All posts by Sarah Kallassy

MLSFemale Editor-in-Chief, soccer journalist, consultant

The ‘Circus’ Comes to Town: Rivalry Week in D.C.

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
MLSFemale Editor-In-Chief 
Official DC United Reporter

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

D.C. United XI: Bill Hamid; Joseph Mora (Luciano Acosta, 72′), Steven Birnbaum, Frédéric Brillant, Jalen Robinson (Leonardo Jara, 38′); Lucas Rodríguez, Júnior Moreno, Felipe Martins, Paul Arriola; Ola Kamara (Quincy Amarikwa, 69′), Wayne Rooney

Two of the oldest teams in Major League Soccer, D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls have been at each other’s throats almost as long as the League has been in existence. Times have changed (and so has the Red Bulls’ name, they used to be the MetroStars) and while some believe this rivalry is dead, tonight’s match certainly made the case that the mutual animosity between D.C. and New York (or New Jersey, if you will) is alive and kicking. 

Tonight’s match had everything, except for a D.C. win. However, this wasn’t from a lack of trying on the part of the Black-and-Red. 

The New York Red Bull’s took an early goal, with Kaku taking advantage of a blind spot at D.C.’s end of the pitch in the 6’. Then things really began to get ugly between the two teams. Escalating physicality did not bode well for either D.C. or New York. 

By the 24’, captain Wayne Rooney was booked with a red, taking D.C. down to 10 men. The cards kept coming for D.C. with Felipe Martins being booked shortly after with a yellow in the 34’. New York was shortly left with 10 men as well, when Amro Tarek received his second yellow of the match and left the game just before halftime.

With both sides down a player, D.C. found the equalizer in the 55’. Newly signed Ola Kamara opened his account for D.C. United, finding the back of the net off an assist by Joseph Mora.

It was a bittersweet moment for Kamara. He said, “It would of course been more satisfying if it gave us a point or three. But of course, it feels good to get out in front of the home crowd and score a goal… It was a great feeling to start again.”

D.C.’s elation wouldn’t last long. After a controversial call by referee Ismail Elfath against Lucas ‘Titi’ Rodríguez, New York’s Daniel Royer cashed in on a penalty kick, bypassing D.C.’s goalkeeper Bill Hamid to claim another point on the scoreboard for the Red Bulls in the 59’. Black-and-Red supporters made their disapproval of Elfath’s call known throughout Audi Field, as they chanted and booed the official. Post-match, coach Ben Olsen would say, “It’s the wrong call. It’s a dive.”

Even with two relatively early (for Olsen) second half substitutions made, D.C. United couldn’t seem to regain the ground lost, despite the chances they continued to create. It seemed that every time D.C. built momentum, the whistle would sound again.

Quincy Amarikwa, who entered the match for Ola Kamara in the 69’, is well known for his ability to get into his opponents’ heads and exploit any sign of mental weakness. An ability he put into action against the Red Bulls tonight. “I would’ve liked to get in earlier,” the forward said, “I feel I could have created more opportunities. You know, we were really breaking them down at the end there. They were really struggling to hold on to the lead. You could tell with how often they were going down.”

Although there were 8 minutes of stoppage time added to the match (which turned into more), it wasn’t enough for D.C. to secure a comeback. The final score line of 1-2 didn’t seem to reflect the tremendous effort put in by D.C. United on the pitch.

As for Kamara, he is happy to have made a return to Major League Soccer. He said, “I really enjoy my time here. I have a lot of fun and I know so many people here too, so I see a lot of familiar faces. Coming to D.C. too, there are a lot of great guys, so it’s been very positive, I’m very happy.”

As the weekend approaches, the Black and Red will make a road trip north to face the Philadelphia Union on Saturday. With Wayne Rooney serving a suspension, it is highly likely we will see Ola Kamara in the XI again. Let’s hope his incredible positivity is contagious.

As always, Vamos United!

Featured image: D.C. United

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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A Missed Opportunity

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
MLSFemale Editor-In-Chief 
Official DC United Reporter

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

D.C. United XI: Bill Hamid; Joseph Mora, Steven Birnbaum, Frédéric Brillant, Leonardo Jara (Ema Boateng 67′); Júnior Moreno, Felipe Martins; Lucas Rodríguez, Paul Arriola, Ulises Segura (Luciano Acosta 58′); Wayne Rooney (Ola Kamara 74′)

D.C. United lost to the Vancouver Whitecaps on the road, with a lone goal scored in the first half deciding the match. After a standout performance against the LA Galaxy, sans Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta, it seemed almost preposterous that D.C. was bested by a team sitting in last place in the MLS Western Conference Standings.  Almost.

With a stacked roster, D.C.’s road trip to Vancouver could have been an easy opportunity for the Black-and-Red to secure three points before returning home to face their rivals, the New York Red Bulls, on Wednesday. New signing Ola Kamara was available to play in the away match, only increasing the feeling of confidence going into Saturday night’s match-up. 

Coach Ben Olsen began the match with many familiar faces in the XI, and for the first 10’ , D.C. seemed well in control of the match; then, the wheels came off the bus. Although they made 24 total shots, D.C. could not seem to find the back of the net. Only two shots were on target, an early shot in the 2’ by Paul Arriola and another shot in the 19′ by Ulises Segura.

Vancouver also only managed two shots on target, however, unlike D.C., one by Yordy Reyna managed to pass through the frame and connect, putting the Whitecaps up 1-0 in the 18’. It would be enough to best the Black-and-Red.

Even with 7 minutes of stoppage time added – yes, 7 – D.C. was unable to convert one of their 24 shots into a goal and left empty handed. Much to the chagrin of the team’s captain, they also had 12 hours of flight time to think about what went wrong.

