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In more polite publications, like the kind that arrive on your doorstep in the morning, you might not get a sense of just how much the word “fuck” was used at RFK Stadium on Sunday.
New York came to town for the first leg of a two-game series against D.C. United in the MLS playoffs. They left with a 1–0 victory, a not-inconsequential away goal, and a lot of United fans spitting expletives.
In fact, the home fans were chanting them before the match even started, adding a “FUCK YOU, RED BULL” to the familiar “D-C U-NIIIIIII-TED” chant. In a long, bitter rivalry, the two clubs have met 82 times in 20 years, the most in the history of the league. Enthusiastic supporters’ sections cursing is nothing new, but there’s a special venom when the oldest of enemies is involved.
The crowd chanted “FUCK YOU, REF” for the better part of two minutes midway through the first half as forward Fabian Espindola and winger Chris Rolfe both hit the turf and no fouls were called. If it seemed like the visitors got the better end of the refereeing decisions, they did: United was called for 24 fouls to just 11 for the Red Bulls. Ultimately, though, you have to do something with all of that aggression and D.C. never could. Their best look of the game was Alvaro Saborio’s 22nd-minute point-blank header that went harmlessly over the goal. D.C. actually finished the game without a shot on goal.
In the second half, United coach Ben Olsen—and most of the 19,529 in attendance—cursed a blue streak at the center and fourth referees when New York’s Ronald Zubar only received a yellow card for a studs-up tackle on Markus Halsti in the 69th minute. Replays showed that while Zubar, a substitute for injured Red Bulls defender Damien Perrinelle, got to the ball first, his straight-legged tackle could have injured the United midfielder and warranted a red card for dangerous play. But Zubar stayed on the field while the crowd, again, hurled invectives.
Asked after the game if Zubar should have been ejected, Olsen was unequivocal. “That had all the ingredients as to what they’ve been saying is a red card in this league,” he says. “That doesn’t matter all the time.”
Two minutes later, New York struck. Former United midfielder Dax McCarty got behind the defense on a Sacha Kljestan free kick and headed past GK Bill Hamid for the only goal of the game. For a lot of fans, seeing the ginger-headed New York captain stick the knife in his old team only added to the angst. “Fucking Dax,” reacted one United fan on Twitter and hundreds more in the stands.
Olsen didn’t have any real options to change the game. Having won a 2–1 wild-card game midweek just to get here, a gassed Rolfe was already off, replaced by Connor Doyle in the 65th minute. Danny Arnaud, Chris Pontius, and Michael Farfan all missed the game through injury. The Fates even needled United’s lack of firepower: Eddie Johnson took a bow during a retirement ceremony at halftime. The forward never pulled on a jersey for the team this season, victim of a heart condition that forced him to leave the game at 31. Six minutes of extra time didn’t help, and United limped off to the delight of a few hundred New York fans bouncing in the upper deck.
After the game, Olsen was hopeful that a week of rest could help the team when they go to New York next Sunday. “I’m optimistic that this a still a series we can win,” he says, in spite of the Red Bulls’ conference-best home record.
On the way back to the Metro, however, some of the last fans walking out of the stadium didn’t share his outlook. They were still cursing the loss to the old foe.
“Why did it have to be fucking New York?” says one United supporter, tugging on his scarf. “Why New York?”