On February 29th, 16,711 D.C. United supporters watched as Edison Flores made his debut. The game itself didn’t go well for United, but the club’s newest addition, brought in from Morelia via a club-record transfer fee believed to be around $5 million, made a massive impression on the game. However, his greatest impact to date may be off the pitch.
Since first beginning play in 1996, D.C. United has hosted a variety of Hispanic players that have molded the club to what is it today. As players from South America joined the Black-and-Red family, Latin supporters flocked to the stands to see a reflection of their country play before them.
In the early days, United formed its squad around three Hispanic players: Bolivian stars Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno, and Raul Diaz Arce of El Salvador. Cheered on by La Barra Brava, a supporters group started by Latin American fans, RFK Stadium had a distinctly Latin feel as United dominated MLS.
Alfonso Tamayo, a Peruvian living in the DMV, admitted that like the members of La Barra Brava, the arrival of Etcheverry and Moreno in particular incited him to become a supporter. He attended games, eager to watch Hispanic players dominate in the American capital. But as the years passed and the team’s Latin flair dwindled, his passion for the team faded away. Something was missing.
This year, United signed its first Peruvian player, sending the region’s community of Peruvians (estimated at around 50,000) into a frenzy.
“The arrival of Edison Flores has awakened the magic that lives within me and the Peruvian community,” exclaimed Tamayo.
Since his announcement, thousands of Peruvians have flocked to social media to plan a proper welcome, organize events and rally special support for the player. Facebook pages like Peruvians in the DMV and Peruvians in Washington D.C. now feature posts about the player with hundreds of likes and comments, while new pages dedicated to Flores arise on a daily basis.
Edison Orejitas Flores D.C. United fan club, which currently has 400 members, created events on the platform to promote the team’s first game and enable Peruvians to buy tickets as a larger group. Some members of the page proposed sitting in specific sections to promote a Peruvian atmosphere, while others encouraged fans to bring their country’s flags.
A couple days before the home opener, I spoke to Flores. In an exclusive interview, he made his purposes clear.
“I am here to give [the fans] the best. I know there is a huge Peruvian community here in D.C., and I want to show them the same kindness and gratitude they show me. I am happy with their support and hope they come out to the game.”
He had no idea what they had planned for him.
One by one, Peruvian supporters entered Gate A of Audi Field. The group was decked out in white and red, colors associated with United...but also with Peru’s national team. Once inside, they climbed the stairs to reach the Heineken rooftop on the north side of the stadium. The predominantly green and white standing area progressively turned white and Peruvian red.
As the countdown clock inched closer to kick off, Peruvian flags of all sizes began to arise throughout the stadium. But behind all the paraphernalia, there was one common denominator: hopeful immigrants given the chance to see a reflection of their country on the pitch. As one Peruvian supporter put it, “it’s like a piece of home in front of you.”
Before long, it was time to start the first match of United’s historic 25th season. The league’s new anthem began to ring around the stadium’s speakers as players lined up to make their entrance. The new anthem and new players mixed with the familiar pre-game rhythm: fireworks, players walking out, onlooking supporters rising from their seats to welcome them warmly.
The announcer took to the speakers to broadcast the team’s starting lineup. Claps and cheers followed each name that was announced. The volume levels varied. When the number 10 came around, the response was unparalleled. Fans waved their red and white flags around proudly. The roars provoked goose bumps.
Those in the Heineken rooftop initially jumped with excitement at the announcement of Flores, but soon they began to undress. Suddenly, the sea of red and white Peruvian apparel turned black. Fans now proudly wore the iconic D.C. United home jersey.
As Alfonso Tamayo had explained, the community planned to do a demonstration of their support for Flores, and for their renewed interest in United. it was a special moment for those involved.
Once the game kicked off, “Orejas” attracted the ball like a magnet, inciting supporters’ cheers every time. It appeared that Flores managed to get a goal in his debut, a fairy tale start. Unfortunately, it was called offside and disallowed. VAR, however, cannot take away the excitement the entire stadium felt as his header tucked into the back of the net.
Peruvians flags flew high. Latin American supporters embraced one another as they cheered. Confetti fell from the north side of the stadium onto the pitch. Audi Field exploded in a unified joy. It may have been brief, but Flores awoke a euphoria within all spectators and gave the Peruvian community a moment they will never forget.
After the game, Flores was asked about the support.
“It was great, I was very happy. I hope they keep coming to support the team, it will be very important. I will be very happy, and give my all for them to be happy,” he said.
The calm answer to that question did not completely reflect his smile as he walked by fans sporting jerseys with his name or large ears on their heads, a loving tribute to Flores’ nickname. It did not reflect his expressions as he saw the personalized paraphernalia made for him or the many Peruvian flags waiving around his new stadium.
Tamayo admitted that not just any Peruvian player could have made this much commotion. “Edison Flores stands as the Peruvian community’s most beloved football player; therefore, it was only fitting for it to be a special outpour of support. He is a player that exemplifies charisma, humility and simplicity. He’s educated, but in the sense that he does not search for or get in trouble. The Peruvian [community] admires that.”
The excitement did not dwindle after his debut. The following weekend, Peruvians once again flooded Audi Field and proudly displayed their flags. Iconic black D.C. United jerseys with Flores on the back could be seen on every corner. During the game, supporters clapped and cheered, but the magic happened post-match.
After the final whistle, with United having won 2-1 and Flores playing a part on both goals, Flores was the last to walk back into the locker room. Turns out, once the game ended, he walked directly to a group of Peruvian supporters to chat, sign autographs and shake hands. He did not leave until he recognized every single person.
Peruvians huddled around him, thrilled by his presence. Their smiles could be seen from the opposite end of the stadium. Those ten extra minutes made a change. The fans took to the Facebook pages to make their appreciation known.
Paren las orejas, D.C.: Flores is here to stay.