Billy Judd roamed the mostly empty stands two hours before yesterday's Team America game at RFK Stadium and realized he had a problem.
Two years ago, Judd rallied the area's soccer fans with an assortment of drumbeats and short monosyllabic cheers, including a "Let's Go Dips" cheer that pitted the two sides of the stadium against one another in a shouting match.
But Judd quickly realized the words "Team America" are difficult to work into a cheer.
"It has too many syllables," said Judd, 19, of Silver Spring, who worked the crowds in 1980 in a Washington Diplomats' uniform. "It's hard to work Team America into a cheer. But I guess I'll just 'USA' them to death."
Judd became the Diplomats' self-appointed cheerleader in 1980, and eventually gained sponsorship from the club in the form of free admission, a drum and a uniform. Judd, who paid his way into yesterday's game, hopes he can work out a similar arrangment with Team America.
"I have to get back to the crowd," said Judd. "I tried to keep the flame going for the past two years. I played drums in a band to keep in shape. I haven't approached Team America's management yet, but I hope they will see what I'm doing and we can work something out."
Rain and Mother's Day left Judd with a considerably smaller crowd to work with than he was used to. Only 14,211 fans attended yesterday's game, and most of them huddled under the stands by halftime trying to stay dry.
"Considering that we had two days of announcements saying it was going to rain, we are pleased this many came out," said Team America owner Robert Lifton. "My associate owners, the Winston people, who are very knowledgable with sports crowds, tell me this is a very good number. We would have had 20,000 if it weren't raining."
Youth teams formed the nucleus of yesterday's sparse crowd, and have been the focus of much of Team America's preseason marketing. Brian Ahearn, coach of the Vienna Rowdies 1972 team, brought his 15 players and wife/cocoach Bonnie directly from a 1-1 tie with the Springfield Blast. Ahearn feels Team America will provide role models for his players to emulate.
"Soccer is no longer just a game for foreigners," said Ahearn. "These players are easier to identify with than foreigners. But we love soccer. We wouldn't be here in the rain if we didn't."
The Annandale Boys Club, which played a series of youth matches on the stadium turf prior to the game, covered the stands in a sea of red and white uniform jersies. Bill Hylton, a member of the Annandale Senior Team, likes the concept of Team America and feels it will be a boon to soccer in the United States.
"Team America is a great idea," said Hylton, a 23-year-old student at American University. "But Americans want to see American-born players. They have some players on this team that aren't even (U.S.) citizens. But I think the other teams in the league will eventually turn to Americans as well."
Jimmy Williams, a 10-year-old on the Annandale fifth-level team, didn't entertain any such far-reaching thoughts, however.
"I'm lost," said Williams, scanning the crowd for his coach. "I'm supposed to be here with my team. I don't know any of the players on Team America. We're just supposed to be here to play a game."
John Zancanaro, former president of the Springfield Youth Club, thinks Team America will finally make soccer in this country a goal worth striving for.
"Inside, underneath, I have a lot of pride, but I don't talk about it much," said Zancanaro. "But I think this is a fantastic idea. I have two sons playing soccer, and I would love to see my kids try out and make this team. I would be very proud for them to represent their country."