With the New York Red Bulls in town the good men and women of D.C. United's loudest supporter group, La Barra Brava, offered me the chance to cover the match from a different angle this week: right in the thick of the chanting, flag-waving storm on the west side of RFK Stadium.
With a 7 p.m. start, the parking lots opened up to tailgaters early in the afternoon. I gave myself a healthy two hours to partake in the pregame festivities, but still felt like I'd arrived late to the party. Weaving through a row of tents, food trucks and corn hole boards, I made my way down to the outer edge of Lot 8 to find my hosts for the evening.
"We've got Vodka, beer and grilled meats," one of Barra's elders, Robert, offered. "What can I get you?"
Is there any sweeter greeting?
Robert's car pumped classic hip hop while the pickup truck on our other side dueled with some main-stream country. The bass from a sound stage closer to the stadium reverberated underneath the unintentional mashup as I was introduced to a whirl of faces young and young at heart. The cooler in Robert's trunk featured several IPA's and not a Miller Lite in sight. A few rogue fireworks popped overhead as the last coals on the massive grills nearby were burning low …apparently they're not messing around when they suggest that you arrive when they do at 3:30.
Before long, men and women with varying degrees of face paint began to assemble in front of us. With drums draped across their bodies, a delightful gentleman in a top hat, Troy, led the crew on their raucous march into the stadium, picking up more chanters along the trail.
It was game time.
Robert plunked me down front and center in the home of the 12th man before jumping the rail to the sideline. As one of Barra's "elders", Robert's role is to police Barra Brava's sections and make sure no one gets out of hand. Unofficially, he's also there to give the refs an earful.
The 130 sections are not for the faint of heart. As Barra explains, standing and singing are not optional: they're required. Seats appeared to be a figurative concept as everyone crowded together on bleachers that soon turn into a giant trampoline as the crowd started to jump.
You won't find in-arena directives from the game entertainment staff to cheer at a D.C. United game. These fans provide 90 minutes of noise just fine on their own, thanks.
Ben from the Screaming Eagles (yet another DCU supporter club) led the songs from a platform on the sideline. Most of the songs and chants top out at four verses and are set to the tune of familiar children's favorites, albeit with much saltier lyrics. They're not for small ears, though they're squeaky-clean compared to what you'd hear at a rugby social.
With New York on the pitch, a few choice chants directed at the Red Bulls' Thierry Henry coupled with a reminder of the number of MLS cups won by New York (0) set to the tune of Camptown Races, were pulled out just for the occasion.
Massive flags unfurled, a bachelor party featuring an exuberant sombrero-wearing groom-to-be joined the front row and the Nats' Gio Gonzalez made a sideline appearance and signed a few autographs, including our bachelor friend's shirt.
Despite a top-notch performance from the 12th man, United didn't get the result, for which defender Brandon McDonald was kind enough to apologize.
A big thank you to La Barra Brava for showing me an unforgettable match-day! Here's a look at matchday from another lens. Vamos.