Officiating Woes

Officiating seemed to be a pain point for D.C. again. What appeared to be a handball on the part of Vancouver, went without any call from referee Timothy Ford. Rooney, who is known to have publicly taken issue with MLS’s inconsistent officiating before, went off on the 4th official as he was subbed out of the match for Ola Kamara in the 74’. Post match, Rooney expressed his frustration, saying:

“Because I have my opinions on the referees and it’s not very good. So, I feel they need to improve the game – that’s my opinion. I feel like I’m entitled to my opinion. I said a couple of weeks ago, I got kicked, the referees do nothing. All I’m asking for is a bit of protection and it would be nice if Howard Webb could come to the training ground and let us speak to him over it because I feel it’s happening game after game. And to get some clarification, it would be nice if Mr. Webb came down to the training ground to speak to us.”

Standout Performances

There were two standout performances of the night, despite no result. Paul Arriola totaled five shots during the match, his most this season, and seemed to be everywhere on the pitch. Often considered to be Ben Olsen’s ‘Swiss Army Knife’, Arriola is a play maker, capable of influencing the match wherever he happens to be positioned. 

Paul tried to draw the positives from the match saying, “We had early chances to go ahead. We knew what Vancouver was going to bring to the table. They were very well-shaped defensively and looked for counter-attacks. They’ve got very good players up top. Credit to them, they executed when they needed.”

Shots made by Paul Arriola.

Ulises Segura, who has been simply outstanding in D.C.’s last few matchups, was incredible with his service during the match.  The midfielder’s successful passes, open play crosses, and key passes would have certainly been converted to assists had D.C. managed to score against Vancouver.

Ulises Segura’s successful passes, open play crosses, and key passes.

Looking Ahead

D.C. United will face their rivals, the New York Red Bulls at home this Wednesday and followed by a road trip to Philadelphia to face the Union on Saturday. With the urgency of securing a playoff berth looming, hopefully the Black-and-Red will make a turnaround before these two tough matchups.

As always, Vamos United!

Featured image: Vancouver Whitecaps

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

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Accept No Substitutes (For a D.C. United Win)

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
MLSFemale Editor-In-Chief 
Official DC United Reporter

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

D.C. United XI: Bill Hamid; Joseph Mora, Steven Birnbaum, Frédéric Brillant, Jalen Robinson; Leonardo Jara, Felipe Martins; Lucas Rodríguez, Paul Arriola, Ulises Segura; Quincy Amarikwa

No Substitutions

D.C. United pulled off a stunner of a match against the LA Galaxy, winning 2-1 at home. With an XI that included neither Wayne Rooney (ill with an upper respiratory infection) nor Lucho Acosta (he began the match in the 18), the Black-and-Red relied on teamwork and their depth to claim a sorely needed three points. 

Coach Ben Olsen returned to the 4-2-3-1, with Quincy Amarikwa starting up top, Jalen Robinson at right back, and new signing Felipe Martins slotted in the midfield next to Leo Jara. The lineup drew some disappointment, from those wishing to see Rooney and LA’s Ibrahimovic face off on the pitch, and a bit of skepticism, from those who couldn’t understand why Acosta was starting the match on the bench. Mostly, the chosen XI drew curiosity; were they up to the task of taking on the LA Galaxy?

Paul Arriola

It was clear from the first whistle that D.C. were on the pitch to win, with fiery, tenacious performances from the XI. Paul Arriola opened the scoring in the 28’, assisted by Ulises Segura and Quincy Amarikwa. While LA answered in the 48’, it wasn’t enough for the visitors to leave Audi Field with any points in hand. Lucas ‘Titi’ Rodríguez found the back of the net for D.C. in the second half, bringing the Black-and-Red the match winning goal in the 73’. 

Lucas ‘Titi’ Rodríguez and Quincy Amarikwa celebrate

Quincy Amarikwa may not have scored for the Black-and-Red, however, he did log his first assist in Black-and-Red. Amarikwa’s major accomplishment of the match, however, was getting inside of the Galaxy’s heads. He epically trolled the players on the pitch, getting uncomfortably close to Zlatan, and putting on a show of crying in front of Alvarez. While Amarikwa was rewarded with a yellow card for his theatrics by referee Alan Kelly… It. Was. So. Worth. It.

While Ben Olsen usually waits until the final minutes of the match are ticking away on the clock to make any changes, he chose to forgo substitutions entirely. Instead, he opted to let the XI continue on with their ‘rhythm and familiarity.’

While the move could have cost D.C. due to fatigue, every player put in 90’+ and still seemed to have gas left in the tank.  Perhaps this option isn’t sustainable, but Olsen bet correctly Sunday night, preserving quite a few sets of fresh legs for Vancouver and a rivalry match with the Red Bulls.

‘Bill Hamid, Bill, Bill, Hamid!’

Zlatan is denied by Bill Hamid

LA’s Zlatan Ibrahimović had a record-breaking match, tallying 14 shots. His scoring record was substantially less impressive, as he was soundly denied any scoring chance by D.C.’s defense, and homegrown goalkeeper, Bill Hamid. Hamid’s cat-like reflexes were put to the test the entire evening and he delivered, racking up five saves for the Black-and-Red (although it certainly felt like more). 

The one and only, Bill Hamid

In the second half, Zlatan fired a rocket of a shot toward D.C.’s goal that seemed destined to find the net. Hamid sprang into action, deflecting the shot and refusing the towering Swede a seemingly perfect goal scoring opportunity. Hamid stood up to chants from supporters, and applause from Zlatan himself.

A ‘Culture of Meritocracy’

Quincy Amarikwa getting vertical

For D.C. United’s Quincy Amarikwa and Jalen Robinson, their start in Sunday’s match was well earned. Amarikwa said, “We wanted to come out and prove a point where we are in the season.” He continued, “A lot of the work we put in goes unseen. We have to show up every day prepared to play, and we typically go home disappointed because we don’t get an opportunity to showcase what we can do.”

Amarikwa believes that a player’s time to shine will come, “maybe it’s in week one, and maybe it’s in week 30. I think the guys who haven’t gotten minutes stepped up and showed why and how to contribute. I think it’s a testament to our group. It shows that we have depth… I think building a culture of meritocracy is important here, and I think that’s what we’re doing.”

