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Posted at 05:05 PM ET, 11/16/2006

Not Quite La Barra Brava in Terpsland, But Close-ish

(Notice how I'm trying to string D.C. United fans along for as long as possible by continuing to include their names in my post titles?)

So after having spent so much time with Barra Bravas and Screaming Eagles this fall, I figured I needed to spend a night with The Crew, the Maryland soccer team's student fan club. Like the BBs and the Eagles, the Crew have had to gradually find their way with team and stadium officials, who don't always have the same idea about what a soccer crowd should look like as soccer fans do. Artificial noisemakers are out, per ACC rules, which is a major problem. I ran into one of my pals from the Barra last night (who called me Dan Weinberg), and he was mighty disappointed by the lack of drums. There are also no flags or smokebombs, although when I told some of The Crew's leaders about the Barra, they asked whether I had brought any smokebombs. (I hadn't.)

The Crew compensates with a very specific strategy: attempting to find as many different ways as possible to insult the opposing goalkeepers without using profanity or making distasteful racial or ethnic comments. They take this mission very seriously. It would be an impossible mission without the invention of the word "suck," which is employed in more ways than I would have ever thought possible.

Anyhow, I'll get to the specifics later. First here's the backstory. Mike Mastrantuono is a history and philosophy major and soccer freak from Jersey who never got much of a look from college soccer programs. He was briefly recruited by Ursinus. That was it. So when he came to Maryland, he turned himself into a fan. He went to the first game his freshman year with a few friends, and noticed that the end stands at Ludwig Field were directly on top of the goals. "That's beautiful," he thought. He sat there and heckled the UCLA goalie during warmups. The UCLA goalie talked right back. The conversation continued during the game.

People liked it. Soon, the leaders--Mike, Scott Shores, Evan Hauptmann, Dave Berry--had a gang of 30 or 40 hecklers, who would switch goals at halftime to stay near their target and would follow their leaders' chants. Over the years, the gang continued to grow. Maryland players and Coach Sasho Cirovski began praising The Crew in interviews. Opposing goalies began flicking them off and spraying them with water. Opposing fans began copying their cheers. Eventually they became a group of several hundred loosely affiliated members. Other Maryland teams asked them to come to their games, but The Crew politely declined such invitations; "I've told 'em, we're not sports mercenaries," Mike said. "Our passion is for soccer."

Like any good supporters group, they now have traditions that no longer make sense. They do cheers for a Maryland goalie who graduated two years ago; "why do we do that?" I heard someone ask last night. They count down with the clock from 2:15 to 2:10, in honor of a 210-pound goalie the Terps used to face. They've developed a certain rapport with "Joe," a security guard behind one of the goals. They take photos with him. They hug him. They consider him a surrogate grandfather. He greets them by name. He wears a Maryland scarf and does a little dance when the Terps score. He shoos them out of the aisles, and then they gradually drift back, and then he shoos them again. It's all very pleasant.

And they have certain heckling standards, which the much-maligned-in-these-parts Robin Ficker would appreciate. No cursing. No comments about family members. "We're not going to be like, 'I [did something inappropriate] to your mom last night; we'll make fun of their physical appearance," Mike said. "I feel like we're the model of spectator conduct."

So let's take last night, an NCAA playoff game against St. John's. Mike was warned late afternoon that St. John's would be bringing several buses of fans, so he got on the phone and urged his people to show up around 90 minutes early to claim their seats. The St. John's people finally arrived around 6:45, including one guy in a Flash costume who briefly distracted Mike from our interview.

"Wow!" Mike yelled at the guy. "You are a joke! A complete joke!"

Anyhow, the St. John's starting goalie was 6-foot-7 Jason Landers, a skinny chap. "A string bean," as Mike said. That, it would turn out, would be the focus of the night. Among the comments:

"Jason, you are a lanky, lanky man."

"Are you a skeleton?"

"I can see your shoulder blades."

"You are ugly, Jason."

"You have no frame, Jason."

"Jason, I'm really worried about your frail bone structure."

"Are you sure your bones aren't disintegrating right now?"

"You look really frail."

"Milk! Drink it."

"Orange juice with ice!"

"By the way, you are frail and disgusting-looking."

(If Jason's family members are reading this, don't take it the wrong way. I think in other settings, Jason and The Crew might actually be close friends. And The Crew does things like cheer for injured opponents when they get up. I'm not convinced DCU fans would do the same.)

And here's a sampling of some of the non-skinny jokes, which were intermixed with shrill banshee-screaming of Jason's first name and lots of traditional "you suck" chants:

"You're pathetic, Jason."

"Jason, why do you suck at life?"

"Ohhhhhhhhhhh, you suck Jason!"

"Oh my God, you do."

"I've said that before and didn't mean it, but this time I really mean it. You really do suck."

"Shut up Jason, nobody likes you."

"Jason, you kick like my little sister."

"Jason, I looked you up on Facebook and you have no friends and your musical interests include New Kids on the Block." [Followed by an a capella rendition of "The Right Stuff," followed by "you don't have it, you idiot, you have the wrong stuff, it's terrible stuff."]

"Jason, your defense hates you, they gave up that goal on purpose."

"You've got the worst goalie in the land," sung to the tune of "I've Got the Whole World in My Hands."

"That was a disgusting display of goalkeeping, Jason, thank you for that."

"If you hate Jason Landers, clap your hands," sung to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know, it Clap Your Hands."

"Jason, I hate you."

"Me too, I hate you too."

"I concur."

And so on. They sing and jump after goals, and they do call and response cheers across the entire length of the field, and they travel to road games, and they consider The Crew one of the most important parts of their lives. The St. John's fans last night were doing things like chanting "De-fense" in unison; The Crew would sooner be beaten into unconsciousness with shin guards than chant "De-fense" at a soccer game. Some of them go to basketball games too, but it's different there. A small group of leaders can't direct the entire crowd in cheers. And soccer opponents actually hear this stuff. I ran into former St. John's star Jeff Carroll, now part of D.C. United but decked out in a St. John's shirt last night, and asked him about The Crew.

"They're great fans," he said. "It sucks if you're the other team, though."

Truth be told, change is on the horizon. Last night could have been the senior class's last home game; Maryland's 2-0 win extended their careers at least one more game. But Mike is set to graduate this spring; he wants to be a history teacher, ideally in this area, so he can still follow the Terps. He'll still come to men's soccer games, but starting next fall, he'll sit in the grown-up person section. You know, cutting the cord and all that. A few more of the original leaders will also graduate.

"It's definitely going to be a huge void in my life," Berry said. "This is our baby. It's amazing to see how it's grown....As far as we know, there is nothing else in the country like this."

Mike has designated his successor--it's too sensitive to disclose yet--but he admits that he worries about what will happen. Everyone wants a legacy. He wonders about the possibility that five years from now, The Crew might be no more.

"I won't lie, I do," he said. "That fear will always be in the back of my head. I'm definitely scared of that. But as long as Maryland stays a top-notch program and people are still enthused, I think it'll be ok. I think it'll be all right."

By  |  05:05 PM ET, 11/16/2006

Categories:  College Soccer, College Soccer, College Soccer

 
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