Longform

Total ConFusion

Page 3 of 8

The D.C. United game in late May at which PK's livelihood was put in jeopardy is a ripe example of the predicament in which the Fusion finds itself. The crowd is a paltry 7000-plus. The east end of the stadium contains barely enough people to field a pickup game. One of the largest contingents of fans is camped out underneath a Bolivian flag. They are there not to cheer on the Fusion but to salute United's playmaker supreme, Marco Etcheverry, and his Bolivian compatriot, Jaime Moreno.

Despite the somber atmosphere and the complete domination of the game by D.C. United, the Fusion mounts an unlikely comeback. What the Fusion lacks in grace (which is hard to underestimate), it makes up for with grass-eating tenacity -- at least for the final 15 minutes. After a flurry of activity in front of the D.C. United goal, Fusion midfielder John Maessner propels the ball toward the net from the top of the box, scissor-kicking it over his head -- the crowd-pleasing bicycle kick. A lurking Diego Serna heads it home. The Fusion is down by just a goal with ten minutes to go.

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:

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Paul Demko
Contact: Paul Demko