The new `baby' is kicking

John Carlin in Washington sees a game in its infancy grow in popularity ; Capitol games: As a city adjusts to football with a new accent, baseball's battle of Alomar develops into a national debate

"The tradition begins" is the motto of DC United, an infant professional soccer club fast emerging as the most successful sporting entity in a city long dominated by its wealthy American Football cousins, the Washington Redskins.

The very notion of a tradition beginning is a contradiction. Traditions belong in the past, not the future. But Americans are nothing if not inventive and the signs are that in the case of Washington United, as with professional soccer in the US generally, ambition is paying off.

Major League Soccer, better known as the MLS, kicked off only last spring but attendances are 50 per cent above projection (18,000 average) and already a heated rivalry has developed of the type associated with ancient warriors like Celtic and Rangers. It may not yet be the stuff of legend, but DC United and the New York Metrostars hate each other. In their first four encounters the players collected 23 yellow cards between them. Eight days ago, in the second of three play-offs for a place in the MLS Cup semi-final, United's star striker, the Bolivian former Middlesbrough player Jaime Moreno, was sent off for throwing a punch.

So the stage was set tantalisingly on Wednesday night for the decisive play-off between the two at the Redskins' mighty Robert F Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Simultaneously, in the other three quarter- finals, Tampa Bay Mutiny were playing Columbus Crew, Kansas City were playing Dallas Burn and San Jose Clash were playing Los Angeles Galaxy, already established as the MLS glamour club with average home attendances of over 30,000.

When the DC United players ran out on to the RFK pitch, the welcome would have drowned out a low-flying jumbo jet. When the Metrostars ran out, led by Roberto Donadoni, the chorus of rage provided a taste of what Manchester United can expect when they meet Fenerbahce in Istanbul.

You could have been forgiven for thinking these two teams shared a long, bitter history. You could have been forgiven, too, for imagining you were not in the United States of America, where sports crowds tend to be exciteable but less feverish than elsewhere. There was a reason for this. We were not, in fact, in the United States of America. The biggest stadium in the capital of the world's most powerful nation had been colonised for the night by Mexicans and Salvadoreans.

The few all-American palefaces present looked as bewildered as if they had been abruptly transported to a football ground in Guadalajara where the voices on the loudspeaker system spoke Spanish and the pre-match chatter was all about the need for the home team to display some "cojones".

There are other peculiarities about soccer in the US. Before the game the players stood to attention in the centre circle listening to a man singing the "Star-Spangled Banner" (in English); the pitch was crazily zig-zagged with soccer and American football markings; large electronic clocks around the stadium counted down the minutes and seconds remaining of play in each half and the referee, who signalled the invisible time- lords to freeze the clocks during injury stoppages, blew the final whistle the instant the numbers showed 00.00.

The sheer detail of the information provided in the match programmes will also have surprised any hardened Hispanic fans who read English. Statistics fanatics would have been delighted to learn the name of the MLS goalkeeper who handled the ball the fewest times this season in the first half of a game, the name of the team who have accumulated the most second-half corners, and so forth. The osteopath contingent at Wednesday's game would have thrilled by the news that United's busy midfielder Richie Williams was bravely entering the fray despite suffering from a bout of "ilio Tibial Band Tendonitis", vulgarly known as bruised shins.

The game itself was exciting, the play interesting - like an English team playing the continental style. It was possession football, played diligently along the ground, by players who sometimes lacked the technique to match. Donadoni, playing not on the wing (as he has done 71 times for Italy) but in a midfield attacking Cantona role, looked for most of the game as if he was day-dreaming about his glory days in Milan alongside Gullit and Van Basten. But he woke up to wallop a free-kick from the Redskins' 30-yard line against the post and to thread through the "assist" that led to the Metrostars' equaliser with four minutes and 13 seconds to go. Marco "El Diablo" (the Devil) Etcheverry, United's second Bolivian, was then fouled in the penalty area and, with one minute and 23 seconds remaining, it was fittingly a Salvadorean, Raul Diaz Arce, who ripped the ball into the back of the net.

The 20,343 crowd bellowed "United! United!" and, when the final whistle blew, a thousand fans ran on to the pitch, jumping over Metrostar players on their knees, abandoning themselves to the tribal euphoria that grips soccer fans everywhere after victory over an "auld enemy". It may be too early to tell whether the tradition will continue but it has most certainly begun.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Property

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: KENT MARKET TOWN - An exciting new role has ar...

Financial Accountants, Cardiff, £250 p/day

£180 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Financial Accountants - Key Banking...

Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

£200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices