She's lived the scene too many times. Kim Klyberg will be chatting with her co-workers on a Monday morning. Inevitably the banter will turn to Sunday's Redskins game. They'll collectively moan about a loss or relive a memorable play. Then someone will ask how her weekend went.
"Oh, it was great," she'll beam. "I went to a D.C. United game, and they won."
Vacant stares. Then comes the next question, the one Klyberg finds particularly hard to digest.
"Are they any good?" someone asks, after making the connection between the team's name and soccer, clearly oblivious to the club's championship history.
It's not easy being a fan of Washington's best-kept secret--its professional soccer team. While Daniel Snyder's facial expressions are analyzed hourly on television on game day, and while we may know more about Norv Turner than about some our own relatives, there are still locals who don't know whether D.C. United is a soccer team or some new airline. And for D.C. United fans, the apathy and ignorance are even more galling now that their team will play today in Foxboro, Mass., in a bid for its third Major League Soccer championship in four years.
When the Orioles, Wizards or Capitals even make a bid for the playoffs, there's a buzz. When a Springfield team goes to the Little League World Series, people take notice. But not so with soccer, fans such as Klyberg complain.
"How many championships do we have to win before we get our just recognition?" asked Klyberg, an ardent fan who will be in Foxboro. "We're not asking a lot. Basically, it comes down to simple respect from the media and the general public."
Klyberg doesn't care about how the Redskins are doing. The 31-year-old doesn't care about the football players' tribulations off the field. Instead, she's envious of all the air time and ink that news organizations lavish on them--space and time she figures could be used to cover her team better.
But more than that, Klyberg said, it's tiring to have to educate people so often about the success of the team whenever she mentions its name.
It's not that United fans want fans of the other teams to switch all their attention to soccer. They just want to be included in the thoughts of sports fans some of the time.
"People follow the Skins in the fall, the Caps and Wizards in the winter and the Orioles in the spring," said Klyberg, who works as an office temp. "But there is this other team that you can support. . . . There should be pride when a local team is vying for a national championship."
But putting your heart in a soccer team in Washington takes grit. Klyberg has run into the football-only types who tell her that soccer is a sissy sport played by foreigners. And while working for an arm of the World Bank, she ran into people born in Latin America and Europe who looked down on U.S. soccer as inferior. To that, Klyberg responds quickly with the tale of her team's win over the legendary Brazilian club Vasco da Gama.
Klyberg didn't always have such a passion for her now-favorite sport. She grew up in New England rooting for the Patriots in football, the Red Sox in baseball and the Celtics in basketball. But she came to American University, and a friend took her to a United game in 1996. By the end of the year, she was hooked. The next season, she went to almost every home game and soon was traveling to away games from Columbus, Ohio, to Pasadena, Calif. At one match about a year ago, she met David Lifton, now her boyfriend.
Step into the couple's Adams-Morgan studio apartment and symbols of their shared D.C. United passion are everywhere. An autographed soccer ball in a Plexiglas case sits on the room's main counter. Nearby are the autographed goalkeeper's gloves that Klyberg bought for $200. And next to them, in a wooden frame, is a photo of the couple with D.C. United star Jaime Moreno. Lifton pulls out a framed picture of himself and former goalkeeper Scott Garlick from a glass cabinet that otherwise houses photos of close friends and family. And now he's flashing a stack of signed player cards he keeps nearby, the same type that's plastered all over the refrigerator door.
Klyberg has even tried to spread her enthusiasm among her neighbors. It's not an uncommon impulse among some D.C. United fanatics. Every chance they have, they try to enlighten friends and colleagues about the joys of uninterrupted play. Some fans say they've even offered co-workers free tickets and beer to lure them to games--and still often are turned down.
One night this spring, Klyberg put on her red-and-black D.C. United jersey and set up an information table in the lobby of her apartment building. When people walked by, she tried to recruit them to attend a game.
"It was a hard sell," she remembered. "Some just looked at me like I had three heads."
Such memories seemed a long way off Thursday night. Klyberg and Lifton were getting ready to leave the next morning for the championship game. To them, it's a game that's every bit as big as any Super Bowl or World Series game. David would pack the black jeans, black long-sleeve T-shirt, black shoes, black socks and black jersey that he wears every game day for good luck. Kim would gather her necklace with 11 miniature soccer balls, one for each team member. And she'd find room for the carved, hollow wooden fish that she brings to each game and beats like a drum.
Before they did that, they sat and imagined for just a moment a different world. Where people would stand around water coolers and talk about the city's soccer team on the days leading up to the championship. Where TV stations would interview players nightly in a buildup to game day. Where there would be soccer parties all over town. And where there would be that electric buzz, letting everyone know that something special was about to happen.
But they couldn't find any special D.C. United television broadcasts this night. Instead, the couple settled for a videotape of an old game. The two were soon transfixed, as if they were watching it for the first time, and stopped talking as the ball got closer to the opponent's goal.
In an instant, a kick by a D.C. United player sent the ball sailing into the net. Klyberg's arms instinctively went over her head. She began jumping. Finally she stopped, placed her hand over her heart and gently began to pat her chest as happiness filled the room.