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Take D.C. United. Demar, an 11-year-old soccer fanatic from Prince George’s County, took in Sunday’s United-Kansas City Wizards match with the home team’s logo painted on his cheek. From his seat in the first row of RFK Stadium, Demar announced that his two favorite players are now Raul Diaz Arce and Mario Gori. His fan goggles seem to have left the child with a severe case of tunnel vision when it comes to his newly adopted heroes.

“They didn’t do it!” shrieked the youngster, his whole face turning a shade of red similar to that in United’s logo. “No way! They didn’t do it!”

Demar was denying charges leveled two weeks earlier against Diaz Arce and Gori by a 24-year-old woman from Columbus, Ohio. She told the police that she had met some United players in the bar of the Crowne Plaza Hotel after a road game. She accepted their invitation to go to their room to use the phone, her story goes, and once there, Diaz Arce held her down on a bed while Gori raped her.

After hearing the accusations, a judge in Franklin County Municipal Court found them credible enough to order the players to post $500,000 bond each. D.C. United put up the money to get them freed from jail and returned to the team.

No trial date has yet been set. Conviction on any sexual assault charge will mean deportation—Diaz Arce to his native El Salvador and Gori to Argentina—regardless of whether jail time is imposed. But if anybody on that jury shares Demar’s view of the defendants, the players shouldn’t worry about an unfavorable verdict, no matter how strong the prosecution’s case turns out to be.

“That woman is a liar! She didn’t need to make a phone call! If she wanted to make a call, she could have used a public phone! She didn’t need to go up to their room! She’s lying!” blurts the kid.

What if, after everything about the case comes to light, it turns out she’s not lying?

“Well, I still wouldn’t believe her,” Demar huffs. “They’re too awesome.”

The Diaz Arce/Gori episode has given United and the 2-year-old MLS their first big-time scandal. (Earlier this season, league officials gave a verbal yellow card to a Colombian national on the MetroStars roster after he dedicated his game-winning goal to some imprisoned drug lords back in Medellín, but the uproar over the dedication died quickly.) Neither the league nor the team disciplined United’s alleged rapists after the Columbus story broke, and both Diaz Arce and Gori were in the starting lineup against Kansas City.

For now, there’s nothing wrong with a lack of action. The most recent Michael Irvin sex case, after all, showed that some people really do make up allegations against sports stars for greedy, wicked reasons. So, in the absence of confessions, videotapes, or convictions, Diaz Arce and Gori deserve better than to be treated as rapists. But it’s nevertheless troubling to see that a kid like Demar’s fondness for the accused players is so enhanced by the accusations. Maybe it’s because he’s so young.

Then again, maybe not. Most of the 18,123 fans who showed up at RFK to cheer on the defending league champs against the division-leading Wizards treated the alleged perpetrators as their favorite players, and they can’t all use youthful naivete as an excuse.

The lone homemade poster hanging at field level declared, “Raul, Estamos Contigo! We’re With You 100 Percent!” and in pregame introductions, Diaz Arce got far and away the loudest ovation. Then, late in the second half, a spontaneous chant of “Gori, Gori, Gori” broke out from the stands. No other participant got feted with his own personal hurrah. Gori’s a fine defender, but the charges, not his play, were surely behind the stadiumwide chant.

At the end of United’s 2-0 victory over the Wizards, which secured a playoff spot for the team, Diaz Arce began an autograph session that lasted long after all his mates had gone to the locker room. (Because of an injury, Gori had exited the field just before the game was over.) Hundreds of fans—including Demar—crushed up against the rail in hopes of getting his signature.

Nobody in the postgame mob expressed any feelings that Diaz Arce could be guilty of the awful act attributed to him, or even considered the possibility that the player had all of a sudden made himself so much more accessible than his United teammates precisely because of the allegations.

“Look at all these people here for Raul!” said Lino Diaz, an Alexandria resident, as he waved a felt-tip pen and a program over Demar’s head, toward Diaz Arce. “They’re here because they know he didn’t do it, because, like me, he’s from Salvador, because he’s a hero to us. I’d put my hand in the fire for him. All of us would, because we know he didn’t do it.”

Also along the rail was Jim King of Herndon. King chaperoned his son’s 9-and-under soccer team all afternoon and tried to help secure the star striker’s autograph for as many of them as he could. King could sooner forgive Diaz Arce for whatever was done to that woman in Columbus than he could other United players for not signing for the fans.

“I know that guy raped somebody, or may have raped somebody,” King railed. “But this isn’t about his personal life. This is about sports. That’s why we’re all here. My son doesn’t know anything about rape. He knows about soccer, and he wants [Diaz Arce’s] autograph, so he should have it. Good for him that he’s out here signing! All the other players should be out here, too. It’s a disgrace that only one player signed today, and that’s what I’m mad about now. That’s what people should be talking about. That’s what has to change.”

Ray Fulton brought his family down from Lancaster, Pa., to catch the game. Fulton had heard about the charges against the United players while in Singapore on business, but that wasn’t enough for him to discourage his teenage daughter from getting her program signed by the accused.

The younger Fulton was one of the last fans to procure Diaz Arce’s autograph before the police led the signer back to the locker room.

“That whole case bothers me some, but, well, she wanted his autograph, and I didn’t really see anything wrong with that. It’s just another autograph,” shrugged Dad. “I mean, we’ve already got O.J.’s.” —Dave McKenna