Soccer is the world’s game. FIFA, the sport’s global governing body, estimates almost half of people on Earth tuned in during the 2018 Men’s World Cup. The 2022 tournament this fall may draw even higher numbers. With the Women’s Euro 2022 Final setting a new attendance record for soccer overall, the U.S. Women’s National Team can also expect large viewership as they look to defend their two consecutive World Cup trophies in summer 2023.
The game’s significant presence in D.C. is not surprising: D.C.’s a global city. While walking all corners of the District, people proudly sport jerseys from national teams like Colombia, Japan and Portugal, and clubs from around the world like Arsenal, Barcelona and Cruz Azul. Social leagues swarm neighborhood fields. Add in our two professional teams and you could say soccer is the District’s game, too.
Whether you call it fútbol, futebol, Fußball, footie or soccer, here’s a primer on watching “the beautiful game” in the District.
A “Round” the District
While soccer’s popularity continues to increase around the U.S., the game is nothing new in the District. The Washington Senators, better known for baseball, fielded one of the first professional teams in the country in 1894. Thirty years later, the Dick, Kerr Ladies FC, a superstar-laden English women’s team named after their founders, garnered national press with a dramatic 4-4 draw against a local men’s team.
RFK Stadium housed four short-lived men’s teams from the 1960s to the 1980s, including the Washington Darts, coached by Lincoln Phillips, the first professional Black soccer coach in the U.S. Phillips, originally from Trinidad and Tobago, later led the Howard Bison to two undefeated seasons and two NCAA championships.
D.C. United was founded in mid-1990s, the same year D.C. hosted four memorable World Cup games. The Black and Red won three of the league’s first four championship games, the first dynasty in Major League Soccer (MLS). Now, with former Manchester United and D.C. United player Wayne Rooney back as head coach, winning ways may return.
Current National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) champions, the Washington Spirit, started in 2012. Their roster teems with many of the league’s most exciting players, including Ashley Hatch, Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman, as well as veteran U.S. defenders Emily Sonnett and Kelley O’Hara.
Games, Games, Games
With so many leagues and competitions, soccer’s restless calendar can be overwhelming. European domestic leagues compete late summer to late spring, with most games on Saturdays and Sundays. In North America, MLS, NWSL and Mexico’s Liga MX run the opposite, from spring to fall.
Club teams compete weekly, amassing points for wins and ties (draws). Whoever has the most points at the end of the months-long season wins. “Derbies,” when teams from the city or region vie, are highlights of domestic leagues.
Clubs — as well as national teams — also play in tournaments for cups (trophies). These fiercely contested games usually must have a winner. Penalty shoot-outs and over (extra) time often occur. Europe’s annual Champions League and the quadrennial World Cup are two of the biggest tournaments, having produced many of soccer’s most iconic moments.
Hitting the Bar
Whether pumping your fist in victory or holding your face in despair, watching soccer with company is one of the best ways to experience its dramatic allure. To celebrate or commiserate with fellow fans, you can head to a soccer bar like Dupont Circle’s Across the Pond, owned and operated by Michael Waters.
“When people are here watching games, the atmosphere is electric,” Waters says. “Big matches are very exciting. The door’s always revolving. It’s standing room only. It’s phenomenal how much Americans have adopted European soccer.”
Equipped with 16 TVs, seven DIRECTV boxes, four Apple TVs, three Rokus, Dish and four sound zones, Across the Pond can stream almost any game you want to see. They specialize in England’s Premier League, fitting as D.C. consistently tops the average viewership ratings according to NBC, the Premier League’s U.S. broadcaster.
Three Premier League fan clubs — the DC Toffees, D.C. Hammers and Nottingham Forest Washington DC — call Across the Pond home. Watching a game with a fan club is a great way to learn about a club’s players, history, chants and overall culture — and also to talk tactics and trash. Waters is particularly excited about the upcoming World Cups given D.C.’s diversity and Across the Pond’s proximity to Embassy Row. His staff is already prepping for early morning games.
Elephant & Castle on Pennsylvania Avenue, home to D.C.’s Penya Barcelonista group, is a good stop for Spain’s LaLiga games.
Fans of the German Bundesliga should check out Capitol Hill’s Biergarten Haus.
As for Italy’s Serie A, Lupo Verde on 14th is a great place to watch.
For Arielle Bodner, a soccer fan working in youth programming, watching a game in the supporter’s section at Audi Field is the best way to enjoy soccer in the District.
“The welcoming environment makes it so much more enjoyable than watching at home. There is cheering, chanting and all-around excitement.”
She makes a point of supporting the Washington Spirit and stresses the impact the team can have on younger fans.
“We have incredibly talented players who have won World Cups, Olympic medals and have been called up to the National Team,” Bodner says. “They deserve the same amount of support given to male athletes. When young fans see thousands of people cheering and supporting their favorite team and players, it leaves an impression on them.”
When, where and however you choose to watch soccer in the District, Waters and Bodner have the same advice. You don’t need to know the rules or the teams or the players; if you show up, you’re on the team.
United + Spirit Fan Clubs
La Barra Brava
Rose Room Collective
D.C.’s soccer fan club for members of the queer community and their friends, families and allies. @202Unique on Twitter
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