The opportunity came, as most do, suddenly. DC Stoddert Soccer coach and City Football Club program director Dan Driscoll was tapped to manage local media relations for the 2009 Concacaf Gold Cup round one doubleheader at RFK July 8, and needed enthusiastic and reliable volunteers. So he asked DC Stoddert Soccer Board Chairman Dave Sarley if any players would like to participate in the opening ceremonies and serve as ball boys and girls.
Would they ever!
“We have a great volunteer base of passionate soccer fans and committed organizers,” says Driscoll, who is on DC Stoddert’s Board of Directors. “It was a no-brainer.”
More than 25 DC Stoddert and City FC® youth players, including a cadre from the newly rechristened U16 Spartans (formerly the Rockets), learned that the athletes aren’t the only ones in the stadium working hard. Volunteers had to arrive at RFK three hours before the 7 pm match between Haiti and Grenada to receive assignments and gray Nike shirts. A group of DC Stoddert girls carried the Fair Play flag onto the pitch. Other members of the DC Stoddert crew manned positions behind both goals and around the field, scrambling over fences and into seats to retrieve the scores of balls that flew out of bounds.
No sooner had a fleet-footed Haiti defeated Grenada’s plucky team 2-0 then the U.S. took to the field against Honduras, whose fans filled the stands with blue-and-white flags, hats and other symbols of national pride. Despite having a clear edge in the cheering section, Honduras coudn’t return fire, dropping a goal in each half to lose 2-0 to team USA.
Ball boys, including (from left) Darwin, Stefan, Gerard, David, Kevin and Dom of the rising U16 Spartans, and Josselin from the U17 Metros, getting their marching orders before the first of two Gold Cup matches at RFK July 8.
The Stoddert Soccer players finally left the field around 11 pm, exhausted but elated by the chance to see high-level soccer from as close to the field as you can get without being one of the athletes.
"I would have never had the chance to stand next to Freddy Adu, see Charlie ‘Speedy’ Davis so close up on the field or to toss a ball to Steve Cherundolo if it was not for City FC®,” says Vincent Omekam, a two-year member of the City FC® U19 boys’ “Black” team who is headed to the University of Pittsburgh in the fall. “I had a great time at the Gold Cup doubleheader. The stadium was packed, the environment was amazing. But to stand that close to the players was spectacular, and it would not have been possible without City FC®. I am very grateful and proud of what this organization is doing."
Ciara Mackey, a member of the DC Stoddert’s girls’ U15 Extreme travel team, was one of the lucky players who served in the opening ceremonies.
“The Gold Cup was really fun, and carrying the flag was such a good experience,” recalls Mackey. “I never knew so much work went into carrying the flag!”
Several members of City FC®’s coaching staff at the City FC® Summer Excellence Program volunteered at the media check-in booth and as translators and runners supporting the broadcast operations. In return for their services, the volunteers were treated to the best seats in the house for the seconds half of the United States’ exciting victory over Honduras: a field-level view of the match from the steps of one of the dugouts.
“The Gold Cup doubleheader was one of the best live soccer matches I have been to in the U.S. in terms of atmosphere,” adds DC Stoddert Chairman Sarley, a native of England. “The large partisan crowd decked in sky blue and white helped create an atmosphere closer to a European or Latin American game with their noise and banter with the red white and blue of
Sarley believes some negative press about the quality of the U.S. team’s performance was unfair.
“The U.S. performance, while not spectacular was impressive because it was played as a virtual away game.”
Many of the volunteers echo Sarley’s sentiment, pointing out that the Americans’ goals – the first by D.C. United fan-favorite Santino Quaranta, the second by MLS All-Star Brian Ching – were clinical finishing displays from which every young player should model his or her technique.
A former player in Grenada’s first division, Sarley was also invited to meet with Grenada’s national team after their game against Haiti.One of the Grenada team management even claimed he remembered me as a player, although he said I had more hair in those days"
“Few people ever have a chance to be on the pitch for such a high-profile match,” notes Driscoll. “What an incredible experience to literally feel the emotions and intensity of the fans supporting all of the teams, and then to see how much their passion fed the energies of the players on the pitch: it was simply stunning.” Photo: KSL TV
City FC® and DC Stoddert would like to thank D.C. United’s Ben Hawkins and Steven Zack for arranging for our players to serve as ball retrievers and flag bearers during the opening ceremonies.
And a special thanks to Dan Driscoll for inviting our players to one inspired evening.