By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
La Sur de los Afusionados reignites. The big bass drum, scrawled with the names of fans and players, pounds. Chants of "AVamos, vamos Fusion!" once again reverberate through the west end of the stadium. A gangly, longhaired Afusionado in an Argentina jersey stands precariously on the fence at the front of the section and whips a shirt wildly above his head. Section 113 is momentarily a cauldron of soccer passion amid the vast emptiness of Lockhart Stadium.
Then comes the kick to the groin.
Throughout the week the Fusion had run advertisements in the daily newspapers touting the D.C. United match as a biblical battle between good and evil. Marco Etcheverry, who is known as El Diablo (the Devil), was cast in the role of evil. Jeff Cassar, the Fusion's musclebound goalkeeper, has been christened Superman and was the standard-bearer for the forces of good. Etcheverry's head was adorned with horns in the ads; Cassar sported a halo.
As the final seconds of the game tick away, Cassar is far upfield, hoping to assist in the Fusion's final attack. The ball, however, somehow ends up at Etcheverry's magic -- and devilish -- feet. As Cassar retreats to his goal, El Diablo chips the ball softly over Superman's head. The ball trickles into the empty net. Time expires. Evil has triumphed over good. Again.
Over the last two seasons, the Afusionados have often felt cast in the role of evil by Fusion management.
Early last year, as the Fusion rushed to get Lockhart Stadium ready for opening night, Facundo Estevez began an ad hoc campaign to create a supporters group for the club. He loitered at various pedestrian-heavy locales in South Florida -- South Beach, Miami-Dade Community College -- preaching the Gospel of fœtbol. Estevez carried props to help communicate his message: pictures of passionate South American soccer fans. The 23-year-old, who was born in Miami and has lived in Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia, wanted to bring that passion to South Florida. He envisioned 5000 supporters jumping and singing in unison, an airplane so packed with exuberant Fusion fans en route to an away game that it would shake as if going through a nasty pocket of turbulence.
Estevez gathered about 2000 names, telephone numbers, and addresses of passersby who expressed interest in being part of the group. Without a nickel of the Fusion's money, he was building what could become a core fan base for the team.
Around the same time, Andrew Hazleton was working in a similar vein, but through the Internet. Hazleton is a 32-year-old computer networks salesman with a soccer-rich bloodline of Brazilian and English heritage. Also with his own resources, he created a Website for the Fusion and an electronic mailing list to keep would-be fans updated on developments concerning the neophyte team.
Eventually the two formed the Afusionados, bringing their groups together -- without any help from the Fusion, ironic given the team's name.
The problems began when Estevez and Hazleton approached Fusion management with their project. The team was initially helpful and provided stamps for the Afusionados' first mailing to potential members and a separate ticket booth was set up at Lockhart Stadium for the supporters group.
But as the crowds dwindled in every other part of the stadium, section 113 began to feel like an armed encampment. There were often a half-dozen cops posted around the admittedly tumultuous Afusionados. Drums were confiscated. Paper was confiscated. "The straw that broke the camel's back was the kid that was thrown out for blowing a whistle," says Hazleton. There were so many police in the area that the Afusionados came up with songs for them -- in Spanish, naturally. One of them, as translated by Estevez (admittedly, it loses some of its charm in English), goes:
Police police police
I feel sorry for you
Every time you come bother us
Your wife goes stroke someone else.
In late April, Hazleton sat down with the police and Fusion management to resolve problems in section 113. Drums and paper, everyone present decided, would be allowed into the stadium, but not firecrackers, flares, or anything that could cause damage. Hazleton believed progress had been made.
At the match immediately after this meeting, several Afusionados were tossed from the game for throwing... toilet paper. In the ensuing ruckus, several supporters, including Hazleton, were arrested.
"The police, they weren't used to a crowd like ours," says Andres Jervis, another Afusionados leader. "They weren't used to the passion that soccer brings. They thought that we were gonna riot and kill people."
For the most part, the problems with law enforcement have been resolved this year. With the exception of an overzealous Afusionado who destroyed a toilet paper dispenser in the men's room after a rare Fusion victory, the only run-ins with the police have been on the road at Tampa Bay.
One major reason for the easing of tensions in section 113 is Dona Cardoza, an administrative assistant with the Fusion. She has become a kind of Afusionados den mother. Cardoza knows each of the hard-core supporters by name and understands how to deal with their antics. "I smack them, and I push them, and I pull them, and they don't say boo to me, because they respect me," says Cardoza. At home games she diffuses the Afusionados' baser instincts, while keeping the police and security guards at bay.