The Five Billion Person Party

Notes of a wandering American soccer fan

What it feels like to be average

Posted by steigs on September 17, 2008

So DC United lost 2-0 last night at home to Saprissa of Costa Rica in the CONCACAF Champions League.  Sigh.  Some, like D of the DCenters, are “ashamed.”  Others, like Aaron at Fighting Talker, are frustrated and ready to write off the rest of the season.

Yeah, it was an ugly game.  After the first 10 minutes, the Costa Ricans realized they didn’t need to bunker against our makeshift line-up and started coming forward, always looking more likely to score, which they did.  McTavish got a marginal red for what was clearly a stupid foul.  But I will say that after the second Saprissa goal early in the second half, I did see a United team that kept scrapping at least, when they could have easily rolled over.  My takeaway was “not dead yet, actually, at least for the league.”

Overall, I suspect what it is going on is that the DC United fanbase is in new territory — our team is merely average.  We don’t know how to feel about this.  During the history of MLS, short as it is, we’ve had three different kinds of seasons:

1) Winning the MLS Cup (’96, ’97, ’99, ’04)

2) Disappointing losses in the play-offs, usually to the Fire (’98, ’03, ’05, ’06, ’07)

3) Disasters where we didn’t even make the play-offs.  (We’re looking at you, ’00-’02.)

Almost every time we’ve lost in the play-offs, we thought we could win it all.  (And, yes, we should have won the Cup in ’98, I know.)  In ’05, we were defending champions.  In ’06 and ’07, we had the league’s best regular season record.  We weren’t just grateful to make the play-offs, we weren’t like those teams who consider an invitation to the NCAA tourney as marking their season a success — we were expecting to be there at the end, fighting for the title.  We didn’t think we were average.

Then there are the dark years after the initial dynasty.  We were a losing team, fumbling around, but we had the recent victories to keep telling ourselves we were the class of the league.  We were not average.

The possible exception was the ’03 season, where we did barely make the play-offs with a rather hot-headed team led by an aging El Diablo in his final United season.  I remember being happy just to be there and not especially surprised by our first round elimination. 

This season’s version of DC United is, I think, average.  There’s some quality in the side but it never gelled, in part because of injuries to key players.  There’s also been a lot of player turnover, in part because some offseason moves didn’t pan out.  We knew the core of the team the last few seasons — Moreno, Olsen, Gomez — could win.  They did it repeatedly.  We don’t know about the core of this new version.  We can imagine all the pieces coming together…or not.  They win some, they lose some.  They hover around the .500 mark. 

This is what I imagine it feels like to be a fan of a more normal team.  Say an FC Dallas/Dallas Burn fan.  The team usually makes the play-offs but rarely threatens to win anything.  Sometimes they look really good for a month, sometimes they stink — but in the end it usually evens out.  The management tries different coaches, different stars — there’s some hope each time but, more often than not, average-ness reasserts itself.   You don’t have the arrogantly high expectations that come with being a DC United fan.  You don’t have the resolute defiance that it would take to root for the often pathetic Metro Stars/Red Bulls team for years on end.  You’re a B-/C+ student.  You’re average.

Maybe with all the injuries and the tough schedule this team will spiral down, missing the play-offs and joining the “disasters.”  But I think we’ll make it — and then get eliminated in the first round by the Dynamo or the Crew (for a change).  And I’ll accept that, an “average year” where the team managed to win the Open Cup and stay at .500 despite a host of injuries and personnel mistakes. 

So maybe that’s why I can’t match D’s anger:

  This match was a betrayal, and it’s just a matter of figuring out who the traitors are. Was it Tom Soehn for putting out this line-up and having this team in a point where we’re scrounging for points for a playoff run? Kevin Payne and Dave Kasper for getting so many of the early season acquisitions wrong? Lady Luck for damning us with injuries to Olsen, Peralta, Vide, Gallardo, Guerrero, Emilio, and Fred recently? The League with its unmanageable roster rules when it comes to international competition? Pour a shot for each of them, and down them all, and maybe it’ll make tonight feel better. Or, at least, more difficult to remember in the morning.

And I’m not as resigned as Aaron:

I hate to say it. But this season is done. This swoon is the real thing. The talent is not there. The motivation doesn’t even look there. Warming up last night, this team barely looked like they wanted to be there. And why would they? They know they can’t compete with Saprissa, even with its three top attackers sitting. I know I’m not motivated to watch this team. I arrived at work yesterday to find this game listed on my Outlook calendar and do you know what my reaction was? Was it, “ooh, I have a game tonight?” No, it was, “Oh shit, that match really is tonight. Sigh.” I get the feeling that some of the players approached it the same way. I can’t really blame them.

Because I’ve decided that we’re going to be average this year.  It’s a strange feeling.  Memo to Kevin Payne et al: I don’t like it and I don’t plan to get used to it.

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One Response to “What it feels like to be average”

  1. […] by steigs on October 6, 2008 I recently suggested that DC United fans found this season puzzling because, for once, we had an average team.  Based on […]

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