"With the lights out, it's less dangerous" DC's changing fortunes
By Gabriel Zitrin
Thursday 24 Jul 2008 11:02:00
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WITH THE LIGHTS OUT, IT’S LESS DANGEROUS: struggling on, off, and with the pitch

Gabriel Zitrin, Screaming Eagles

It is becoming more commonly known in today’s American society that the question “What could go wrong?” is not rhetorical. It is typically asked only by those absolutely dying to know the answer. Such is a powerful lesson for the DC United fans who watched our team enter SuperLiga on a run of good to excellent form, then opened our fat mouths.

What has unfolded since then has largely been the story of an off-kilter team whose struggles are seemingly best reflected not in any particular player, but in the behavior of the stadium they play in.

Robert Francis Kennedy memorial stadium, for whom the veiled insult “venerable” was seemingly invented, has served Washington, DC in one capacity or another since 1961, but now for the first time finds a soccer team as its only tenants. Creaking with age, cranky in its under-use, its 56,692 seats mostly empty even on the best of days, and contractually bound to host the black-and-red through the end of 2010, RFK has finally started to show its displeasure in less-than-subtle ways.

The Houston Dynamo match on June 4th, which as of this writing has yet to be completed, came at a delicate time for United. Their long climb out of the Eastern Conference cellar had just begun with a win over Toronto and a difficult draw in New England. The two-time defending champion Dynamo arrived and were greeted at RFK with what would charitably be described as a monsoon.

With every match now televised, it took the on-pitch sighting of a US Navy submarine before MLS finally agreed to postpone the game, leaving DC to continue a splendid run through June that saw them back in the playoff picture and into the semifinals of the US Open Cup.

Then the stadium struck again. As United prepared for the arrival of Chivas and Altante, the long-feared injuries began to mount. Marcelo Gallardo and Gonzalo Peralta are now both sidelined, as is Santino Quaranta, who had spent most of the year filling in for mascot Ben Olsen, who decided just around this time to undergo further ankle surgery, “to aid in the healing process.”

Enter Chivas de Guadalajara, the legendary Mexican squad who were on their way to handing DC a crushing SuperLiga-opening loss when half the lights at RFK went out at the hour mark, delaying the match for 19 minutes which, said a team employee, seemed a lot more like 19 hours. Match resumes, loss is concluded, 2-1.

An ugly yet heartbreaking loss to Atlante and a downright ugly loss to the selfsame Houston Dynamo later, and DC has mercifully left SuperLiga behind, free to lick their wounds before attempting to resume their league form amidst a slew of injuries.

This was to take place last night against… who else but Houston, and darn it if the men in orange don’t seem to bring trouble with them. Specifically, mere hours before the game, our finicky Southeast DC home found itself without power, along with a good-sized chunk of the city itself. The most face-saving measure was to reschedule the game for today, despite the fact that at least one DC player, Luciano Emilio, is likely to see action in the MLS All-Star game tomorrow night in Toronto. Tailgate parties abandoned, the faithful roused themselves once more tonight for a game already said to have been the subject of both the first and the second postponements in MLS history.

The good news: the game began on time. The bad news was basically everything afterwards. DC’s woeful first half saw them down 1-0 in the locker room, but the performance will merit its own write-up at some point. It’s not my subject here.

Far more exasperating was the torrential rain that began with the second half which soon gave birth to “Lake United”, a depressingly familiar body of water whimsically named by one of the many refugees from the onslaught. Were we done with the show? Oh, no, for the downpour was quickly followed at 53:46 by, incredibly, another power outage that sent the players trotting from the field and the fans into the concourse howling in that hooligan mélange of fanaticism and disbelief.

As I write this, balancing my laptop on the rim of a well-deserved warm bath at home, the power is still out in most of RFK stadium.

The ongoing saga of DC United’s current home seems poised to overshadow the saga of their quest for a new one, as though RFK senses that United’s departure will almost certainly bring about its violent destruction. The old girl isn’t going quietly. The last month and a half have brought special attention to DC United’s need for new stomping grounds. The question is, if it continues to embarrass the team and the league like this, how much else will RFK take with it?



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