Jalen Robinson

Jalen Robinson was assigned to the tough task of defending Zlatan. He said, “I think people forget, this is my sixth year. I’ve dealt with forwards like that [Zlatan]…Zlatan is a big dude, but I had to step up to the challenge. No matter what, I just gave it my all for my team. It was just nice that he didn’t score.”

Robinson, who has played with D.C.’s second team for years, is ready to challenge the misconception of the Black-and-Red lacking depth.

“I don’t think people realize; we have a good team. What you don’t see is, our second team has always been good. I think I can testify to that because I’ve been on the second team for so long. We’ve always been super deep. You know, we came out tonight, Quincy, myself, Uli…we came and showed everything we had. What better way to get three points?”

Amarikwa has some advice for those doubting D.C. United, “Don’t take us lightly. If you do, it’s a mistake. If you come, we’re ready. That’s what tonight was and we’re looking forward to the run into the playoffs here.” Robinson agreed, a smile on his face, “We’re going to be a problem. I guarantee we’re going to be a problem.”

D.C. hits the road to face the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday and will return to Audi Field for a rivalry match with the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, August 21st

As always, Vamos United!

All images: Patrick Rouin // Twitter: @PR4_photography // IG: @pr4_photography

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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It Was Certainly ‘A Week’ for D.C. United

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
MLSFemale Editor-In-Chief 
Official DC United Reporter

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

The past seven days have been tumultuous for D.C. United, to say the least. A 5-1 drubbing by the Philadelphia Union last Sunday saw D.C.’s midfield further depleted, as homegrown player Chris Durkin suffered an ankle injury described as a ‘snap and pop’ by coach Ben Olsen. Then, only three short days remained before the summer transfer window came to a close on Wednesday. 

D.C. United has historically waited until the last minute to make major transfer window announcements. However, with a plethora of injuries and a recent shaky record both at home and on the road, making the right decisions during this window were critical for the Black-and-Red to keep their playoff run aspirations alive. 

And then… there were decisions outside of D.C.’s control.

About That Match

Sunday’s D.C. United match against the Philadelphia Union had just about everything, except a D.C. win. A goal by Alejandro Bedoya in the 3’ (after which he called upon Congress to do something about gun violence) tipped the scale in Philadelphia’s favor, and D.C. was unable to recover.

DC’s Junior Moreno proceeded to be booked with a red card in the 40’, taking DC United down to 10 men shortly before halftime. While Philadelphia collected a handful of yellow cards, they also racked up another goal. The Black-and-Red were sent to halftime down 0-2.

Even after defender Fred Brillant found the back of the net in the 54’, the flurry of goals that followed from Philadelphia left D.C. empty handed at the final whistle. The Black-and-Red finished with zero points to show, and down two midfielders from this match alone (Durkin due to injury and Moreno due to a red card).

Wayne Rooney is Heading Home

D.C. United’s captain Wayne Rooney flew to the UK on Monday, sparking rumors that quickly ignited a social media blaze. As it became public knowledge that Rooney was meeting with Derby County to discuss a player-coach role, speculation rose as to whether or not his transfer would be immediate. 

Even in the late hours of Monday evening, an immediate transfer of Rooney to Derby County remained a possibility, and Black-and-Red supporters wondered if they had seen the last of their English captain. Thankfully for both D.C. United and the team’s supporters, Rooney will stay on until the end of the 2019 season before leaving the District for good. 

If Not for The Last Minute, Nothing Would Get Done

With news of Rooney’s imminent exit hanging over the District, D.C. United was busy making moves in the final days and hours of the summer transfer window. Rumors abounded including the likes of Mario Balotelli and Mesut Özil, and of course, Yamil Asad (who will not return, much to our chagrin).

After the dust settled and the transfer window officially closed, it was Ola Kamara, Emmanuel ‘Ema’ Boateng, and Felipe Martins who made their way into the Black-and-Red’s ranks.

Ola Kamara

Norwegian international Kamara has spent the better part of 2019 with Shenzhen FC in the Chinese Super League. The forward was acquired for $2.5 million, D.C. United’s second largest transfer fee ever. Previously, Kamara has played for the Columbus Crew SC and LA Galaxy in MLS, as well as several clubs internationally. Unfortunately, Kamara is unavailable for today’s match against the LA Galaxy due to a visa hold up.

Emmanuel Boateng 

Ema Boateng is another LA Galaxy alum, having played for LA the past four seasons. 25-year-old Boateng began his career at the Right to Dream Academy in his home country of Ghana before moving to the US to play Division I soccer at UC Santa Barbara. A flexible player, Boateng is capable of contributing to D.C. United’s midfield or attack. He is available to play in today’s match against his former team.

Felipe Martins

The decision to sign Martins from the Vancouver Whitecaps has drawn much ire from D.C.’s supporters.  However, at a time when D.C.’s midfield is sorely lacking, Martins is a much-needed addition to the roster. Martins himself has acknowledged the long memory of D.C. supporters and has pledged to win them over through his hard work.

[Prior to this week, D.C. mutually parted ways with both Zoltan Stieber and Chris McCann. Akeem Ward was released and Gordan Wild, formerly a midfielder for Atlanta United, was signed.]

The Zlatan Show Comes to D.C.

As D.C. United face off with the LA Galaxy today in a sold-out match, one of the most often asked questions has been, “will Zlatan play?”  Ibrahimović has missed playing in a few matches recently (due to distance, turf, or other factors) however he will indeed be in the District tonight.  The Swede will go up against his former Manchester United teammate, Wayne Rooney, for the last time ever in MLS (barring a miracle where both teams meet in the playoffs).

D.C. United is expected to shake up the roster a bit this evening. With D.C.’s midfield mostly out of the picture (Canouse and Durkin with injuries, and Moreno with a red card), we may actually see Boateng and Martins hit the pitch. Kamara is still out of consideration due to a pending visa. 

