La Barra Brava D.C.s Legendary 12th Man cheer nonstop during United matches at RFK Stadium. The group members jump, chant and sing for 90 minutes of soccer in support of what is arguably the most successful team in MLS history.
Congressional staffer Charlie Armstrong still laughs about the time armed guards escorted him from a soccer game in Chile.
It was 2005 and Armstrong, who works for the Senate Office of the Legislative Counsel, had flown to Santiago with a few friends to support the D.C. United. When they arrived at the stadium, the small band of black and red supporters found themselves facing off against 20,000 raging Chilean fans.
The match grew so heated that officials had to intervene, ushering Armstrong and his friends behind an 18-foot protective fence to shield them from the riled-up crowd. When the final whistle blew, guards again swooped in to safely remove the United fans from the scene.
It was an unusual experience. Typically, soccer fans on the Hill spend more time fighting indifference. In a town long known for its love of the other kind of football, the sport associated with minivan-driving moms and European hooligans is still something of a mystery.
Despite their small numbers — or maybe because of them — the capital’s soccer fans are a die-hard group.
On game day, otherwise normal District residents transform into flag-waving, beer-throwing, chant-screaming super fans. For members of the United’s two major supporters clubs — the Screaming Eagles and La Barra Brava — cheering for D.C. is more than just a way to pass an afternoon. It’s a full-time obsession.
Armstrong and friends Paul Callen and Noah Wofsy, who work in the House Office of the Legislative Counsel, bought their season tickets in 1999 and haven’t looked back since. The Congressional staffers weren’t even soccer fans before the United took root in the nation’s capital.
“We just went to a game on a lark because it was a short walk to RFK,” Armstrong said.
The three have traveled across the country supporting the United, which is no easy feat for lawyers who have to meet the demands of a Congressional schedule. But the spot they keep coming back to is Section 231 in RFK Stadium.
Long before their obsession with the United began — before the three bought season tickets, plane tickets and countless beers — the team’s appeal was very close to home.
“Like many people in D.C., we come from different places, and we’re not natives of the area,” Wofsy said. “This was something we could feel would be ours and we wouldn’t have to share our loyalty with our hometown.”
And RFK Stadium’s location means getting to and from games — and tailgates — couldn’t be easier for those living and working on the Hill.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.