Running In Circles
Saturday, October 3rd -- Open Cup Final RetrospectiveThis game was over a month ago, and I've been working on my write-up ever since. Since this rings in at over 3,000 words, maybe you can understand what took so long.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Jake and I were in Washington, D.C., to see the Seattle Sounders play in the final of the U.S. Open Cup. We started the day doing your basic tourist stuff, walking around the National Mall and checking out museums in the Smithsonian.
We were in front of the Library of Congress when a dude in a suit approached. He saw our Sounders shirts and asked us if we were going to RFD before the game. (RFD stood for Regional Food and Drink, the bar serving as our headquarters—a strange name in my opinion.) When we said yes, he told us he was from Murray's office, and a bunch of folks were planning to head over, too. That was the last we saw of him, though.
We were looking at dinosaur bones in the Museum of Natural History, when we realized it was just after three o'clock. Since we were meeting a bunch of people from the ECS in front of the White House at 3:15, we needed to boogie. I ducked into the restroom first, where I ran into a trio of supporters. They told me that they'd managed to get one of their scarves stuck on a Mammoth tusk. It struck me then that this was going to be one crazy affair; the antics had already begun.
We made it to the White House (National Monument side), where picking out the Emerald City Supporters was no hard task. The group was smaller than I expected, around thirty to forty people, and things were pretty subdued until after the pictures were taken (not the most scenic site, in my opinion, with all the police cars and fences and barriers and busy road in between).
We started the march to the bar. We began chanting. The Capitol Police officer parked in front of the spot where we'd photographed eyed us warily, and a guard further on commented that it reminded of being in Germany on the day of a soccer match. And we weren't even near full strength.
Jake and I repaired to our hotel room first. It was a quick trip, just enough time to grab a cup of coffee and some water and get our scarves and Jake's flags. We stopped at the Potbelly Sandwich Works near our hotel for a quick bite, because we figured getting food at the bar would be a clusterfuck at best.
We made it quickly to the bar, showed our IDs to a bemused bouncer, and entered a sea of green. The bar was completely taken over by the Sounders. If there was anyone in there not with us, they laid low. It was standing room only, and it was all Sounders.
Jake and I got beer. (My first choice had just blown the keg removed. Why does this always happen to me?) We didn't have much time, so I was drinking fast, rather than savoring items from the extensive and expensive beer list.
I was halfway through my second beer when the chanting started. It was deafening. I looked over at the bartenders to see their reactions. One guy looked like he was having as much fun as us. The other guy looked like he wanted hang himself—must have been a United fan.
It wasn't long after the chanting started that we moved toward the doors. We were ahead of schedule, but no one seemed to care. We mustered ranks on the sidewalk, and I found myself in the middle of a group that easily numbered over one hundred. We started marching, and we started chanting.
The reaction we got from other pedestrians ranged from amusement to confusion to fear. It was several blocks to the Metro station, and, excepted for a few lapses, we kept a good volume going all the way. On a couple of occasions we spotted a United fan, which began a chant of "Who are you? Who are you?" until the object of derision slunk away.
When we got to the station, we split ranks, filled both entrances, and took over both escalators going down. The tunnel resonated with the booms of our clapping and our chanting of "We want to win the US Open Cup!"
A Metro Security guard at the bottom of the escalator indicated that we should quiet down with hand signals and throat-slash gestures. "You can ride the train," he said angrily, "but you can't sing."
Flustered and annoyed, he escorted us over to the turnstiles. My day pass had gone wonky, and I needed special attention so I could go through the manual gate—my pass no longer opened the automated one. I, of course, had captain grumpy handling my pass. I was afraid he would turn me back out of spite, but he was distracted by the half-drunken antics of my compatriots and just waved me through.
Someone said or did something that got his attention, though, because just as I was passing through he said to someone near me, "Y'all have to settle down or I'll have the police come haul you out."
"For what?" asked the surprised supporter.
"For disturbing the peace!"
I moved on before I heard any more, suddenly fearful that we wouldn't get all the way to the stadium.
We made it to our platform, but it was obvious that we were too many to fit in one car, so it was decided to split the group into two cars.
Jake and I were sticking close together, and we pushed our way onto the same car. There were a few normals on there, and they didn't look happy. We'd only gone two stops when a heavy, middle-aged woman hauled herself out of her seat and struggled down the cram-packed aisle. Jake exhorted people to clear a path for her, even pulling one guy out of the way. For his reward, the woman stepped through door, looked Jake square in the face, and said, "You're all a bunch of idiots."
