Legendary D.C. United and Washington Wizards play-by-play voice, Dave Johnson, gratiously gave us his time on Monday to discuss the upcoming 2022 MLS season. Dave and I discussed his favorite DCU opening kickoff weekend memories, his views on the importance of the DCU supporters groups, and our 2022 DCU predictions.
In talking to Dave, I was struck by his passion. Passion not only for his job as the voice of DCU, or for the results on the field - but an unrivaled passion for the health of the club, the community around it, and the American soccer enterprise. It’s clear that Dave genuinely loves this club, and the people who have made D.C. United what it is today – with our supporters groups front and center.
Favorite Opening Weekend Memories
Tyler McGillivray: When you look back the opening kickoff weekends that you’ve covered since 1996, what memory stands out to you the most?
Dave Johnson: “For me it will always be the first one. It was a great day, weather-wise – [I was] wondering how many people were going to show up, and you walked into the stadium, and there was 35,000 people at RFK. When I think about that first home game, and think about the reaction from those supporters, I thought… this is really happening… we’ve got real passion out there. Yea we had USMNT at RFK stadium over the years and I always thought Washington could support soccer, but I also didn’t know what to expect that opening weekend.”
“I still remember, I attended the opening game in San Jose for the entire league (San Jose vs DCU), and they had sold that out… and that wasn’t a surprise to me because it was a big event, and big events in the United States always sell out. I remember the commissioner at the time was asked what he wanted from the other home openers. He said that he was just hoping for five figures (in attendance).. in other words, at least 10,000. Somebody made the comment that he was underselling it, and I’m shaking my head thinking, no no no….I’ve worked and tried to help soccer teams since the late 80s, and in those days, if it was sunny, we would hope for 2,000 or 3,000 (attendance). I would have been doing cartwheels for 10,000 (at RFK for the 1996 home opener), instead we had 35,000 for that opener if I remember correctly. And that set us on our way.”
Thoughts on the D.C. United Supporters Groups
Dave Johnson: “Part of what is so special to me about the supporters groups is… we really showed the rest of Major League Soccer how to support a club. And that must never be forgotten. I think [in] the early years, network television always wanted to come here because this was the place that had the atmosphere from Day 1. We had TIFOs before we understood what a TIFO was. For me, it became a something to brag about. I still remember playing in the summer of 2006 against Glasgow Celtic. It was a quickly arranged friendly on a rainy Wednesday night. I remember the Scottish reporters asking me before the game, ‘how is the atmosphere going to be’, and I said, ‘oh no trust me, they’re (the supporters) are going to bring it’. At halftime that same reporter came up to me and said, ‘you were right’. I felt like the lead singer of AC/DC where I could say ‘they’re going to bring it’ and I had this incredible rock band behind me.”
“We’re about to hit season 27, and I think about all the people that I’ve met in the supporters groups… and they’re growing the fanbase organically. We have real fandom; knowledgeable fans in our market from Day 1. With the D.C. United community… yea we have different supporters groups, some larger than others… but if we all have the same goal, then that’s a pretty powerful force. Passion is sometimes an over-used word, but not with the D.C. supporters.”
“The supporters groups have really been the backbone of something special. Its not often you get the chance to establish something. With Major League Soccer, you have the chance to be part of something that the whole world is watching.”
2022 Season Outlook
Tyler McGillivray: How do you see things shaping up for D.C. United this year? Last year we were 1 point off the playoff mark, do you think DCU can improve in Losada’s second year?
Dave Johnson: “In other leagues you only have 5 or 6 teams that can win the title. [In MLS[ there are still clubs that are bigger spenders than others.. but you look at the history of this league and who wins the title and how they win the title… you never know what’s going to happen. I’m excited about this season because I do believe we have a special coach that has a track record of getting the most out of teams. He’s done it in Belgium; he has a certain enthusiasm and energy that’s backed by substance. He understands how he wants to play and how he wants to accomplish things. This was a team that almost made the playoffs last year… a few less injuries and they probably would have.”
“When I look at this team, no its not going to be favored to win the Eastern Conference… but you don’t win games on paper. You have a guy in Julian Gressel that can deliver some of the best [deliveries] you’re ever going to see in Major League Soccer. You’ve got some real quality. You’ve got a defense that’s coming back with Andy Najar, Birnbaum, Hines-Ike, and Bill Hamid… you have that at a foundation at one end. At the other end…[If Flores can have a healthy season] wow, we’ve seen the flashes of what a special player he can be.”
“Then the other exciting thing for me… this is a club where you talk about community connection with the fans; but we’re developing good players. It’s sad to see Kevin Paredes go, but that’s the business. We’re not the Bundesliga yet… and that’s a tribute to what he has done. If they had a Kevin Paredes in Germany, they would have signed him from Germany. And that’s a credit to D.C. United. Who’s going to be the next young player to step up? Moses Nyeman, Griffin Yow, Ted Ku-DiPietro… to me its exciting. I’m excited to see who emerges this season.”
“The start of the new season is a special time… the start of a new journey. If you come to the stadium it could change your life. I’ve met people who have met their spouses here. There’s going to be tough times, there’s going to be good times. But what can remain the constant is your passion and belief.”
Tyler McGillivray: Do you have a prediction for the match? I’m going 2-1 to United.
Dave Johnson: "Yeah I’m going to go with 2-0 (for D.C. United). There will be a lot of energy, we’ll get a shutout, and we’ll be on our way."
Dave Johnson: “My gratitute and thanks [for the supporters groups] is real. I really was crushed when we lost professional soccer here in the 1980s. It was an important thing in my life…so [the club and the supporters] have a special meaning to me.”
Let’s hope Dave is right and we get at least two “It’s in the net” calls on Saturday.
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