The way I drove to RFK for game days generally goes on a fairly straight, slightly hilly stretch of road for about 15 miles before getting to 66, where things give me a lot of options: I can go to 495, or stay on 66 to Constitution or Independence, or even take the GW Parkway on occasion to get to a game.
But it’s that first stretch of road, where I seem to judge how a game day was going to go or not go. If I hit the lights at the wrong time, I’d be annoyed for the rest of the drive in, for some karmic grievance of being deprived the time in spending with friends before going in to watch D.C. United one more time together. We’ve periodically met up at functions outside of games, been to each other’s homes, talked about things past what the team was doing at the moment. It’s not necessarily a blood family, but it’s pretty close to one.
For the uninitiated, soccer friends seem to inevitably become friends for life, because of the shared life experiences. A lot of us have made bus trips to support D.C. together, others of us have flown to see the team either handle themselves well, or not, in various ways over the years. It’s a very specific experience, supporting your team, that the lingering bond stays for some time. It’s sort of like a college roommate or Army buddy; there’s something that you’re going through with the person or people involved that few are going to realize, knowingly or not.
Now I’m not comparing American soccer fandom to the Army, but have you been to a Costa Rican stadium for your club team recently? You remember who you go with, and the connection is understated but strangely comparable. When you go through hardships like lost jobs, or lost family members, the next time you see your friends isn't talk about whether the team needs a new defensive midfielder, it’s to ask: “How are you? How’s your wife? Is everything OK?” When soccer fans become friends, the camaraderie and loyalty come first...before asking what defensive midfielders are on the market.
As I put this together, I see some of my friends saying goodbye to RFK on social media, with pictures of other friends, some include me, others don’t, but we all share the same general sense of uncertainty to what is next. We have a general idea of what happens to D.C. United on the field and off, but it’s wondering what happens to us next that’s the strange part.
When I drove in to RFK on Sunday, the Perfume Genius song “Queen” was playing:
And I know the lyrics have fuck all do with it, but there was a certain melancholic reflection as I drove closer to the stadium. People I hadn’t seen in months or years were in Lot 8; the first person I ran into flew in from Texas Sunday morning for the game. Lots of friends have been at RFK, then left, then returned after a few years, sometimes for one-offs, others for longer. RFK served as a True North for many of them. You could never leave it entirely, the draw of the team, the friends, could never be overcome. You weren’t a fan, you were a supporter, but you were also there with people you knew.
As the game played out to the loss that the 2017 season certainly had planned in retrospect, some of the things that made supporters at RFK so fun to experience came out; the smoke bombs, the seats made extra bouncier during songs near the end. If the team really was going to move, then any shred of RFK needed to go in the process, and damned if we didn’t try.
The whistle blew and everyone began to process life without RFK, perhaps Ben Olsen was one of the first to do so, standing by himself, no one within 10 yards of him:
Hasn’t moved in like 10 minutes #DCU pic.twitter.com/GJ3s4A7xId— Ryan Keefer (@reefa_k) October 22, 2017
He may very well been mulling over the game but in a season that had been over for weeks, what was the point in doing so? Some of the players in the Legends game came by to shake hands and take pictures; Jaime, Marco, Alecko and Tino amongst others. Current first teamers popped by occasionally like Russell Canouse & Luciano Acosta.
Bill Hamid came by. His future in Denmark all but official, he shook hands and did selfies with those still left in the supporters’ sections he was in when he was a kid. Everyone said goodbye and wished him well, he thanked them and hoped they continued their work in the stands. Some talked to him while blinking away tears, akin to the team’s fate. Bill had to leave DCU as much as DCU had to leave RFK, for the similar reason of advancement. In both cases, the actual departure wasn’t easier to deal with.
It was time to go from the Loud Side and I found myself leaving with Jason. I agree with Jason it was time to leave (and he said so more eloquently than I could), but we couldn’t process leaving at THAT moment, nor did we want to go. We were kind of dazed, we exchanged small talk about what was next for the team.
After a surprising bag check to see if I stole any seats or other RFK ephemera (NOTE: any vets had taken what they could years ago), we found ourselves futilely trying to stick around, the moment pulling hard to keep us despite DCPD’s best efforts. I eventually went home, putting my son to sleep on his first birthday. As much as I hate the roadblocks to RFK, I took every last one coming back, because I didn’t want to move on to what that potential future without my friends would look like. Some of us will move to assigned seats in Audi Field, others will continue in General Admission, while others who cannot make either option work will watch on TV. Either way, a D.C. United stadium experience won’t be the same, and being around my friends won't be the same. Neither may be desired, but one is necessary.
I just hope we catch the lights at the right time.