If you don't mind, I'd like to take a moment to tell a personal story.
You may have noticed that yesterday, D.C. United's supporters clubs mourned the passing of one of the team's most famous fans. Javier "Chico" Solares was a fixture at RFK Stadium for many years, and he was a friend to many people across the Washington area's vast soccer landscape.
I was one of those people. You all know that I grew up in the District, and I learned to appreciate soccer by spending many summer nights at RFK in high school and college.
I have long since given up any rooting interest in specific MLS teams. Instead, I root for communities. When I watch a game, whether on TV or in person, I'm as interested in in what the supporters' clubs do as what the players do.
From the earliest days of D.C. United's existence, Javier Solares played an instrumental role in creating a culture that would serve as the model for every fan base that has helped MLS grow over the years.
The announced attendance at United's game against the Montréal Impact last night was just over 10,000 fans. By D.C. standards, it was a disappointingly small crowd.
I caught bits and pieces of the 1-1 draw online during breaks in the Flyers game. It was impossible to miss the wide swaths of empty seats across RFK's famed bouncing bleachers.
But of the people who were there, I'm pretty sure a lot of them had some connection to Chico.
I haven't seen him in a while. I don't even remember whether I had time to catch up with him when the Union played at D.C. last year. But I have many great memories of the man. I will miss him, and I will miss knowing that he is at RFK every weekend supporting his team.
I first got to know Chico when I started going to United games nearly a dozen years ago. He was never hard to find. Before the game, he'd be in Lot 8 at the big tailgate party. During the game, he was front and center in section 135, the heart of the Barra Brava supporters club.
And at halftime, he'd be on the concourse, jamming in the drum circle that remains a staple of the RFK gameday experience.
I moved to Philadelphia full-time in late 2002, and only made it down to D.C. for one or two games a year. But Chico still recognized me when I came by. He would always have a smile and a hug ready for anyone who would say hello, and more often than not a good drink too.
You didn't have to be someone he knew to be treated that way. Whether you were there every week, as he was, or just an occasional visitor, Chico welcomed you into his life.
Now Chico won't be there anymore. He died of a heart attack Tuesday night, at age 53. The news came out of nowhere, and the suddenness of it only compounded the pain. Chico had some heart problems a few years back, but in recent times he had been in good health.
There have been a number of great tributes to Chico published across the Internet since has passing.
The biggest one, not surprisingly, was a collective thread on BigSoccer. Dozens of fans posted remarks there, even some who hadn't been on BigSoccer in ages. After Wednesday's game, a 1-1 draw with the Montréal Impact, somepictures of banners raised in Chico's memory were posted as well.
The Washington Post's Dan Steinberg wrote a personal reflection on his interactions with Chico over the years.
MLSSoccer.com's Matthew Doyle wrote about how he came to appreciate Chico's contributions to the electronic realm of the American soccer community, despite never having met him.
And this morning, D.C. United put together a video of the in-game tributes. You can watch it below, as well as a clip of the TV broadcast from the 12th minute of the game.
I posted a few remarks about Chico's passing on Twitter, and many other people who knew him did the same. So I thought it would be a good tribute to put together a compilation of those memories. You can read it below the video.
I know that some of you knew Chico, especially those of you who went to D.C. United games before the Union were founded. I hope that you'll share your memories in the comments.
If you did not know Chico, I hope you'll do me a favor. Take a moment to appreciate the people who anchor your community of soccer fans, whether you are in Philadelphia or elsewhere.
In our region, I think of people like Bryan James, Brad Youtz and Matt Ansbro, and the work they have done for so long to build up the Sons of Ben.
Going back to the old Philadelphia Charge days at Villanova Stadium, I remember spending spring afternoons with Adam Zebrowski and Paul Hanlin Jr., as they tried to build a supporters' culture for women's soccer.
And of course, I'm sure many of you know the name Roger Allaway. The renowned American soccer historian (and former Inquirer sports copy editor) still writes on BigSoccer from his home in Abington. I'm looking forward to my annual meeting with him next weekend, on press row at the Penn Relays.
I am lucky to be able to call all of these people friends, just as I was lucky to call Javier Solares a friend.
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