Every once in a while, the stars align, the clouds part, the planets converge, and everything just seems to work in your favor. It is a bit rare for me, although lately finding a way to make concerts has been working out.
Last season, I had the perfect opportunity to see City face the New England Revolution, but then Mother Nature decided to squash that idea with about 24 inches of snow, and temps well below the safety limit for MLS play. Well, it finally happened for me this past week when it just so happened that work took me to New Jersey, and the U.S. Open Cup took Orlando City to Maryland to face off against D.C. United.
Since I am sure you have keeping up with all of the features coming from The Mane Land this week, I am also pretty confident that you have put two and two together and realized that I was at the match with fellow contributor Ben Miller. He gave you the low down on the Maryland SoccerPlex, where the match was held. I will add that we had the intimacy of playing matches at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. For those fans that remember those days, picture a much, much older facility, with no real facilities for the players getting ready to play on the “stadium” pitch. I am here to give you a brief rundown on the away day, since Ben captured the facilities so well.
I live and work in Orlando, but my group’s main office is in Totowa, NJ. Travel is part of the job, hence travelling to Scotland a few months ago, and trips to New Jersey are fairly common. This trip just so happened to overlap the cup match. I mapped out options, talked to my group to make sure it wouldn’t impact anything, and made sure that flights, hotel, and rental wouldn’t be an issue either. Come to find out, it worked out perfectly to fly into Jersey, drive down to Maryland the afternoon of the game, get a hotel by Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and fly back home from there the next morning. Surprisingly, minus the weather, it worked out perfectly.
I left the office right about 12:30 p.m., took the three-and-a-half-hour drive to the airport, checked in, took five minutes to change, and headed out for the 45-minute drive to the soccer complex. Well, to be honest, I had to make one stop first — Dogfish Head Ale House to be precise. This is where I was to meet my fellow contributor Ben and his two friends. We enjoyed a few pints, some quick food, chatted about way too much World Cup and MLS, and finally decided to make our way to the match. It was about a 10-minute drive from the Ale House, deep in the back of the larger complex. We all parked, found each other, and immediately looked toward the sky. There was a storm brewing.
Entrance was like most — empty your pockets, security wands you, scan your ticket, and you’re in. We decided to head to the side opposite the benches to get some seats. As Ben noted, this was a very intimate pitch. As you can also imagine, the Orlando City faithful were extremely outnumbered.
I will say, the D.C. United fans were nothing but polite — maybe simply because this was “just” an Open Cup match, maybe because it was a midweek match, or maybe because everyone was cold and wet. We spoke and joked with many fans in the stands, walking around, in line to get a beer, and all were extremely nice and a joy to talk to.
Maybe it was also a shock to see City fans in Maryland for this match, as one little fan noted as I was initially walking up. Maybe it was also my unique camouflage, as I was wearing my typical match day gear — all black, including my all black jersey, although the purple and gold scarf might have made me a bit more obvious.
After the long weather delay for lightning in the area that really thinned the crowd out, it was a sparse crowd. Sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, having only played two matches at home so far this season, and having four matches in hand is probably not doing much to energize the fan base. What fans were there were fairly quiet. Again, this could be chalked up to weather, as it rained for almost the entire match.
The handful of Orlando City fans that were there got some chants going during the match, but we never really heard any sustained cheering from the D.C. fans. I will say the group of young D.C. fans standing next to us were doing their best to heckle, and got a chuckle out of us and the players a couple times.
Being that close to the pitch for this match was amazing. Hearing the players chatter, hearing the switching calls, the thud of shots, and the drum of the rain and the occasional roll of distant thunder was a fantastic experience. This was only made better by being able to casually shift over and stand with some of the other Orlando City fans to the right behind the goal for the penalty kick shootout.
Without a doubt, the City fans were loud — louder than anything else that night except the thunder from earlier. Every Lion stepping up for a spot kick was loudly encouraged, and every time Earl Edwards Jr. prepared to face a kick, he was met with a raucous and loud “OC! SC!” chant. Personally, I think the fans can take a bit of credit, as the support was obviously felt by the boys.
Walking back to my car after saying goodbye to Ben and the boys, I realized how much fun I had just had. It wasn’t perfect, it was by no means dry, but it was truly a fantastic away day. There really isn’t much better than hanging out with good friends, enjoying some good food and beer, and watching footy. Sure, it is always much better when you win, and no one will argue that, but the overall experience certainly is one that will be hard to beat.
Sure, it wasn’t watching a match with 64,000 other fans, but it was watching Orlando City, in the rain, in Maryland, after work, with a whole bunch of new friends. Doesn’t get much better than that.