
by Robert Mera   |   Monday, September 29, 2014

United Capitol – column on DC United (DCU) & the Washington DC/DMV area soccer scene.

Last year Ben Olsen returned glory to the DC United trophy case with a win in the US Open Cup. This also paved the way for the team’s entry into the 2013-2014 CONCACAF Champions League Right now he has the depth to accomplish much more.

And that’s what you could see on a soggy evening last Wednesday at RFK Stadium for DC United’s game versus Panama’s Tauro FC. I went to the game to experience something novel, a continental tournament, a different style from the Panamanians, a game apart from so many others that American soccer fans get to see. I wanted to witness the type of person that showed up to the game to enjoy their DCU.

Of course, Barra Brava was there, as were a dozen or so Tauro fans. But most interesting were the loners. It was solitary men and women sitting in stillness with an entire row to themselves yet enjoying every moment of the match. It was a personal affair. Their upset reactions at DCU misses and welcome applause for the goals in the second half gave meaning to their place as fans of this club.

True, a midweek game against a lesser foe from Concacaf is never going to be a big draw, but it was nice to see the diehard fans there. A father and son couple bought 5 dollar DC United shirts outside the stadium and asked me why I was alone. To enjoy the game like you, I said. They smiled and the father asked me what I thought about how the team was doing. On their way, I said.

DCU controlled the ball, had the style and won the game outright. A 2-0 score may not be as impressive as Portland’s 6-0 win over Alpha United but it sufficed. And it’s actually better for Olsen’s crew because, unlike Portland, they are on top of the conference standings with reason to both rest some players (Hamid, Kitchen, DeLeon) and give minutes to others (Franklin, Johnson, Pontius). In fact, it was great to see Pontius play, let alone score. With him in the fold and the bona fide star the team has in Luis Silva, it’s hard not to imagine DC United making a deep run in the playoffs.

The game came down to individual players’ reaction to a less-than-famous continental match. Would it feel too easy? Not for Eddie Johnson. He came out to prove he’s a reliable goal scorer. His runs were great and positioning didn’t fail him. I caught a picture of his celebration after the goal, zoomed in and saw just as much enjoyment as any goal he scores in league play. I also liked to experience the applause and comments that came along with his introduction to the game. I heard a few “he should have been at the World Cup when Jozy went down” comments from several directions where I was sitting.

It’s the depth that Olsen wanted tested in the CCL games. The group stage can and has been a mix bag for MLS teams. Some coast through, others fail miserably. Against Waterhouse at RFK in August, DCU looked timid and there was reason to worry. The backup players were dominated at times by the Jamaicans and there was a feeling that DC United might not make it out of the group phase. Thankfully, a win in Jamaica made for smoother sailing in the remaining games versus Tauro, who were winless.

In league play, DC United’s win versus Philadelphia further cements their place on top of the Eastern Conference. The team looks hungry and Bill Hamid is a wall. Look for him as a future US national team starter. I like how Perry Kitchen is going forward more often and evolving into a figure not unlike Michael Bradley or Maurice Edu. Even more impressive was Luis Silva’s 11th goal of the season. Indeed, Ben Olsen has quite a few weapons this season.

I had a thought as I sat on the metro ride home. There was a time when DC United was a feared name in Major League Soccer. The name meant championships, it meant “El Diablo” Etcheverry and Roy Lassiter, Ben Olsen and Freddy Adu, Eddie Pope and John Harkes. Four time champions before the league was even 10 years old. Ben Olsen, the coach, wants it to feel the same way again.

NEXT UP: October 3 – DC United vs Sporting Kansas City, RFK Stadium, Washington, DC. 8:00 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network.

Robert MERA

NC State
Club Domestic:
PTFC, DC United
Club Foreign:
Emelec (ECU)
Robert is a climate scientist by day and soccer columnist by night (and weekends). He covers all things DC United, from player development to international tournaments.