DC United

D.C. United supporters unwavering as Rooney prepares to leave, Acosta’s future uncertain

D.C. United supporters unwavering as Rooney prepares to leave, Acosta’s future uncertain

WASHINGTON - When the 2020 MLS season kicks off the roster of D.C. United could look drastically different than what fans have experienced over the past two seasons. 

First, there’s the obvious: Wayne Rooney is leaving the club at the end of the season. The English striker is headed back home as a player/coach at Derby County, a second division team. 

Then there’s the not so obvious, rather curious case, with the uncertain future of fellow forward Luciano Acosta. At the end of the season, the United star’s contract is expiring. Signs aren’t pointing to him coming back to the club. For months the team has been open to transferring the Argentine, almost successfully pulling it off, and then also benching him for three straight matches. 

Whether United retains Acosta or not, the top attacking line will have a distinctive change with the notable absence of Rooney. 

Fans, though, are neither too surprised nor upset about potentially losing the two best goal scorers on the club - one of them among the most prolific scorers in the game’s history. 

If anything, fans are bummed, but realistic about the imminent departures and, in Rooney's case, happy to have watched him over the past two seasons.

“The best things in life don’t last forever. So it was just only a matter of time,” United supporter Tim Christofield said on Rooney’s decision to return to England. 

“[Rooney]’s a family man,” United supporter Marcelo Zunavua. “[Wayne] came here and lifted up D.C. in a brand new stadium, and I thank [him] for that and I appreciate it. I don’t think anyone expected for [him] to be here 10 years. That’s just delusional. A year? Two years? Awesome.”

Rooney’s announcement to leave D.C. came in the midst of his first full season in the MLS. Despite the new opportunity, Rooney will fulfill the remainder of this season with United. His tenure in the United States professional circuit will only be a year and a half of the original three-and-a-half-year contract. 

But fans will not forget the electricity he brought to the team in his first year with the club. He helped open up the new Audi Field and carried the team to a playoff spot after sitting in the basement of the MLS Standings. In his 20 games with the club he scored 12 goals, which led the team for the whole season, and recorded seven assists.

“Last year was really exciting. As soon as he showed up it injected major, new energy into – not just the new stadium, but the fanbase and the international [fanbase],” Southwest D.C. resident Connolly Keigher said. 

Rooney's first month in MLS, at age 32, was like a chapter out of a novel: Too good to be true. Nearly each week United leapfrogged an opponent in the standings. They couldn't lose, especially in their fresh home confines, and before they knew it they were hosting a playoff game. 

The fan attachment was immediate. Rooney D.C. United jerseys littered Audi Field and he had the fourth-highest jersey sales of all of MLS for a half year. But fans are still okay watching him go.

“It makes sense that he wants to go back home and kind of build a bigger longer path out there as a coach,” Keigher said. 

For four-year player Acosta, he is on the opposite side of his career. Fans are not only excited for the 25-year-old’s future, but some are also encouraged to see him go elsewhere and be successful. 

“Acosta is a great player. He deserves to be somewhere else. [MLS] is not there yet,” Zunavua said. “I think MLS and D.C. United was like a first chapter, not what’s going on for the second chapter. No hate, no nothing.”

At the same time, if the fans do not have to say goodbye to Acosta, most don’t want to. During his tenure with United, he was a fixture of the club. Aside from Bill Hamid, he was arguably one of the faces of the team. When Rooney came in the middle of 2018 it greatly affected his game. Acosta saw the highest offensive output of his career with 10 goals and 17 assists.

Just where things have fallen lately, and Acosta starting matches on the sidelines, supporters do not see a scenario where he returns at the end of the year.  

“With Rooney, it’s one thing. I think that was definitely a very temporary thing. With Acosta, I think it would behoove [D.C. United] to kind of accentuated him a little bit more and give him a little more playing time,” Christofield said. “It’s disappointing that he’s been such a staple for so long and now he’s just sitting watching everybody else play… I’d love for him to stay, you know he’s awesome. I don’t think it’s gonna happen.”

