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What I love about MLS

Tonight, D.C. United played the defending MLS Cup champions - Real Salt Lake - to a 0-0 draw. It was the home team’s first shutout of the season and, while they likely should have earned three points, it was a positive performance from a team that has endured a very rough start to the 2010 campaign. 

For me, though, the story of the night extended beyond the play on the pitch. Tonight, I was reminded why I’m so in love with Major League Soccer. 

MLS isn’t the best soccer league in the world. It’s not the most popular sport in America. What makes MLS special is the unique connection between the teams - its players and front office - and their supporters. 

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Last year, Bryan Namoff suffered a concussion late in the year that kept him out for the remainder of the 2009 season and has seen him unable to return to practice in 2010. The second-longest tenured player on United, the team has missed his presence at right back and his leadership in the locker room. While his future as a professional soccer player remains largely uncertain, the club’s fans have not forgotten everything he has given to the club.

As tonight’s game kicked-off at 2400 East Capitol St., La Barra Brava honored Namoff with this impressive tribute…

(Photo by Ben Mahler)

"Unleash the Namoff" - a phrase that became a rallying cry for the defender last year, after he witnessed "Unleash the fury" at a Washington Capitals game. The massive banners, coupled with the defender’s jersey number displayed throughout was stunning in stature and spoke to the creativity and commitment Barra Brava - and Screaming Eagles - have shown over the last 15 seasons. 

Where else in American professional sports does one see such displays? Is there any other group of sports fans who plot and plan together to honor their players in such meaningful ways? To me, this is the difference between a “fan” and a “supporter.” Those that follow United, those that live and die with every result - nay, those that live and die with every pass, tackle, save or goal; those that continue to come out to RFK Stadium even though the team is 2-8; those that continue to wave their flags and bang their drums after the worst playoff loss in club history; those that chant and cheer through torrential rain long after the game had been delayed… it’s not enough to call them fans. 

Why does their commitment go beyond simple fandom? Tonight, we saw an example of the unique connection between player and supporter.

Tonight, the player that has scored more goals than anyone else in MLS history was unable to play. The player who has won more trophies than any single player in League history knew he wouldn’t be able to help his teammates on the pitch. So, what did Jaime Moreno do? He joined the supporters in the stands. He took hold of a massive drum stick, positioned himself behind a big ol’ drum and chanted and cheered right along with the 15,000+ who came out to RFK Stadium on a steamy, muggy night. The joy seen in his face in being surrounded by those who have supported him through the longest career in League history tells the story…

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As unique as this seems, it’s not even the first time a United player has done it… In 2005, when he was suspended due to yellow card accumulation, Christian Gomez joined the traveling supporters in the stands at Giant Stadium, banging a drum as United earned a 4-1 victory against their biggest rivals. 

(Photo by Matt Mathai)

Anyone who follows MLS will tell you the League still has a long way to go. But, it’s these moments that solidify and reinforce my belief that this League will only continue to be successful. I know our supporters understand the exceptional bond they experience with our players - I can’t wait until more people discover that connection. The connection of community and team. 

I count myself lucky to be a part of it. 

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