The Naked and the Dead: NYCFC’s loss to D.C. United

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After NYCFC’s loss, you walk out of the press box, across the catwalk above the celebrating locals and pack into an elevator that will take you down in to the bowels of the mid-century marvel that is RFK. You pass cinder block walls and trod down avenue-wide hallways to a tiny windowless room packed with press and cameras and laptops. Ben Olsen, the D.C. United head coach steps carefully around tripods and over cables and sits behind a folding table to discuss D.C. United’s win, NYCFC’s loss.

The Naked and the Dead: NYCFC’s loss to D.C. United

“You had two teams that wanted to win a ballgame” he says. “And it looked like that the last 15 minutes.” He shakes his head. “They’re a handful” he says, “they’re not a fun team to play offensively.”

And you wander down ever narrower corridors, passing dozens of wet and nameless people, whom you ask for directions. “You go that way about as far as you think you can go, then you go farther, and you’ll see it” says one, and if there’s a better metaphor for the Citizens’ season, you’ve yet to hear it.

And you pass the unglamourous machinery of sport, past laundries and boiler rooms, to another cinder block room where you show your credentials to the man at the door and then you’re in amongst the players, as they strip off their kit, as they hit the showers, as they sit in folding chairs in front of their temporary lockers.

And it suddenly hits you; oh yeah, these are just guys.

Not gods, but just guys who have known the lightning’s hour, guys you might bump into in the street. Not massive mountains of muscle like football players. Not Brobdingnagian exiles like in the NBA. They’re as lithe as deer. They’re barely six feet tall. They’re young men – even the old men in this game are still young men – and they’re so disappointed and angry that walking into the locker room after NYCFC’s loss to D.C. United is like walking into a funeral parlor. All hushed tones and bitter, downcast eyes.

You see Frank Lampard but you can tell, even across the room, that while he might endure you, he doesn’t really want to talk to you. And you see David Villa, sitting inside his locker with a towel draped over his head, emerging only when the Univision crew arrives to politely answer questions about NYCFC’s loss to D.C. United.

And you see Andrew Jacobson, a player you’ve come to admire and appreciate, sitting in front of his locker, showered, dressed, bored, frustrated, and you ask him if he’d answer a few questions about tonight’s game. And he agrees and you are again reminded of these players’ humanity. Because who wants to hang around the scene of their disappointment in order to rehash it. Who wants to say, “Here’s my wound, let’s pick at it together, shall we?”

You ask him if the pitch played a part in NYCFC’s loss, because it rained all game, and he says, no, because it was the same for both sides. And you ask him what he thinks D.C. United figured out at half time, because they came out like gangbusters at the start of the second half, and he points out that basically they had five guys on the front line for the last 45, and that’s tricky. And you ask him about how his role has changed, because you see him bringing the ball up the pitch more, and is that a conscious strategy, or more of a reaction to the moment, and he shrugs. And you ask him if he thinks the team has trouble holding a lead, and he politely disagrees with the assessment, even when you bring up NYCFC’s loss to the Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium, comparing and contrasting the two games with a depth one wouldn’t expect of someone who’d just been running around in the cold and soggy D.C. night for the past ninety minutes. And you end by thanking him for his time, and also for his play, because he’s on your fantasy team, and that gets a chuckle out of him and you count that as a win.

And you talk to Tommy MacNamara because while he didn’t play, you’d talked to him a few weeks ago, so you figured you could pick up the thread a bit. You ask him how they focus on the next couple of games, and he asks hopefully, “well, we’re not completely out of it, right?” And you hedge and tell him that you’ve been running the numbers and its really really tough now. And he says “well, then you play for pride, and you play for the fans, because they keep coming out and supporting us through the ups and downs.” And then you tell him you want to ask him a question totally off topic, and he looks a little wary, and you remind him that he was an economics major at Brown and has a masters in finance and statistics from Clemson – so, does he think Janet Yellen was right not to raise interest rates and does he think she will before the end of the year? And he laughs, and you count that as a win too.

And he leaves, and then you look around the dead cell of the locker room and think, the moments like these, the passing doubts, were temptations that caught you if you were not careful. So after a while you go out and leave the stadium and walk back to your car in the rain.

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