Will the Black-and-Red rise to the occasion with Rooney on his way out the door? My friend Laura reminded me of an important fact this week…

As always, Vamos United! I’ll see you all at Audi Field tonight!

Featured image: @dcunited

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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All Fired Up… For a Draw

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
MLSFemale Editor-In-Chief
Official DC United Reporter

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

D.C. United XI: Bill Hamid; Lucas Rodríguez, Steven Birnbaum, Frédéric Brillant, Donovan Pines, Leonardo Jara; Júnior Moreno, Russell Canouse (Chris Durkin 65′); Luciano Acosta, Wayne Rooney (Ulises Segura 90′), Paul Arriola (Joseph Mora 88′)

For D.C. United, a win tonight was critical. Losing their early season momentum, the Black-and-Red had started to slide down the Eastern Conference standings.  Sitting precariously in 4th place before tonight’s match, D.C. needed to pull out all the stops.  Unfortunately, the Black-and-Red were unable to secure three points, drawing 0-0 with the Chicago Fire.

As the playoffs loom ever closer on the horizon, D.C. has come under pressure as other teams, such as Atlanta United and NYCFC, have settled into a mid-season rhythm. The Black-and-Red have to watch their backs if they intend to compete for a playoff berth. In MLS anything can happen, as D.C. United handily proved last season.

While tonight’s match was by no means a showstopper the likes of Friday’s LAFC v Atlanta matchup, the early moments had D.C. fans holding their breath. Just a few minutes in, a heart-stopping set piece by the Chicago Fire almost caught D.C. United napping. Defender Frédéric Brillant, in a feat of immense skill (and perhaps a touch of luck), managed to clear the shot and preserve D.C.’s clean sheet. 

Time and again, the Black-and-Red attempted to breach the Fire’s defenses, but not even a bevy of attempts by Lucho Acosta and Lucas ‘Titi’ Rodríguez were able to send one home. With both sides unable to find the back of the net, the match went to halftime at a predictable 0-0.

Another dangerous corner from Chicago. Photo credit: Joe Cromwell

No substitutions were made during halftime to shakeup D.C.’s play, and the second half plodded along much like the first. While both sides played a physical game, neither emerged as lethal. The match remained scoreless.

D.C. found themselves pressed by Chicago, and midfielder Russell Canouse took two successive hard knocks courtesy of the Fire’s C.J. Sapong. The second foul included what announcer Dave Johnson said looked like ‘a cleat to the ribs.’ Canouse was quickly pulled from the match, homegrown midfielder Chris Durkin taking his place on the pitch.

After continued missed attempts by D.C United, it seemed that captain Wayne Rooney would be able to convert a free-kick into a point on the board. As the ball sailed over the wall and rocketed toward the goal, it seemed inevitable that it would find the net. Chicago Fire goalkeeper, Kenneth Kronholm, dove, pulling off a massive save to deny D.C.’s captain.

In the waning minutes of the match, Ben Olsen made his final substitutions. Pulling Paul Arriola for Joseph Mora, and Wayne Rooney for Ulises Segura, it was clear that Olsen intended to bunker and finish out the match with a draw, much to the disappointment of Black-and-Red supporters.

“We need points,” said Brillant, “it’s not enough tonight.” Indeed, tonight was not enough to put D.C. back on top of the Eastern Conference. However, a sound thrashing of the Philadelphia Union by the Montreal Impact and yesterday’s defeat of Atlanta United at the hands of LAFC have allowed D.C. United to sneak into 3rd place. 

D.C. United goes head-to-head with the Philadelphia Union on August 4th, as they return home to Audi Field.

Featured image: @ChicagoFire

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

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Rob Gillespie Comes Home to D.C. United

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
Official DC United Reporter

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

Since the Beginning

Audi Field just turned a year old this past week, but one of D.C. United’s most ardent supporters only recently passed through the stadium’s gates for the first time. 96’er and Barra Brava elder, Rob Gillespie, finally made his way home. Affectionately known in the Black-and-Red community as ‘Big Rob’, Gillespie has been a fixture in the D.C. United community for over 20 years, his story woven into the fabric of the Club’s history.

Rob remembers the beginning of D.C. United. A gifted storyteller, he is able to transport his listener back in time with tales of Lot 8 and a young Ben Olsen on the pitch. Now, there are no more tailgates in Lot 8, and Ben Olsen has become United’s head coach who is shaping the future of the team. However, some of the original 96’ers, like Rob, remain; preserving the traditions they can and sharing the past with a new generation of supporters.

Becoming a part of the Barra Brava happened by chance, with a fight between Rob and Barra founder, Oscar Zambrana, resulting in their friendship and him joining the group. 

“I actually got into the Barra Brava because Oscar Zambrana, the founder of the Barra Brava and I got into a fight over a misunderstanding. 

They were getting hassled by security down at the Barra and I started yelling at the security guys. Oscar mistook me yelling at the security guys for me yelling at the Barra guys. So, he came up and you know, we were both well lubricated at that point. We ended up getting in a little scuffle, which is good on Oscar, because I’m twice his size. 

Then some people pulled us apart, and were able to explain to Oscar… I was trying to explain to him while we were fighting… that I was actually on his side in this thing. Then about 10 minutes later he came and grabbed me and dragged me down into the Barra and I sort of stayed ever since.”

Coming Home

Despite his long relationship with the Club and testifying in front of the D.C. City Council in an effort that ultimately helped win the permission for the construction of D.C. United’s new home, Rob had never visited the Stadium at Buzzard Point. A 2012 diagnosis with a rare form of Leukemia upended Rob’s life and he was eventually forced to move out of the area due to the financial strain; leaving the District before Audi Field ever opened its gates.

After years away, Rob finally came home to D.C. and on July 12th he headed to Audi Field to see his team, D.C. United, face off against the New England Revolution. 