A few people wanted to chant on the train, but they were, with some effort, shushed down. Metro security already seemed agitated with our presence, and we didn't want to give them any reason to delay us getting to our game. Most people didn't like it, but we managed to get off the train without incident. I wasn't even off the platform when the chanting started up again. As soon as the first supporter hit the escalator, we were in full throat.
"Can you hear United sing? No-o. No-o. Can you hear United sing? No-o. No-o. Can you hear United sing? We can't hear a fucking thing! Whoa-o. Whoa-o. Whoa."
It seemed a little inappropriate to use such coarse language outside the stadium. It seems like a poor reflection on the ECS. Maybe it's something that shouldn't matter, but I think it adds a "thug factor" to the group which isn't really helpful or useful. But, at the time, I didn't fucking care.
We marched past the obvious route to the stadium, over much protest. We were a special case, though, and were supposed to use a special entrance off somewhere else. We crossed a street and marched down the other side. United fans were on the other side of the wide, divided boulevard. This inspired us to chant all the louder.
Suddenly, a woman in a polo shirt and an event security hat appeared and ran across the road to intercept us. A couple of other event security folks followed in her wake. Polo Shirt must have been the boss, because everyone else was in a T-shirt.
"Oh, my god," she said, "I could hear you coming all the way down the street."
Apparently, we were getting a security escort. We got a cursory inspection for prohibited items, then we marched forward again, taking up the chants where we left off. Polo Shirt looked completely frazzled after about twenty yards of marching.
We got marched past the security screening checkpoint and right up to the turnstiles. "Don't worry, you've already been searched," I was told when I slowed at the checkpoint.
The big rumor was that RFK stadium had two-dollar beers. The first concession stand I saw had one option for beer—24 ounces for ten dollars. I didn't like the looks of that.
Security escorted us up the ramp. And up. And up. When we got high enough, the concessions were all closed and locked. "Hey," someone behind me said, "where's our beer?"
That started a chant of, "Where's our be-er? Where's our be-er?"
We chanted all the way up the ramps and to our seats. When they lead us into our sections on the 400 level, I finally realized we'd been completely segregated from the rest of the stadium. Except for six security staff, there was literally no one else in the upper deck.
It also appeared that we were the first people up there in some time. Sticks, seed pods, and dried up bird droppings littered the entire area. Despite the mess, we quickly took the area over and started hanging banners.
Looking down into the lower part of the stadium, it looked there weren't any more people down there than there were up with us. Someone shouted, "Hey, United, where are your fans?" That started the first of several rounds of middle-finger waving.
Once we got settled in, Jake and I left to find the legendary two-dollar beer. There were no concessions open on the upper deck—at least they unlocked a bathroom—so we roamed the stadium. We found a tiki-themed beer garden, a beer garden we couldn't get to because it was behind a gate, and several concessions with ten-dollar beer, but the cheap beer remained elusive.
Finally, we discovered it. It was being sold from a tiny cart tucked away under a ramp on the very bottom floor. I realized we were in the right spot when I saw how long the line was. Alas, the reason the beer was so cheap is because it was Miller Lite.
Jake and I waited in the line and purchased two beers each. We were doubtful one beer would survive the trek back to the dizzy heights in which we were seated.
I still had an inch of beer left in my first cup when we made it back to our seats. I looked down into the stadium and saw it had really started to fill up. United supports had started chanting and carrying on. All I could hear, though, was the big drum they kept banging on.
I was halfway through my second beer when the players came onto the field. I stood up with the group to cheer lustily as our boys came out. When United came out, the group as a whole turned our backs on them and extended a middle finger over the shoulder.
Finally, everyone was on the field and the only thing left before kick-off was the National Anthem. When I saw the close-up of the guy they brought out to sing—long, curly ponytail, douche-bag beard, all-black wardrobe, and big silver necklace—I knew it was going to be a slow, R&B-style rendition. And I was right.
This wouldn't have been a problem except that the ECS was singing along. We kept getting way ahead, which garnered derision and jeering from the DC United fans below us. We did manage to get back in sync enough to shout, "...home of the SOUNDERS!" as he finished up.
The players lined up for the kick-off, and soon the game was underway. The ECS broke into a chant—yet another one I didn't know—and at one point the people who knew what was going on—that is, everyone but me—whipped off their scarves and started flailing them around over their heads while jumping up and down. I wasn't jumping, so I noticed instead that the stands were shaking.
