Soccer

We Miss The Premier League, too: How a Chelsea fan found her team

We Miss The Premier League, too: How a Chelsea fan found her team

Weekend mornings haven’t been the same since the English Premier League paused its season. The hope is the EPL is back on NBC sometime soon. 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 first week continues with a look at the Premier League supporters’ clubs that thrive all around D.C. and the metro area, including Chelsea’s Beltway Blues, who gather together most Saturday mornings from August through May to cheer their team. 

It started for Allison Kasic during a six-month study abroad semester in London 16 years ago. 

A junior at Bucknell University in 2004, a big sports fan who grew up playing and watching soccer, Kasic was searching for a connection to her new home. She found it right there in her west London neighborhood at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea FC's grand old stadium where they’ve played soccer in some form since 1905.  

“When I showed up, high on my priority list was asking ‘Alright what are the local teams?’ I just loved watching live sports,” Kasic said. “The club kind of chose me in that respect. And I’ve stuck with it since then.”

Kasic, who grew up in Colorado but moved to the D.C. area after college, has done more than that. She is chapter chair of the Beltway Blues supporters’ club, which meets most weekends at Ireland’s Four Courts in Arlington, and is the national chair of Chelsea in America, a coalition of five regional Chelsea supporters' groups made up of 35 local chapters throughout the United States. 

Sports provides an emotional connection we’re all missing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The Four Courts, open again for takeout orders since May 8 but unable to host watch parties for now, averages 40-to-50 Chelsea fans on any given Saturday or Sunday – much more for big matches, fewer maybe for the 7:30 a.m. EST start times. They all have a story. Kasic was hooked when she skipped a night class during her semester abroad and went to a pub with a friend who just happened to be an Arsenal fan. 

That was the year of The Invincibles when Thierry Henry and the Gunners won the Premier League title and won or drew every single Premier League game. No losses on the record. Arsenal had beaten the Blues three times already that season and also played to a draw in the first leg of a Champions League quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge. It just didn’t look like Chelsea was capable of beating their London rival. 

Until that wonderful April night back at Highbury, Arsenal's famed old home ground, when Chelsea rallied from a 1-0 deficit at halftime to win it in the 88th minute on a Wayne Bridge goal. The Invincibles might have raised their Premier League trophy at the end of that season. But they wouldn’t be crowned champions of Europe. The Blues saw to that and then the next season won their first Premier League title in 50 years. 

Kasic, a self-described John Terry fan, the legendary Chelsea defender, stuck with it when she came home to the States, but it wasn’t easy. Premier League games weren’t readily available like they are now on NBC and its platforms. She found herself looking up scores on the internet the year Chelsea won that long-awaited title in the 2004-05 season.

The crowd that gathers at The Four Courts could be as few as 10 people for an early start against a lower club or as many as 300 for big Premier League or Champions League games. The night Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012 you couldn't get in the door even if you showed up an hour before the match.

The crowd is mixed, primarily Americans, but with a few ex-pats from the U.K. who used to be season-ticket holders at Stamford Bridge or ex-soccer players who played the sport in high school or college. Group member Lynn Feldmann had a youth soccer coach who actually played for Chelsea in the 1960s, according to Kasic. Go to any of these game watches and you’ll see how randomly people came to their love for the club.    

Kasic herself tries to go back to London every other year to visit the city and catch a game at Stamford Bridge. Those early Chelsea days she was still a new fan enthralled by the atmosphere at the stadium, but probably didn’t appreciate it as much living in London at the time. It was a return trip that sealed her connection to the team. 

“What was much more emotional for me was the first time I went back to a match in London after I moved back to America,” Kasic said. “It sounds so sappy, but when The Liquidator started, which is one of the songs they always play before kickoff, I started to cry. I was like what am I doing, I’m crying over a song at a sports stadium? But the whole atmosphere is really overwhelming in a good way when you care that much about it.” 

But for now next year’s trip to Stamford Bridge is on hold. There’s too much uncertainty in the world to plan that far into the future. Kasic is just hoping life returns to some sort of normalcy soon and maybe the Premier League will be back this summer for its final nine games. Chelsea, with a young team, sits a surprising fourth in the standings and has a great shot at making the Champions League next season. 

But if this goes on much longer, Kasic laughs, she might even start to miss the Arsenal fans who have their own game watches at The Four Courts. OK. Let’s not get crazy. A rival is still a rival. But devotion to a team is something we all share. Hopefully, that bond is renewed soon.    

“I miss the people at least as much as the actual sport – probably more,” Kasic said. “Even if I’m traveling for work and go to a different city and catch a match with the local supporters’ club somewhere else. It’s a unique segment of American sports fans that we’re purposely waking up early in the morning to watch a sport played in another country. You have common interest with these folks and I’m used to seeing them every week. And for the last couple of weeks our pub hasn’t even been open [inside]. You miss the staff, too. It’s just a big part of our community.”