Rob’s first reaction to seeing Audi Field was one of almost disbelief, as he saw the long-awaited new home of D.C. United.  He said, “It was surreal, to turn down third street and see the stadium for the first time. Finally, it was there after all those years.” 

Although happy to see a new home for D.C. United realized, Rob felt that something was missing. “I share Bruce Arena’s disappointment that there isn’t more connection with the past. That’s something I noticed right off.” Rob said. 

Accompanied by his sister, Aryka, and his son, Marco (named after Bolivian and D.C. legend, Marco Etcheverry), Rob was in for a warm reception. He said, “it was just a great experience, definitely a coming home, even though we live in a new house.” 

“It was amazing. It really was. I went to training on Thursday. I’ve been friends with Ben and Dave Kasper for almost 20 years, and I got a good chance to talk to them and see them. Ben made sure all the players came over and said hello. I don’t know most of them, so they introduced themselves. I went up into 130 to see Marco’s aunt and uncle, and that’s where a lot of the old time Screaming Eagles are at and people clapped when I went up there. I was completely overwhelmed by that… It was just one old friend after another.”

Photo Credit: Kim Kolb

While Rob spent the match alongside the Barra Brava and friends he hadn’t seen in years, his family were guests of a local medical practice and D.C. United official oral surgeons, Fairfax Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (FOMS), in their suite. Prior to Rob’s homecoming, FOMS had taken to social media to auction off suite tickets in support of his treatment. 

Aryka and Marco debate a play. Photo Credit: Sarah Kallassy

At halftime, Rob made his way to the FOMS suite to check on his son and thank those who had participated in the auction on his behalf. Dave Johnson, play-by-play announcer and legend in the D.C. sports scene, was there to greet him. Having known each other for years, Dave wanted to show his support by spending the match with Rob’s family and some of the community who had come together to support him. 

Dave Johnson and Rob Gillespie. Photo Courtesy of Rob Gillespie.

“From day one he has cared about the team and he has cared about others. In short, Rob helped make D.C. United more than a club, he helped make it a family. Through good times and not so good we are always united, and it only adds to the times when we are united with Rob.”

… Dave Johnson, D.C. United play-by-play announcer
Dave Johnson with Rob’s son, Marco, and sister, Aryka. Photo Credit: Sarah Kallassy

D.C. United took a draw against Bruce Arena’s New England Revolution, finishing the match 2-2. Even after dramatics on the pitch worthy of an Oscar (Quincy Amarikwa’s stunning goal, anyone?), the Black-and-Red were unable to secure three points at home. 

Ben Olsen, who Gillespie has watched play (and now coach) since he was a young man, came over to greet his old friend. 

“Ben came over to see me at the end of the game and, he had tears in his eyes. And he said, ‘God I wanted to get that win for you. I’m so sorry.’ I said, ‘No man, it was great. A great comeback. I’m really happy.’”

Photo Credit: Kim Kolb

“I wasn’t happy about the unpleasant little thing that happened.” Rob said, referring to those who chose that poignant moment to begin chanting ‘Olsen out.’ “I thought it was disrespectful. Ben’s done as much if not more than anyone to build that house, that beautiful stadium that we have… That was a really special time for me and him. I would have rather they said [something] about me than about Ben.” Rob continued, “I don’t think it’s wrong to criticize somebody… There was a place and time for that kind of criticism. But that [the stadium] was not the place. Especially not for someone like Ben.”

Gillespie wasn’t alone in his criticism of those choosing that moment to voice their criticism of D.C. United’s coach. Supporters took the offenders to task on social media, calling them out for their poor timing. 

“We always had a rule or a policy within the Barra Brava where we did not boo the team, we didn’t do any of these negative things in the stadium, it wasn’t the place. That was the place for 100% support, win, lose, or draw.” 

‘Win Championships, Serve the Community’

Gillespie has long been a part of D.C. United’s legacy to serve the community, participating in everything from cleanups at the Anacostia River, to getting local schools ready for the new school year. He has taken to heart D.C. United’s slogan of ‘win championships, serve the community’. 

Rob believes, “There is no better way to get rewards than to give.” After years of serving the community he loves, Gillespie is now the one in need of help. 

“My life is a perfect example of that I always tried to give. I never thought I would need any help. Look at me now, I’m still alive in large part because of my relationship with D.C. United. I could not raise the money I need for cancer treatment without that relationship.”

With his out of pocket cancer treatment costs totaling between $3,500-5,000, plus travel, each month, Rob has come to rely on his community – his D.C. United family, to help him raise the money he needs to stay alive. “The people that support me day in and day out, week in and week out, they are D.C. United people.” 

While Rob’s cancer is rare and incurable, treatment is helping to extend his life. As a single father, Gillespie is driven to continue fighting cancer to have more time with his son, Marco.

Sometimes, help comes from unexpected places. Just last year, “out of nowhere, Jozy Altidore donated $1,700. This is a player I’ve had no connection with and that just really gave me a little bit of breathing room. It really helped.” Rob said. 

Of course, “the ideal situation is that you wouldn’t have to do this at all and could just focus on getting healthy.” Rob has had to conduct constant fundraising since he depleted his $900,000 savings and proceeds from the sale of his house. Gillespie calls the process, “humiliating and extremely stressful.”  

A Family

Even through the hardships, Rob remains positive and committed to the D.C. United and Barra Brava family, the same family he credits with keeping him alive through their fundraising efforts and sharing his story. 

“You can never go wrong by thinking about DC United or the Barra, or the Screaming Eagles, or whomever as a family. You want to show that love and respect and put in that work that you would in a family. Care for your brothers and sisters who are at your side. That’s really important.” 

As Rob continues his battle with cancer, the D.C. United family remembers how much he has given to our community, and we all stand with him, united.

