D.C. lording over MLS thanks to talent pipeline, fans
Posted: Wednesday August 23, 2006 11:10AM; Updated: Wednesday August 23, 2006 3:54PM
Raucous D.C. United fans in the Barra Brava are a friendly blend of races and ethnicities.
Grant Wahl will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
Three hours until kickoff, and D.C. United's Barra Brava is already cooking.
In an unpaved field behind Lot 8 at RFK Stadium, nearly 200 members of MLS' most raucous fan club are enjoying the Mother of All Tailgates, a feast of grilled chorizos, Bolivian salteņas and enough cold beer to fuel an evening's worth of drum-beating, song-chanting delirium.
It's a gorgeous midsummer night in the nation's capital, and the Barra is getting ready to support (what else?) another win for United, which is running away with the Eastern Conference race.
Founded by a Bolivian immigrant named Oscar Zambrana, the Barra is a delightfully diverse outfit that includes its fair share of women. The Anglo-Latino membership breakdown is about 60-40, and the group sings in both Spanish and English.
"We have a federal judge and a university professor, and we have guys who cut meat and lay flooring and fix motorcycles for a living," says Robert Gillespie, the group's vice-chief, a software-company executive who has a United tattoo on one shoulder and a Barra Brava tattoo (a skull and crossbones over the slogan Muerte o Gloria) on the other.
"The best thing is that it's like a family," adds Zambrana, a real-estate agent who grew up playing with his compatriot Marco Etcheverry, the retired United star.
Barra members attend both home and away games, raise money for charity and have helped support one another through heart surgeries and deaths in the family. Their numbers include Croatian research analysts, Colombian anthropologists and Ghanaian grocers.
And while they can agree on many things -- like, say, their hatred for Cobi Jones of the Los Angeles Galaxy, who once taunted them after a goal by grabbing his crotch -- they often differ on some of life's most important questions.
Such as, which is the best D.C. United team ever? It's no small debate when your team has won four MLS titles in 10 years. "It would have to be the '98 team," asserts Gillespie.
"No," Zambrana says, "I'd say the '96 team."
Then again, the 2006 United side (which is a remarkable 13-2-8 and takes on the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup) might be on the verge of breaking through. "I'll tell you what," Gillespie says, taking a pull from his bottle of Yuengling. "There has never been a D.C. team as deep as this one."