Soon United fans are going to have to say farewell to Rooney for good - and potentially Acosta at the same time. Unlike most final acts, where the players had all the power to return to the team, it will end with at least end with happy memories from those in the supporter’s section. 

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We Miss the Premier League, too: How Tottenham fans in D.C. found their team

We Miss the Premier League, too: How Tottenham fans in D.C. found their team

Weekend mornings haven’t been the same since the English Premier League paused its season. The EPL will be back on NBC this month. Until then, NBC Sports Washington is devoting a week of stories to each of the Big 6 clubs in England: Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City. Because we miss the Premier League, too. 

Our third week concludes with another look at the Premier League supporters’ clubs that thrive all around the metro area, including DC Spurs, which gathers together most Saturday or Sunday mornings from August through May to cheer for Tottenham Hotspur. 

Eric Kmetz was stuck on a plane and his team was in trouble. 

A work trip to Las Vegas proved poorly timed last May when Tottenham Hotspur played the second leg of a Champions League semifinal in Amsterdam against Ajax. Instead of watching with his wife, Natasha, Kmetz was stuck relying on text updates on the spotty in-flight WiFi. 

With Spurs down 2-0, having already conceded an away goal in a first-leg loss, he figured it was over. Instead, Kmetz watched his phone in disbelief as one Lucas Moura goal flashed across his screen. And then another. And then one more with just seconds to go in the game for a miracle win. 

“Oh my god! We did it! We did it! He scored. We’re through!” Natasha Kmetz texted. 

Tottenham was off to the Champions League final in Madrid against Premier League rival Liverpool. Eric Kmetz wanted to explode, but he kind of had to keep his composure. 

“I’m sitting on a plane trying to be quiet and not celebrate and cause a ruckus or anything,” Kmetz said. “But just beside myself with joy.”

When the flight landed he was off to his hotel room in Vegas to rewatch the game. Even knowing the result, it was still a thrill. 

Eric, Natasha and a few hundred of their friends would watch a disappointing final at The Irish Channel last June 1, a 2-0 loss to Liverpool. But it’s a weekly ritual throughout the Premier League season at the pub on the corner of 5th and H Streets, NW. Since 2007, Spurs fans have reliably gathered there to watch their club – whether a handful of devoted followers at 7:30 a.m. or a packed house for a late-morning London Derby against Arsenal or Chelsea.

Tottenham fans for six years now, Eric, 34, and Natasha, moved to Washington from Detroit in 2015 and now live in Baltimore. Natasha was actually born at Joint Base Andrews and spent part of her childhood in the area before moving to Michigan. They have their own unique story of how they came to love Spurs. Inspired by the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, they wanted to keep watching soccer. When the Premier League returned to action later that summer they had the chance. They just didn’t have a club yet.   

Natasha’s mother is from Belgium and its men’s national team made the World Cup quarterfinals in Brazil that year – even knocking out the United States in an epic round-of-16 match. A quick scan of Premier League rosters showed two London clubs tied with three Belgium players each, most in the league: Chelsea and Tottenham. 

Tough call. But the Kmetzs did their research on each club – their history, their background. They latched onto Spurs and were off. When they moved here, Eric and Natasha quickly found likeminded fans who became friends. 

DC Spurs is an active supporter of DC SCORES, a non-profit charity that allows almost 3,000 D.C. elementary and middle-school students play soccer and find outlets in the arts, including creative writing and poetry. The supporters’ club has raised $5,000 for DC SCORES and Eric coaches first and second graders in the program. 

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The Irish Channel, meanwhile, plays host to an eclectic weekly crowd under a blue Tottenham banner hanging from the ceiling. There are ex-pats from London who grew up with the team and Americans who came to the sport later. Parents who bring their kids for brunch and football and younger adults who don’t mind a mid-morning pint with the game. Even fans visiting the District from out of town – or out of country - will email DC Spurs and ask if they can stop by. Natasha is the chairperson for the supporters’ club. All are welcome. 