Author’s Note: If you would like to support Rob Gillespie’s fight against cancer and help him pay for life extending treatment so he can continue to be with his son, please donate! ‪

PayPal/Venmo: nffc65@gmail.com or CashApp: $MarcoDad

Featured image: Kim Kolb // Twitter: @NestDevil09 // IG: kolbkl

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

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D.C. Draws with Toronto, Sending Nick DeLeon Home with A Point

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
Official D.C. United Reporter

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

D.C. United XI: Bill Hamid; Chris McCann (Marquinhos Pedroso, HT’), Steven Birnbaum, Frederic Brillant, Leonardo Jara; Russell Canouse, Lucas Rodriguez, Ulises Segura (Quincy Amarikwa, 80′), Zoltan Stieber (Chris Durkin, 66′); Wayne Rooney, Luciano Acosta 

Sunset at Audi Field, we are underway. Photo credit: Sarah Kallassy

If you felt a sense of deja-vu after D.C. United’s matchup with Toronto FC this Saturday, you’re not alone. In their second meeting in as many months, the two teams yet again split points as they drew, 1-1.

Black-and-Red supporters and pundits alike were banking on Toronto arriving in the District with a squad depleted by international duty. No one doubted that D.C.’s heat and humidity would put the visitors at a further disadvantage. It almost came as a surprise when Toronto scored early in the first half.

Toronto’s goal scorer was none other than former D.C. United player Nick DeLeon. In the 19’, DeLeon slotted a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Bill Hamid to put Toronto on the board and leave the Black-and-Red seeking an equalizer.

A nasty foul brought D.C. defender Fred Brillant down in the box and led to a penalty kick that would put the Black-and-Red on the board. In a deviation from his usual technique, Captain Wayne Rooney drove the shot dead center to equalize the match. 

D.C.’s Captain was far from elated though. Toronto gave the Black-and-Red a difficult time from the start. Head Coach Ben Olsen said, “they are a tough team to prepare for, because they throw you for a loop with a false 9 in Pozuelo, and we didn’t think they would go that way and it took us a little while to adjust.”

 As a result of Toronto’s clever tactics, D.C. United were left chasing a single goal for the entire match. Were it not for Rooney’s successful penalty kick, Nick DeLeon would have likely headed back to Toronto with three points.

Even with a draw at home, Olsen, said, “I was proud of the second half and the effort to get something out of it… it wasn’t the end of the world.”

D.C. United hits the road this week for what Olsen says will be “a very tough game July 4thin Dallas”, where temperatures are predicted to soar into the 90s with a high percentage of humidity. 

Head Coach Ben Olsen has been lamenting the challenges brought by ‘summer soccer’, but D.C.’s Captain remains nonplussed. Wayne Rooney said, “yeah, its hot in Dallas, I was there a few weeks ago and experienced the heat there. We’ll be fine I think.”  

With the impending return of Moreno and Arriola from international duty, we can only hope that Rooney’s confidence is contagious, and D.C. is able to nab three points on the road. 

Featured image: @dcunited

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United Night OUT Sees D.C. Best Orlando

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
Official D.C. United Reporter

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

D.C. United v Orlando City SC: 1-0

D.C. United XI: Bill Hamid; Joseph Mora, Steven Birnbaum, Frederic Brillant, Leonardo Jara; Chris Durkin, Russell Canouse, Lucas Rodriguez, Ulises Segura, Luciano Acosta (Quincy Amarikwa, 88′); Wayne Rooney 

A Match, A Celebration, A Remembrance

Photo credit: D.C. United

Wednesday night saw Audi Field packed for both the matchup between D.C. United and Orlando City SC and for United Night OUT. The win against Orlando made the evening even more special, as D.C. United Captain Wayne Rooney scored from his own half in a feat he has pulled off for each club he’s played for now, including Manchester United and Everton.

Falling just before the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a historic moment that sparked the gay rights movement in the United States, this year’s United Night OUT was particularly poignant.  

Photo credit: D.C. United

While this year isn’t the first that D.C. United has celebrated Pride, it is the first year that the club has changed its logo on social media in support, and the second-year players have worn rainbow numbers and the rainbow captain’s armband.  D.C. United also held a minute’s applause in the 49′ for those who lost their lives in the Pulse Night Club shooting in Orlando.

I was lucky enough to spend part of the match with Jim Ensor, a D.C. United season ticket holder since 1996 and a member of Federal Triangles Soccer Club (FTSC), the organization that hosts United Night OUT.

Photo credit: Jim Ensor

United Night OUT is presented by Team DC as part of their Night OUT series. Ensor and FTSC worked closely with D.C. United to coordinate the entire evening, from the coin toss and flag bearers, to the performance of the National Anthem by DC Different Drummers. Through the FTSC website, over 500 tickets were sold, a portion of their proceeds donated to D.C. Scores.

An interview with Jim Ensor

While we all tried to recover Rooney’s first half stunner, and had our fingers crossed that Orlando wouldn’t score, Ensor kindly discussed his thoughts on United Night OUT with me:

Sarah Kallassy: What would you like to see the community to gain from United Night OUT?

Jim Ensor: I want people to feel that they are part of this club, I want them to feel comfortable in the stands. I want them to be excited about the team on the field and feel connected to the organization behind the team on the field. More importantly, I want the team to reach out to the community as a whole…however you identify, we all are the community.

SK: How can someone be an ally or a better ally?

JE: Allies can listen, participate, and really be a part of it.

Listen. Be a part of our peoples’ lives, encourage them to be themselves. Allow them the opportunity to express themselves and create without judgement. We don’t need pandering; we don’t need sympathy. It’s very normal. That’s probably the biggest lesson, is to understand that its normal. 

Participate, learn more about what it is we’re going through. Learn more about our history. When we get to a point that parents and family and friends are not worried about someone coming out, or not feeling like they have to be an ally, that’s when we’re in a better place.

SK: What would you like someone to take away from tonight?

JE: The sense of community and being united is the most important part of it. We’ve got a long way to go. We have a very long way to go. I’ll continue to advocate for participation and inclusion, and for us to be united on and off the field.

