Before every D.C. United game, Brandon Johnson, 26, transforms himself into "Darth Hooligan"—a mix of Star Wars villain Darth Maul (complete with red and black face paint) and a fanatical soccer fan—and takes the Metro to RFK Stadium, the team's home field.
"I go to every game," he said. "It's just so great to watch soccer grow here and be a part of it."
On June 30, for the United's U.S. Open Cup round of 16 match with the Richmond Kickers, Johnson's travel plans changed.
Instead of getting off at the Stadium-Armory Metro stop near RFK Stadium, he hopped on an Orange Line train to the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU station in full make-up while sporting a custom United jersey.
For the first time in D.C. United's 14-year history, the club played a competitive match in Northern Virginia at George Mason Stadium on the George Mason University campus.
In front of 2,985 fans, the Major League Soccer club defeated Richmond, a member of the United Soccer League second division, 2-0 and earned passage to the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals.
After a gritty, scoreless first half, goals from D.C. United captain Jaime Moreno (47th minute) and Baltimore native Santino Quaranta (57th minute) doomed the Kickers' U.S. Open Cup hopes.
"It's a great environment at RFK, but we wanted to try something new and the time to do that is during an Open Cup game," said assistant coach Kris Kelderman, who coached in place of suspended head coach Curt Onalfo, serving the final game of a two-game suspension for improper behavior after being ejected during a win over Dallas on April 28 in a U.S. Open Cup play-in victory. "The crowd was expected to be smaller than a league game, but it was great. The field was in nice condition, the atmosphere was nice and the weather was nice."
The match also served as a homecoming for two of the team's rising stars. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid and forward Andy Najar are both from Fairfax County and played high school soccer locally—Hamid for Annandale High School and Najar for Edison High School.
"I grew up right down Braddock Road, which is about four or five miles from here," Hamid said. "I saw a lot of people that I went to high school with and players I played club with. It was very special to play in front of them."
Kelderman also joined Hamid and Najar in their homecoming. The D.C. United assistant served as an assistant coach for the George Mason men's soccer team from 2005 to 2007.
"It's always nice to come back to where you spent some time before and collect a win," he said.
The move to George Mason Stadium breaks a long cycle of playing U.S. Open Cup games at the Maryland Soccerplex in Germantown, Md. But bringing the match to Northern Virginia did make it easier for some fans to attend the event.
Chantilly resident Jason Sengstack said he only has been to five D.C. United games this season, low by his standards, but could not pass up a chance to drive 15 minutes to watch a game. "It's nice to have one right here," he said. "It makes it easier to go to the game."
Another attendance driver was the club's historic success in the U.S. Open Cup. Although some MLS teams are criticized for not caring about the tournament, in favor of MLS league play, historically United has been a strong contender for the trophy.
D.C. United has won the title twice (1996, 2008) and appeared in the finals against the Seattle Sounders last season.
"D.C. United tries to win these cups," Sengstack said. "So it's worth coming out."
With perfect weather, a win over a local rival, and a sizeable soccer-loving crowd, only one complaint echoed throughout the 2,985 in attendance—disapproval of GMU's no-alcohol policy.
"This is really nice, but I prefer RFK because there's beer and we can tailgate," Johnson said. "But I guess this is a nice atmosphere for family."
D.C. United's next U.S. Open Cup match will be against the Harrisburg Islanders on July 21 at the Maryland Soccerplex. The Islanders defeated the MLS club the New York Red Bulls 1-0 on June 29 to reach the quarterfinals.
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