The day started out at 4:30 am. Although we were blessed by an extra hour of sleep due to daylight savings, I did not take advantage of the additional potential resting hours. No, I learned from years prior that the best method was to silence my next seven alarms. Moreover, I told myself "Let's be serious, you'll be tossing and turning just playing out the different outcomes of the game." So I roughed it out until 5:30 am and then headed to Harrison and Red Bull Arena.
After poor timing on my end, I arrive at RBA around 6:40 am and boarded one of the Empire Supporters Club buses. I had figured that I would be able to make up sleep on the bus ride over like I did last season. However, that was not the case as the drinks were cracked open as soon as we left the lot. I know you're judging me, I don't care, it's happy hour somewhere. That was quite an interesting ride, where I in fact did not end up getting any sleep, more so because my seat was right next to the bathroom.
We pull in around 11:30 and get a good parking lot tailgate going. (Special thanks to Viking army for setting it up, best $5 worth of food ever.) We got our spirits up via group dancing, and prepped for what would be about 2 hours of singing, with a halftime break of course (you thought it was just for the players?). Time came that we had to file into that "building" that D.C. United calls home, RFK. Of course, everyone broke into song on the way in.
When you walk into RFK, everything seems normal, and more or less intact. The raccoons have already taken their seats, so no need to worry about pest control as the first set of supporters start entering. Yet, as we started to walk up the ramp to our seats, I realized we were going to the second deck, and only the vermin that weren't taken care of by the raccoons are up there, and it is harrowing as we stop to do a round of "We are the Boys."
As we emerge from the concourse into our sections, most of us are immediately hit with a feeling of despair, as the seats look terrible. I swore I saw a raccoon that managed to find its way up there so I immediately became worried he would come at me with a Screaming Eagles flag (for the record that did not happen, and security kicked him out).
We piled into what were generously called "seats" (see image above). The DC standards must be lax, as we gazed and noticed nothing about the place was structurally sound, even the D.C. United team. Songs started flying out from the sections we occupied, and it was just then that I had to pause and really conceptualize that the ground was shaking underneath me. No, no earthquake. But apparently a couple hundred fans were capable of having the concrete support jump several inches with them (D.C.'s supporters just have flimsy metal).
The worst part of it was that it was just the warm up. More problems were to come as the game got going. I looked around and people seemed to be doing prayers. Not for the team, because we were pretty confident in our side, despite never winning there for the playoffs. Rather, they were all silently speaking to a greater power, whatever they believed in, and looked for protection from them.
The first whistle went and we were off to the races, beating the drums, and doing everything we could to out class and out sing the DC fans. We would like to think we did, but who actually knows when you have 700 people screaming into your ear. I like to think we did.
The bouncing at some point resumed. It seems that a higher power was in fact contacted and they were safeguarding us. That and we actually brought along the pope to personally unpleasantly greet D.C. United. Seems like our chances of death immediately declined. But do not let that fool you. There was plenty of terror when some actually was able to pick up pieces of the stadium, yes actual concrete pieces, and hold it with pride. They had no tools with which to break the stadium, it just broke.
As the security guard above began his parade, others began to lift seats above the air. Truth be told some were already allegedly broken. Some were used for their original purpose and then collapsed. Even mine had given way and I essentially fell out of it. It ultimately didn't matter since I was going to be standing the whole game anyway.
At some point, memory serves me poorly here, a man jumped down onto the field from the DC United supporters' section. We looked on with joy at the time, but he was probably just trying to save himself.
The horrors also extended beyond the stands, and into the bathroom and concession areas. Although they were kind enough to provide some, the lights in the bathroom had long ceased to work. The toilets in the women's bathroom apparently were in sync and flushed simultaneously. Moreover, it seems that the concession people were so poorly prepared for the task at hand of feeding human beings rather than the animals that usually roam around the upper deck. The concession stand looked largely unclean and unprepared to deal with the fans.
Back to the seats. We were getting reports from the press box beneath that their precious flat screen tv (if you were in DC you would call it precious too) had been being shook up by us. Oh well. The best worst part about the infrastructure was when we scored a goal. The crowd was in an unexplainable ecstasy that had undoubtedly been executed by the grace of a diety and the fervor of a wild galloping stallion. Although that was nice, I thought I was going to die there. The upper concourse had been trembling due to our jumping, and to our proclamation of a goal by the means of singing "Twist and Shout," which also caused the billboard overhead to start shaking.
The problem was that upper deck was definitely moving about 12-18 inches after every organized jump. But our terror was masked by delight as our captain, "The Ginga Ninja" Dax McCarty, had sent one past Bill Hamid. That day will be remembered as the one when Fabian Espindola was very, very salty.
The game concluded with a first ever victory at RFK in the playoffs. The previous years, the players were terrified that there we sinkholes and boobytraps under the grass, and played accordingly. Here is where things got a little terrifying. The crowd was in hysterics over the win, and everyone started to jump when we were singing. It was miserable yet glorious. It was bliss peppered with fear. In the end, if we were all goners, I am not too sure many would have complained.
After the players were blessed and graced by our songs we began to file out, fighting off a couple of the vagabond raccoons that have permanently made their homes in some crevices. We walked out with our heads high, and laughed off the guys who screamed "Jersey Sucks." We know it is not great, but when your city was built on an actual swamp, you really have no wiggle room to speak. Their fans were mad enough that they had lost, but us blocking the flow of traffic and waving good bye, really incensed some based on the facial expressions behind the glass of their windows.
I paused at one point to reflect on the fact that aside from the win, I was able to make it out alive. It was a memory that I will never forget as it evoked so many different emotions all at once. We fought off raccoons, we dealt with evil, telepathic toilets, awful concessions, shaking floors, decrepit chairs, and the distinct possibility that anyone sitting in the level below us would be crushed once everything collapsed. It will be a day to remember, and guide for those who dare to venture to RFK in the future.