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When he learned midfielder Marcelo Gallardo was known in his native Argentina as “El Muneco” (“The Doll”), Sheetz fashioned a sign with Chucky from the “Child’s Play” film franchise wielding a knife. He had a special message for Chicago Fire striker Cuauhtemoc Blanco, whose head, he thought, appeared to sprout right from his shoulders. “Donde esta el cuello?” (Where is your neck?)

Sheetz takes his work seriously - he spends 15 hours a week making signs - in the belief he and his fellow supporters are integral to the team’s success.

“We’re part of the action - we help the team win games,” Sheetz says. “Without us, we’re not going to win.”

United midfielder Ben Olsen can’t help but laugh when told of Sheetz’s comments.

“They definitely help us out. I’ll put it that way,” Olsen says. “Some teams talk about home-field advantage - they sleep in their beds, and they don’t have to travel. We truly have a home-field advantage. It’s an atmosphere that gives us an edge.”

Team president Kevin Payne calls United’s supporters “without a doubt, hands down … the best fans in Major League Soccer.”

Perhaps the biggest contribution of zealots like Zambrana will be soccer’s growing popularity.

As the stands empty following a recent victory, brothers R.P. and Brendan Whitty watch as La Barra beat their drums and the Screaming Eagles sing. The brothers from Kensington were asked what they thought of their first D.C. United game.

“Crazy,” 12-year-old R.P. stammers.

“Exciting,” 9-year-old Brendan says.

At first, it’s unclear whether the brothers are speaking of the game action or what they had seen in the stands.

Then Brendan clears the air: “The smoke was awesome!”