- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

The Redskins have the Hogettes; the Nationals have George Will; and D.C. United has the “Screaming Eagles” and “Barra Brava.”

The Washington soccer team features die-hard fans with loud thumping drums and huge flags. For Saturday’s game against FC Dallas, a typical crowd of almost 19,000 fans rocked the aging, creaking, broken plastic orange chairs at RFK Stadium like a human earthquake while uttering the universal soccer chant, “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole.”

Vendors, police and concessionaires all say the same thing: Soccer fans are more excited, more vocal, more rabid and more passionate than any other sports fans in Washington.

“I like baseball, but I prefer soccer so much more. Soccer fans are more fun. They’re jumping up and down the whole time, cheering, having a blast,” said Erin Rock, 21, who works at RFK taking tickets.

“I’m a soccer aunt,” said Ann Melby, 26, from Mount Airy, Md., who was sitting next to her 9-year-old nephew, Jamie, and yelling, “Go Freddeee,” after star Freddy Adu scrambled for the ball. “Baseball is stop and go. It’s a slower game. It’s stagnant. With soccer, there’s always something. The only time baseball fans cheer is when the guy is at the plate. With soccer, it’s continuous.”

RFK soccer fans have raised the bar on fan appreciation in Washington, and they have a team that wins. For the first time, D.C. United is undefeated this year after five games, with three wins and two ties — tied for the league’s second-best record. And winning is a tradition. In 10 seasons, United has made the MLS Cup title game five times and won four of them, most recently in 2004.

Although most of Washington is focused on the new baseball season, who will be the new owners of the Washington Nationals and what the design of the new stadium will look like, soccer fans couldn’t care less. Although they share the same stadium, eat the same Italian sausage, drink the same light beer and munch on the same fries, pizza, chicken tenders and nachos, soccer lovers are different.

The soccer fans drink rivers of foamy beer and toss the cups into the air. They wave enormous red-and-black flags and paint their faces with red and black stripes. They smoke, swear, sing and throw rolls of black crepe paper streamers. They chant irreverent slurs, mostly at the officials — “bad call” being among the polite ones. They block the lower aisles by the grassy field, and no one minds. There are young women in skintight jeans, wide belts, sparkly T-shirts and strappy sandals. The boyfriends might have a slight fracas in the parking lot, or as one policeman called it, “a friendly feud.”

This is light years away from baseball fans at RFK, who mostly tend to be a benign middle-class crowd: chatting, networking, BlackBerrying, exchanging business cards and eating hot dogs during the lazy, long hours of summer baseball games, which often last up to four hours.

“A lot of D.C. United fans don’t like the Nationals fans because they feel like they’re intruders in the stadium,” said John Korman, 44, sipping a beer and wearing a navy blue Nationals cap. He said he wore it “to be provocative,” but supports both sports teams. “The stereotype of the baseball fan is the pasty suburban white guy — for lack of a more politically correct description. Soccer fans are younger.”

Fans like Martha Hemphill, 27, from Atlanta, who drove up for the game with her boyfriend, Josh Barbieri, for his birthday. They sat in the Barra Brava (“the Brave Ones”) cheering section. It was difficult to hear over the shouting and drumming, and the announcer catered to the multiethnic audience by giving announcements in both English and Spanish.

In the fifth row sat Thomas Olavares and Sergio Montero. “Ten years. Every game,” said Mr. Montero, whose cheeks were streaked with red and black face paint.

How do soccer fans differ from baseball fans?

“It’s loud. Very loud.” Mr. Montero said.

“We actually cheer,” said soccer fan Josh Butzbaugh. “We’re crazy. Nothing against baseball, but soccer is a fluid game.”

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