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On soccer, family, life and loss

How changes in life helped me look at soccer differently.

Courtesy Loudoun United FC

The year for D.C. United as an organization was one that continued to serve as a resurrection of sorts; the MLS side was kicking off a full calendar year at Audi Field while launching a USL Championship side with a summer kickoff of its own. For me, I felt a closer (in distance) connection to the things going on with Loudoun, seeing the stadium and training site slowly get online, watching the first half of the season online like anyone else, and looking forward to seeing what the August kickoff would be like. I forgot about those before and since for a variety of things.

Things start around May 21st in Delaware, where my father suffered a stroke. I learned later he had had it sometime between D.C.’s Saturday game with the Houston Dynamo and Loudoun’s Sunday game with Hartford, but was not answering calls or knocks on his door from neighbors asking how he was doing for several days, and even told EMTs Monday night that he was fine, that it was his neck that was bothering him, until common sense prevailed. He’s a widower, and me and my younger brother are the closest thing to family he has. I live closer to him proximally than my brother, so I went to see him. He was doing OK, that to borrow something his doctor said, “if you were going to have a stroke, you couldn’t have had it in a better part of your brain.” He was transferred to a rehabilitation clinic closer to his home to start work, only to return hospital days later, experiencing prolonged cardiac episodes. I had went back home but went back up the following week, the morning of the cardiac issues, to keep an eye on him. Things returned to the DMV the next day when my son had fallen down the stairs and had to go to the hospital. Nothing was broken, but when your child gets hurt enough that an ambulance or hospital are mentioned, you stop everything. So intermittently over the course of the summer, my brother and I alternated taking turns driving up from our respective homes to see my Dad, ensuring things were fine as he went from one hospital to another further North (then back South) for specialized treatment before pursuing physical therapy.

A couple of weeks after Loudoun United christened Segra Field, my brother texted me, saying that my Mom was going to call, and that I should take it (we hadn’t been talking for awhile but that type of message makes you pay attention). I did, and she told me that she had pancreatic cancer. It was far enough along that nothing could be done, so my family did what we could to figure out a time to go to see my Mom three hours away in Southwest Virginia. This was tricky to do, because a couple of weeks after learning this news, my son was going into the hospital for surgery. It was a prescheduled procedure that needed an overnight stay, but when your kid is going into an operating suite a couple of weeks before their birthday, you stay close to home. My Mom was the one who first brought soccer into my life; she came from Britain, and as a kid my brother and I went over to see her family. It’s where I got into soccer, grabbing every periodical I could as a kid. I learned about Liverpool (and have been a fan since), and may still have a subbuteo set laying around somewhere. I played youth soccer, and clipped the game recaps from the newspaper whenever I saw my name. The sport and was something I found great enjoyment and pride in. Soccer dropped off my radar for a bit as I grew older, but I eventually returned to it on my own. My Mom and I had casual discussions about it, nothing that sustained a conversation, but it was her roots that sort of gave me mine. My Dad is not British and found trouble coming to it for his son, but grew to admire the fact that his son enjoyed something like this.

My son’s surgery went OK, but he got sick a few days afterwards. Nothing severe that required a hospital stay, but enough that it required some home time with Mom and Dad. We scheduled a weekend date to see my Mom on a Sunday, he went back to school that Wednesday. On Thursday, I received a call from hospice, saying Mom did not have much time left. So Columbus Day weekend was spent by having my Mom pass on Friday, and telling my Dad about it days later in person (they long since divorced and separately remarried, but figured he would want to know). It didn’t seem to register that much with him. Conversations have a flow to them, but the syntax is thrown wildly, and lately become increasingly more muddled and indistinct. My son had the chance to see my Dad, who has since dealt with bouts of infection combined with the stroke, which have left him with vascular dementia. My Dad recognizes my son, but my son is shy to talk to my Dad. Whether it’s trepidation or something more I don’t know. Maybe he feels my Dad is a stranger, it’s the feeling you get when your family dynamic has changed, and it may be too late to recapture what it may have been.

In between these trips, I’ve been medicating with soccer. I still go to D.C. games periodically, but I don't see my friends much anymore; between erratic home dates, new familial commitments and well, not being RFK, I think we all agree that we were kind of heading our separate ways a couple of years ago. I’ve spent more time around Loudoun and talking with the players there. Not having been exposed to second division soccer that much, it is a different experience. It’s lower fidelity, but there is a transitional nature to it that lacks the cynicism of first division soccer. Players sign yearly contracts, do what they can to stick around and if they don’t land a more concrete spot, on to the next. There is also the D.C. connection with the numerous Academy players, some of whom have already been converted to loanees, the result of signing homegrown pro deals.

I’m not entirely sure if it’s the life events or the differing dynamic of D.C. and Loudoun games, but a lot more things surrounding D.C. just roll off my back these days. As one who has a bunch of apparel and scarves through the years, spent a bunch of hours and dollars in travel, along with a tattoo of an old D.C. logo on my leg, I’m just not pushing as much muscle mass into it. It could be the change in my family, gaining a son while losing parents, it could be that the environment around MLS is more cynical than say, USL Championship, I can’t explain it. I still like it, I still go to games, it’s just not in me to yell and scream about the bad stuff, or throw beers in the air at the good stuff. Maybe it will down the road.

Like most other years, 2019 has been one where you tend to try and press on and do what you can, to try and reclaim some fleeting moments from your past and use them to build on the new normal. D.C. United and Loudoun United probably don’t have any idea what theirs is, but being optimistic about what that may be, regardless of whatever was experienced before, is something they and I both seem to share this year.