In the trenches with soccer’s craziest fans

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The two old friends are asked what separates their group from the Screaming Eagles.

“The Barra is more organic,” Faulkner says.

“We’re a little more laissez-faire,” Matt adds. “When you stand out from the crowd, you tend to stand together.”

Tailgating with La Barra is like attending a potluck supper in Haight-Ashbury - booze and food are free for anyone who brings something to share. For one member on this particular game day, that means siphoning vodka into a watermelon and attaching a sign that reads, “Ask your parents first!”

Soutoudeh’s Screaming Eagles are a tad more upscale. Nonmembers pay $6 for an all-you-can-eat feast that includes dumplings, tiramisu and other delicacies outside the boundaries of normal tailgate fare.

“We try and have a good mix between family-friendly and urban hipster,” says Sotoudeh, a lawyer for Transportation Security Administration “We are a full-service operation.”

La Norte, founded in 2001 and still developing, has a much younger contingent. Leader Dougg Jimenez and his cronies pride themselves on the large bass drum they pound unceasingly and harassing the opposing goaltender from the north corner of the stadium. Membership dwindled after the arrival of the Washington Nationals eliminated the seats directly behind the goal. According to Jimenez, a mohawked Salvadoran, the group is growing again and is aided by curious fans who walk up and join the fray as the game progresses.

As game time nears, Sotoudeh fires up his troops by crushing cans of Red Bull under his feet. In the distance, La Barra Brava members in board shorts play beer pong and voice their desire to see a certain anatomical misfortune performed on the Red Bulls.

Before the procession into the stadium begins, Screaming Eagles scramble for the port-o-johns. Members of La Barra make a bee-line for the Anacostia.

Armed with road flares, “Hooligan” serves as parade torchbearer, and the groups blend together as they enter RFK. Only a narrow staircase divides the Eagles’ “Nest” in Section 134 from La Barra’s base in 135, and together they form a bastion of black and red that bounces, rollicks and roars for the next hour and 49 minutes.

“We are all here to support the team and leave it on the field,” says Zambrana, who spends most of the match leading chants he remembers from his boyhood in Bolivia.

“All soccer fans should be united,” Sotoudeh says. “Heck, it’s the name of the team.”

Perhaps no one exemplifies that unity better than Tim Sheetz, one of a handful of fans who swear allegiance to both groups.

Sheetz, who lives in the District, began following United as a member of La Barra, with whom he met Srdan Bastaic, the creative Croatian who makes La Barra’s flags and banners. Bastaic inspired Sheetz so much that he combined his love of art - he earned a bachelor of fine arts in theater design from East Carolina - with a passion for soccer. He has since become such an expert in what soccer fans call “tifosi” - Italian for “supporter”- that Sotoudeh asked him recently to become the Screaming Eagles’ artist in residence.

Name any political, historical or biblical figure and there’s a good chance they have graced one of Sheetz’s signs. He has made banners featuring the Virgin Mary (“She’s with United tonight!”), D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (“Keep United in D.C.”) and Capt. James Lawrence (“Don’t Give Up the Ship!”).

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