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Friday, August 10, 2007


So I was in attendance at David Beckham's MLS debut, and I have to say that it was a very successful night. Although MLS has no sense of history, the Football Gods never forget; they have smiled on DC United for many years now, so it makes perfect sense that that most successful club in the history of the league serves as the host for this watershed moment. And what hosts they were - a packed house, full of the most committed and diverse supporters in the league, with a high footballing IQ, appreciated the magnitude of the night.

Beckham was warmly received both when he stood to warm up, and when he entered as a substitute in the 70th minute or so, and while the bubble-gum crowd cheered his every touch, it was an interesting transformation the Galaxy went through, as his calm and measured passes clearly added a measure of quality to the side that had been sorely lacking. It was obvious that he was nursing an injury, but even by his own timid measure, he was feisty in his brief challenges, and seemed to slot into the side quite well.

Beckham faces an uphill battle to help transform the Galaxy into a side worth watching beyond the interest in his own hero worship, but anyone who has actually watched him play over the years knows that what he lacks in pace and ability to run at defenders, he more than makes up for with his vision, passing, composure on the ball, and of course dead ball execution. By my count DC United allowed only one free kick in a dangerous area while he played, but he certainly made it count with a quality curling ball challenging the keeper to either stay on his line or punch it away - in this case the United keeper did neither and was fortunate not to give away a silly goal.

We cannot underestimate the quality of DC United supporters - there are 3 types at any United game. There are the Barra Brava, "Brave Fans", who derive their name and spirit from the supporting masses at South American matches, that operate more like a collective organism than individual supporters. They are unmistakeable in their never-ending up and down motion in the transient stands, and will certainly have pleasantly surprised their newest guest. They are accompanied by the Screaming Eagles, a home-grown collection of American fans who have become as much a part of the lore of the club as the great players and managers over the years. Their support is vocal and I have to say, impressively committed. They're all over the DC area - at bars, restaurants, in homes, and even on the metro when there isn't a game in sight.

The third kind of supporter is one that may or may not be wearing a jersey, may or may not screan and shout, but loves quality soccer and can genuinely appreciate the quality of DC United's playing style. An attractive pass and move game, that relies on posession, vision and generosity with the ball. There's only one player at the club who is a hold over from the original league winning side - Jaime Moreno - and to this day, you still expect that something extra from him. But it's amazing to see the DNA of DC United firmly embedded in the newer players, and for me personally, a member of this third category of supporters, I'm really never disappointed watching a game because I feel I either learn something new, or remember something I've forgotten, every time I watch them play.

Ultimately, what really filled me with pride is demonstrated by two things: first, every time one of the LA players feigned injury and returned to play within minutes, he was rightly booed. No polite silence as you would at an American football match, where there is no pride taken in milking a collision for sympathy from the referee, and most injuries are presumed genuine because a player feigning injury would never see the inside of the field again. These are, after all, grown men - a fact and commensurate behavior we in the US are quickly learning to expect from some of these clowns.

But nothing gave me greater pride than the merciless abuse directed towards yesterday's news, Landon Donovan, who embarrassed himself with tireless complaining and gesticulating towards teammates, and countless minutes of absolute indifference. Every time he touched the ball, United fans seemed less worried about what he'd do with the ball, than they were with letting him know that as American soccer fans, we've had just about enough of the cult of personality the league and US Soccer has pathetically tried to create around his boundless underachieving. This is precisely the sort of thing you'd get in Beckham's native England (listen at any old video clips of Liverpool away after the 1990 World Cup, and you can hear John Barnes being booed relentlessly in response to his paltry summer performances.)

If there is one hope for Beckham's arrival that we all share, it's that through his acquisition, the money he brings the league will help bring players of a quality, one step up from the likes of Abel (the Abominable Snowman) Xavier, and help bring up the level of play to one that merits the level of support from fans like those of DC United.


Blogger MKD said...

I know a lot of people are giving the the Beckham Mania a hard time but really he is drawing attention to a sport and as far as I can see that is a good thing. I'm not a big fan of the sport, but I think that his coming here has piqued my interest more.

1:36 PM


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