“I don’t take it lightly that I’m sitting here feeling comfortable in the stands at a professional event, where they feel comfortable acknowledging our existence, acknowledging that we are part of the community. There are a lot of people that have paved the way to this and sacrificed and given up a lot for us to be here and enjoy this moment.”

Jim Ensor, Federal Triangles Soccer Club

Author’s note: A special thank you to Jim Ensor, who was one of the first people in the D.C. United community to welcome me as a reporter to this club. It was an honor to speak with you, and I will always remember what you said about the responsibility of this platform and honoring those who have come before me.

Featured image: @unitednightout

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

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We’re Here For The Soccer

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
Official D.C. United Reporter,
MLSFemale.com

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

Women are here for soccer, representing an influential 42% of Major League Soccer’s fanbase. We attend matches, we are season ticket holders, we are leaders in our supporters’ groups; we promote and share the sport we love.

‘We Fan’

‘We Fan’

Recently, SeatGeek, Official Ticketing Partner of Major League Soccer, developed and released a research report entitled, ‘We Fan’. In cooperation with MLS, the ticketing company sent a survey to 300,000 fans to better understand both their ticket purchasing behavior and how to improve their fan experience. From a diverse group of 1,200 respondents, SeatGeek identified a few of the ways female fans want MLS to recognize their presence. 

According to the ‘We Fan’ study, female fans #1 request is to be featured in advertising, representing their legitimate status as soccer fans. One of SeatGeek’s respondents said, “Market to us not as moms or wives, but as fans.” In response, SeatGeek will be turning the spotlight on female fans through a ‘We Fan’ advertising campaign, created by an all-female crew.

Female fans who participated in the ‘We Fan’ survey also wanted MLS to recognize their purchasing preferences. Female fans want more choice. They want merchandise that fits their personality and unique style. Respondents also requested varied concession options at stadiums.

SeatGeek’s ‘We Fan’ study is an important step in amplifying the voices of female fans and celebrating their presence in soccer culture, but the work is far from over.

We Wanted to Ask… You

Our passion for soccer runs deep at MLSFemale. We are a group of all female journalists, who are first and foremost supporters of our teams and the vibrant communities surrounding them. We asked our readers, followers, and staff to share their experiences as female fans with us. 

It is a privilege to share their insightful responses with you, as they discuss assumptions, representation, inclusivity, community, and why we need women’s cut authentic jerseys.

On Assumptions: We’re Here Because We Want to Be

“I just want to be a fan; not a “female fan.” And D.C. United does a good job of making me feel that way.”

Laura Kakuk, D.C. United supporter

“Treat me with the assumption that I am there because of my own decision. Often, people assume that you are there with a boyfriend, husband, significant other, kid who plays soccer, etc. There isn’t this acceptance, still, that a female loves the sport enough to show up on her own will.”

Bailey Brown, FC Dallas supporter and ISC Representative

“I haven’t had a problem as a female who’s a fan, though most people think my husband got the tickets and I tag along (I got him into the team).”

Willow Dalton, NYCFC supporter, STH, and founding member

On Why Representation Matters

“When we say we want more representation, I think we’re talking about a lot more than putting women in ads. The way you treat the women and women-presenting folks working for you is far more convincing than an ad campaign could ever be.”

Hope, Seattle Sounders supporter

“I think it’s important to highlight that many MLS fans are women and we support this league just as many men do. I have never given up on the team and I never will.”

Julia Sepe, NE Revolution supporter and STH

“I personally think that D.C. United does a great job of knowing their fans are not just men, and have a wide variety of merchandise, advertisers, and I’ve always felt welcome at the games.”

Emily, D.C. United supporter

“League wide, I think they should focus on having more female coaches, trainers, and commentators. As we all always say… representation matters.”

Dayna O’Gorman, Sporting KC supporter

“I think one thing that could really improve the experience is if the local broadcast teams had more female pundits. When you are watching a sport and everyone who is commenting on it are men, and then you try to have a conversation with someone… I feel like I get taken less seriously because of my gender. The biggest thing for me that I think the MLS can do, is to hire more females, have them be more visible, and that would make the fan experience better.”

Halles Serres, Portland Timbers supporter

“I feel that Minnesota United and the Dark Clouds are very welcoming, and my experience has been overall really positive. I can speak for myself when I say that a few years ago I couldn’t see myself being as heavily involved with Dark Clouds as I am now. I think it helps that there are quite a few women that are in prominent roles in the Dark Clouds, like capo.”

Helen, MNUFC supporter, Dark Clouds SG member

“There definitely could be more representation in marketing at the fan level. By this, I mean, let’s show solo females. I don’t want to always see a female with family or with a male in a marketing sense. Instead, celebrate the women who work in your front office, celebrate the fans, and make this about females who are contributing to the soccer culture in your community in a positive way.”

Bailey Brown, FC Dallas supporter and ISC Representative

About Those Jerseys… 

“It seems pretty clear that MLS is marketed to men as a primary audience and women as a secondary audience. One example: It’s been challenging to find a women’s jersey that doesn’t have a deep V-neck cut. Like, I don’t want to be a sexy Timbers supporter. I just want a shirt that fits.”

Kelly Hall, Portland Timbers supporter, 107ist member

“One gripe I have is that the “fun” merch is always in men’s cut. So-called “unisex” t-shirts look awful on me, but all the merch that’s more amusing (like the pigeon shirts) tend to only be in men’s cut.”

Willow Dalton, NYCFC supporter, STH, and founding member

“There is something I’ve been saying from Day 1:  CAN WE PLEASE HAVE AUTHENTIC FEMALE CUT KITS?!  I get that they would be naturally less “authentic” because the players wearing them are males, so the authentic kit will be the male cut.  But I’d love a female cut kit with the special touches – the 4 stars denoting our championships and the button-down neckline.”

