- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

With this season going nowhere on the field for D.C. United, the club is attempting to improve its declining attendance by appealing to Washington's large Salvadoran community.
Yesterday, United formally announced the acquisition of 19-year-old Salvadoran forward Eliseo Quintanilla. United cleared a roster spot and salary cap room last week by trading defender Orlando Perez to the Chicago Fire for a second-round draft pick.
Quintanilla will be classified as a transitional international and not count against United's three senior international limit. United (6-9-2) is hoping the State Department will issue Quintanilla a work visa sometime this week so he can be in uniform for Saturday's game against the New England Revolution (6-11-1) at RFK. While Quintanilla may be technically sound, United's bigger picture is to prop up attendance by luring Quintanilla's countrymen to East Capitol Street.
"We're having one of our toughest years ever when it comes to the sale of tickets," United senior vice president Stephen Zack said in a recent interview with a fan-based Web site. "Ticket sales-wise, we're definitely down, and everybody knows it. Look at the attendance figures. We've had some big games, but our walk-up numbers are down for the first time in seven years."
This is where Salvadoran fans enter the equation they often buy tickets at the gate. Of the 10 teams in MLS, United, the Fire and defending champion San Jose Earthquakes are showing heavy declines at the turnstiles. The Fire are playing this season on a college field while their Soldier Field home is renovated. The Earthquakes have never drawn well and were mentioned as a contraction candidate last offseason. United has no excuses.
United led the league last season with an average attendance of 21,518. So far this season, the club has averaged 16,297 and that number includes a doubleheader with the U.S. men's national team in a World Cup sendoff and a doubleheader with the Washington Freedom of the Women's United Soccer Association.
The Salvadoran community has never forgiven United for trading national icon Raul Diaz Arce after the 1997 season for salary cap and soccer reasons. Since Diaz Arce's departure, Salvadorans would only show up at RFK to cheer for Salvadoran players on opposing teams and boo United.
Crowd control problems also have been a serious problem since Diaz Arce's departure. A Salvadoran fan was stabbed in the back by an unknown assailant in Section 214 of RFK's lower bowl during an Aug.8, 1999 game and lived to tell about the match. No one has ever been charged in that assault.
"There were a lot of people drinking, and some shouting and shoving started," said Jose Rodriguez, a friend of the victim, who witnessed the attack. "All of a sudden, a drunk guy pushed a knife in his back."
Earlier that same year, supporters of the then-San Jose Clash fought with United fans leaving the stadium. There were reports of broken bottles being wielded and an inadequate number of security guards to defuse the problem.
There were problems at this year's Hispanic Heritage Festival on June29. An eyewitness reported to The Washington Times that he watched a group of about 12 men attack and beat one man unconscious in Lot 8 after the game.
United has not approached Bobby Goldwater, the president and executive director of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission that oversees RFK about security concerns, even though the club has been pursuing Quintanilla for some time.
"Adding a Salvadoran player will hopefully help D.C. United with attendance and if there are things we need to do to adjust the stadium operations to accommodate a great fan experience, we will do that, but we will need some guidance from D.C. United to do that," Goldwater said.
Kevin Payne, managing director for the Anschutz Entertainment Group that operates 55 percent of MLS including United, acknowledged that some fans will boycott games because of the crowd.
"I would hope that they will give the situation a chance and see what happens," Payne said.

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