I looked around and saw that I wasn't the only one who'd noticed. A guy standing behind had his eyes wide open and was giving me an "oh, shit" look. There were maybe 300 of us up there, but we had the stands rocking. It was a little unnerving because we were up so high, and our area of the stands looked so decrepit.
A little later, a call went out to do the pogo, which is just what it sounds like—we all link arms at the shoulders and jump up and down. I participated mostly because that was the only way to ignore the bouncing of the aged concrete below my feet. Jake barked his shin on the seat back in front of him, and I nearly did the same. It's not the most comfortable activity. I felt like I was going to get pulled off my feet the entire time. A lot of it had to do with how spread out we were, but hey, we had the whole upper deck, why not spread out a bit.
The first half went scoreless, and I didn't do much during the break except piss. I was out of cash for beer, and I doubted I could get down to buy some and get back to my seat before the second half started.
Once play resumed, the Sounders scored first goal. I was so busy jumping up and down and high-fiving people and waving Jake's Green Hell flag that I didn't notice what Wicks did to garner a red card. I was aware enough of what was going on, though, to razz him lustily as he left the field.
The Sounders scored again to go up 2-0. There wasn't much time left, and they were up a man, so it looked like a sure thing. I was nervous, however, as United was really pressing. Then, disaster. United scored late on a penalty kick to bring it within one goal. When the scoreboard put up five minutes of stoppage time you could practically hear people in our section chewing their nails.
But the Sounders did it. They held on to win! We went wild. I had moved over to wave Jake's flag without whacking anyone, and was glad I had, because the guy sitting in front of me lit off a smoke bomb, and it was billowing blue smoke directly into my former seat. One of the huge security guards watching over us came down to remove it. I was afraid there'd be some kerfuffle, but he seemed pretty placid about it and that was that.
Since the home team lost, the stadium started emptying out pretty quickly. Our group wanted to move down to field level for the awarding of the trophy, but security said we needed to stay where we were. A few people headed across to adjacent sections to skirt security. We had the whole upper deck; they couldn't really contain us. Most of us just stayed in our seats and cheered lustily.
We didn't go unnoticed. After the Sounders got the trophy, they headed over to our corner of RFK and gave us some acknowledgment. We cheered louder than ever.
We were still cheering as below us they conducted on-field interviews, had some front office glad handing, and took pictures in front of various banners. We cheered the whole time. Then, without warning, the stadium crew turned the lights off in our section. Security was still holding us, so I don't know exactly what prompted it.
Later, when the field was nearly clear, security marched us out. We chanted loudly down the ramp, like we had on the way up. Once we got outside, we waited as stragglers caught up, singing and chanting all the while. Finally, we started our march to the Metro, now unaccompanied by security.
We arrived at the Metro station. A small group in United kits were smoking at the top of the escalator. That prompted a round of "We just won the U.S. Open Cup!" chants. The United fans responded by holding up their middle fingers.
No one threatened to arrest us at the bottom of the escalator on our return trip, so the trip back was fairly rowdy. The plan was to meet up at RFD again and do a little celebrating.
I was with a group that decided to switch trains to walk from a stop that was two blocks away from the bar instead of four. This turned out to be something of a mistake. The train we wanted was delayed, and though the waiting time was listed as 7 minutes, after 5 minutes of waiting, the waiting time was listed as 6 minutes.
I started to feel a bit of let down as I came off my victory high, and I wasn't really up for more drinking. I told Jake I'd meet him back at the hotel. I walked down to the line our hotel was on, stepped through the doors of a train without waiting a single second, and roared back to the hotel on a car that wasn't crammed full of cranky people who'd been waiting for their train for half an hour.
Back at the hotel, I walked past a guy delivering Chinese food, hopped on the elevator, and rode it up to my floor. The elevator doors opened, revealing a man about 50 years old and about 50 pounds overweight, wearing nothing but swim trunks. He was right in my face, so I got an eyeful of tattoos and body hair. I don't think our hotel even had a pool.
Back in the hotel room, I turned on the local news just in time for the sports update. They showed some footage from the game, and I got to see what Wicks did to get his red card. He totally jumped in the air and stomped on Monterro's hand! It wasn't even remotely part of the play. Even the DC sports reporters were castigating him for it. They didn't show any of the Sounder's section in their coverage of the game, alas, so I didn't get to see myself in frothing fan mode.
All in all, this experience was a total kick in the pants. I'll do my best to be at the next appearance of the Sounders in a cup final, wherever they may go.