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FC Dallas withdraws from MLS is Back tournament after 10 positive COVID-19 tests

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FC Dallas withdraws from MLS is Back tournament after 10 positive COVID-19 tests

FC Dallas has withdrawn from the MLS is Back tournament in Florida after 10 players tested positive for coronavirus.

The league said Monday that of the 557 players sequestered at a pair of Walt Disney World hotels, 13 have tested positive: 10 from Dallas, two from Nashville and one from Columbus. Additionally, a Dallas coach also tested positive.

“The decision to have them not participate in the tournament is in the best interests of everyone, of the Dallas players and the other 25 teams, and allows us to continue to manage the health and safety of our players while continuing to go forward with our plan,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Monday.

Apart from the health and safety aspect, the number of positive cases also meant that Dallas could not play competitive games.

“As we continue to focus on the well-being of our players, coaches and staff who are in isolation in Orlando, we understand it is not in their best interests to compete at this time,” coach Luchi Gonzalez said in a statement. “While we’re disappointed, the health and safety of our traveling delegation as well as our league partners is our highest priority.”

FC Dallas announced last week that six players had tested positive upon arrival in Florida for the tournament, and the entire team was quarantined. As a result, the team’s opening match on Thursday against the Vancouver Whitecaps was postponed.

RELATED: WHEN ARE SPORTS RETURNING FROM CORONAVIRUS

With Dallas' withdrawal, Major League Soccer was devising a new schedule for the monthlong tournament, to be played without fans at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World.

The tournament is still set to open Wednesday with a nationally televised match between Orlando City and expansion Inter Miami.

Also on Monday, LAFC forward Carlos Vela opted out of the tournament out of concerns for his wife, who is expecting their second child.

“I always want to give everything I have to my club, our fans and supporters and the city of L.A.,” Vela said in a statement. “However, it is in the best interest of the health of my family to stay home and be with my wife during what is a risky pregnancy."

MLS shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 12 after teams had each played two games.

Garber vowed to stop the tournament if warranted.

“If there is a situation at any time that I believe that the protocols aren't working, and the health and safety of our players is at risk, then I will make the decision to shut down the tournament," Garber said. "That is something I committed to the players and to our entire league early on. But this is proving that our protocols worked and our plan so far has been sound.”

FC Dallas previously revealed that all players and staff tested negative for the coronavirus before leaving for the tournament on June 27. Upon arrival, two players tested positive. Subsequent tests found four more players infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We absolutely agree with the league’s decision to withdraw FC Dallas from the MLS is Back Tournament out of safety concerns for our players and staff,” FC Dallas President Dan Hunt said. “We’re looking forward to resuming the 2020 season once the entire club is healthy and in position to play competitive matches at the highest level.”

The league said no other team was in contact with the FC Dallas delegation. League protocol requires players and staff to be tested every two days upon arrival in Florida.

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Washington DC launches bid to host 2026 FIFA World Cup matches

Washington DC launches bid to host 2026 FIFA World Cup matches

It’s still six years out, but Washington, D.C. is making a push to bring the 2026 FIFA World Cup to the nation’s capital.

With North America selected as the location of choice for the 2026 World Cup rather than one country in particular, D.C. officials announced Tuesday their intention to make Washington one of the 16 host cities for the 80-match tournament.

“Right now, as countries around the world continue to respond to this pandemic, the 2026 FIFA World Cup is something we can all look forward to,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement. “And when the tournament comes to North America, it only makes sense for DC — the Sports Capital and District of Champions — to host. We are already a city united by the game, and in 2026, we look forward to uniting the world.”

According to The Washington Post, 10 cities from the U.S. are expected to land matches for the tournament with Canada and Mexico splitting the other six. It will be the first time in World Cup history that the tournament will be shared by more than two countries.

The District established a group called DC2026, which announced a 40-member advisory board that includes D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, three-time MLS champion Eddie Pope, Washington Spirit stars Joanna Lohman and Andi Sullivan, two-time gold medalist Brianna Scurry, EventsDC chairman Max Brown, chef José Andrés and D.C. United general partner Gregory O’Dell.

“As a native Washingtonian, I am proud to be a Co-Chair of DC’s official bid committee to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup,” Hamid said in a statement. “I could not think of a more vibrant, inclusive or passionate soccer city to host FIFA World Cup matches in 2026. With our deep soccer roots and diversity, the culture of our city gives us our foundation to successfully highlight the matches and leave a lasting impact on the future of the game.”

DC2026 plans to tout D.C.’s “unparalleled roots to the sport of soccer and world-class hosting capabilities” as part of its pitch. In a three-page press release, the group laid out advantages such as the metro system and three local airports that would allow it to host the increased number of tourists.

The city last hosted the World Cup in 1994, when it made RFK Stadium one of nine U.S. venues for the tournament. It’s also held Olympic soccer games (1996) as well as the 1999 and 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

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