The Miracle of Amsterdam drew a big crowd to the Channel. It was, fair to say, completely nuts after Moura's goal. For the Champions League final, the place was packed two hours before game time and lines stretched around the corner from the 5th Street entrance and onto H Street just to get into the place after the match had already started. Any table not bolted down was moved out of the way to clear space. 

In April, DC Spurs did a fundraiser for the staff at the Irish Channel. These are the folks they see week-in and week-out throughout the season. Anyone who stops by after a Capitals or Wizards game at nearby Capital One Arena would know the same crew. The business restrictions because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic hit hard. 

So DC Spurs’ cherry blossom t-shirts and sweatshirts were made up and sold and the proceeds went to the men and women who keep the place humming throughout the soccer season, who open the doors, bleary-eyed, in the early morning after a late night. D.C. Spurs raised $6,600 from people in town and across the country. 

“It felt like the least we can do,” Eric Kmetz said. 

Eric and Natasha made their first trip to White Hart Lane, Tottenham’s iconic home ground for 118 years, in March of 2017. They saw a Europa League match against Borussia Dortmund and stayed for a Premier League game that weekend. It was a memorable experience. 

The most recent trip – not quite so much. They were boarding a plane to London at BWI in March when news of the government travel restrictions to many European countries came down. 

A March 15 match against Manchester United at Spurs’ new home, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, built on the site of White Hart Lane, was still on. Until it wasn’t. The match was postponed, the season halted. The Premier League finally restarts later this month. 

All wasn’t lost on that group trip, though. You make the best of things in times like this. There was a behind-the-scenes tour of the gleaming new stadium and some time in London before catching the last flight back to BWI before travel restriction went into effect in the UK. There will be another trip when things return to normal to take in the atmosphere of a special place. 

“So many people around us, they’re there every week. They’re Tottenham until they die,” Eric Kmetz said. “You think, obviously I support Spurs. I’m flying over to London for it. But to see the passion of those supporters who are at the stadium, it’s next level. It’s incredible to be around those people, to talk with those people, to go to the pub before and after the match with people who can say they grew up a stone’s throw from White Hart Lane. To hear those experiences and those stories, it helps further solidify that passion for us.” 
 

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We Miss the Premier League, too: The emotional day Tottenham said goodbye to White Hart Lane

We Miss the Premier League, too: The emotional day Tottenham said goodbye to White Hart Lane

Weekend mornings haven’t been the same since the English Premier League paused its season. The EPL will be back later this month on NBC. Until then, NBC Sports Washington is devoting a week of stories to each of the Big 6 clubs in England: Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City. Because we miss the Premier League, too. 

Our third week continues with a look at Tottenham, a club with a massive fanbase that is always near the top of the table but has not won the league since 1961. New coach Jose Mourinho, no stranger to championships, looks to change that in the coming years. Spurs will try to do so at their gleaming new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which is on the same site of their beloved old White Hart Lane home ground. 

They played soccer matches for 118 years at White Hart Lane, the revered old home of Tottenham Hotspur F.C.

It’s gone now. The future pauses for nothing, not even a stadium that hosted matches for over a century. Tottenham still plays on the same site, but its now a modern new stadium. It will take time to rebuild the aura of what it meant to play at White Hart Lane. 

On May 14, 2017, Spurs closed out the old place in style with an emotional 2-1 win over Manchester United. The victory clinched a fine second-place showing in the Premier League that year just seven points shy of champion Chelsea. 
It remains the only time Tottenham has finished as high as second since the Premier League began play in 1992.

It hasn’t won the English top division since 1961. Fans roared and cheered and sang their goodbyes, stormed the pitch at the final whistle and watched afterward as former club heroes and legends were introduced one last time.  

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Tottenham played 2,533 games at White Hart Lane. It scored 5,272 goals. Star striker Harry Kane scored the last one and Spurs didn’t lose a game at home that season. 

But they’ll be looking for a little bit of that White Hart magic when the Premier League resumes later this month. The new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium won’t have fans anyway so maybe that’s asking a lot. But Jose Mourinho’s club sits a disappointing eighth in the league with 41 points – just four behind fifth-place Manchester United with nine games to go. 

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