Laura Kakuk, D.C. United supporter

“I think they should change the marketing and fit of their women’s jerseys. Not everyone wants a deep neckline.”

Dayna O’Gorman, Sporting KC supporter

On Inclusivity 

“Orlando City as a club are very inclusive of female fans in my experience. Kay Rawlins who is the co-founder of Orlando City is the pioneer and epitome of female inclusion within the team. She is a well-respected part of Orlando from both myself, male and female fans alike. Kay has a very hands on approach and is very visible to the fanbase, interacting with fans on social media and outside of games.”

“Kay is also very supportive of inclusion of [those with] disabilities and LGBT [community] as well. I feel like having a founder with her way of thinking and views, has created the feeling of inclusiveness regardless of your gender, sexuality, religion, age or disability, which is why I love this club.”

Charlotte, Orlando City SC supporter from the UK

“The best part about my supporters’ group and my team is they don’t see gender, orientation, race, ethnicity, or age. We all bleed black and red, and that’s all that matters.”

Karen DiFederico, D.C. United supporter, La Barra Brava member

“The stadium has an indoor fan area with…TVs showing the match. It was always used as a room for breastfeeding babies.  That’s a great example of inclusivity for women. I didn’t have to choose between being a mom or a supporter because there was space for me to be both.”

Kelly Hall, Portland Timbers supporter, 107ist member

“It was a Pride Night match. There were rainbows everywhere and I mean everywhere! They were handing out rainbow flags to every single fan. And nobody was declining them or using derogatory language about them. The second I saw our (then) captain Brad Evans step out onto the pitch with a rainbow armband I felt like I had finally, after years of being a sports fan and always leaving because of homophobia, finally, found a team and possibly an entire professional sports organization where I could actually feel welcomed and belong.”

Kara Dannenhold, Seattle Sounders supporter

“I appreciate that the Sounders not only didn’t balk at partnering with a “feminine” sponsor like Zulily but have embraced it. I appreciate the no-nonsense approach to handling complaints about pink kits and players wearing ‘sports bras’ for analytics. The more they treat this stuff as normal the less stigma there is in being ‘girly’.”

Hope, Seattle Sounders supporter and STH

On Building a Community

“What I would like to see as a woman, are more women looking to connect with other women. I seriously don’t know any women that go to games alone like I do most of the time and I end up connecting with the guys. It would be cool to have content that connects us in some way.”

Sara Phillips, D.C. United Supporter and STH

“I’ve actually connected more with the team and the fans because of the away games that I’ve been able to go to; specifically speaking, Angel City Brigade, one of the Galaxy’s SGs, have welcomed me with open arms. I would’ve called myself a lone die-hard fan that traveled to games, but now I’ve found that I’ve made so many friends through traveling to these games.”

Pamela Garcia, LA Galaxy supporter

Author’s note: I would like to thank every reader, follower, and staff member that took the time to respond when I asked for your thoughts. Your insight, strength, and willingness to share has me in awe. This is truly your article, and I am proud to share your story.

Featured image: @SeatGeek

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

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D.C. United Out of the Running for the U.S. Open Cup

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
Official D.C. United Reporter

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

D.C. United XI: Chris Seitz; Leonardo Jara (Jalen Robinson, HT), Frédéric Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Chris Durkin, Antonio Bustamante (Russell Canouse, 70’), Lucas Rodríguez (Griffin Yow, 87’), Luciano Acosta, Ulises Segura; Wayne Rooney

The Match

D.C. United bowed out of the U.S. Open Cup in today’s match against NYCFC, losing 1-2 at home. The disappointing loss comes on the heels of a dramatic win in extra time against the Philadelphia Union just last week.

The Black-and-Red faithful and a small contingent of NYCFC’s supporter group, The Third Rail, were situated at opposing ends of the stadium, their face off mirroring the battle on the pitch. Both groups of supporters fought to be heard while their respective teams rallied in a quest to advance to the quarterfinals.

D.C.’s faithful. Photo Credit: Sarah Kallassy

Wednesday’s match seemed to be going in D.C. United’s favor at first, after an early NYCFC goal that had slipped past goalkeeper Chris Seitz was canceled in the 7’ due to a handball. After a missed attempt, Captain Wayne Rooney rocketed one into the back of the net in the 32’, opening D.C. United’s account for the match.

Unfortunately, Rooney’s goal would be the last of the Black-and-Red’s good fortune for the match. NYCFC broke through D.C. United’s defense to score in the 38’ and 41’. D.C. was sent into halftime down, 1-2.

After halftime, homegrown defender Jalen Robinson entered the match for Leonardo Jara, who had been feeling ill. However, no further substitutions were made by D.C.’s Head Coach Ben Olsen until much later in the second half, despite the pressure from NYCFC on the pitch.

As NYCFC continued to press D.C., Olsen brought on experienced midfielder Russell Canouse in the 70’. Even with the addition of homegrown striker Griffin Yow in the 87′, the Black-and-Red were still unable to find the equalizer. D.C. fell 1-2 to NYCFC, closing the door on a run toward the U.S. Open Cup this season.

A Fractured Squad

D.C. United entered the match against NYCFC with a fractured squad. Given the availability and health of D.C.’s players, it is no surprise they were not at their best Wednesday night against NYCFC. 

Paul Arriola and Junior Moreno are on international duty, for the USMNT and Venezuelan National Team respectively. Leonardo Jara, D.C.’s creative defender, is suffering from a minor illness that was further exacerbated by the heat and humidity. Russell Canouse, another regular starter, is still making a journey toward full fitness after an ankle injury.

Looking Forward

D.C. United will face off against Orlando City SC next Wednesday, June 26th, as they move into the second half of the MLS season. Out of the running for the Open Cup, D.C. can now shift focus to prioritize League matches, while the return of Arriola and Moreno from international duty and better health throughout the squad will give Ben Olsen greater flexibility as D.C. begins a push toward the playoffs.

Vamos United!

Featured image: @dcunited

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

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