Although the result on the pitch was not what most D.C. United fans would have hoped, there were at least two groups of supporters who had their disappointment softened somewhat. Kim Klyberg and her boyfriend Dave Lifton, as well as Christopher and Sharon DiMascio and David and Milene Kent were lucky winners of a pair of contests that gave them a unique opportunity to interact with members of the Black-and-Red.
Klyberg and Lifton joined United in Columbus. As a fundraiser for the club's charitable arm, United for D.C., the team offered an all-expense paid trip with the team to see the Black-and-Red take on the Crew in the final match of the season between the two teams, courtesy of Budweiser. A more fitting winner could probably not have been found, as Klyberg and Lifton have long been some of United's most fervent supporters.
Klyberg, now president of the Screaming Eagles, first joined the supporters group in 1997 and has been an avid fan ever since. Although she and Lifton are roadtrip veterans, having planned and organized several of the supporters group's outings to cheer on the Black-and-Red over the years, this was easily the best experience yet.
As two of United's most devoted fans, the couple were quite familiar with the faces of the team, but the recognition was reciprocal as well. Through Klyberg's strong volunteer presence at both team and charity events, both as a Screaming Eagle and on a personal level, many of the guys recognized both of the winners. Conversation was easy, if slightly awkward at times.
"We really didn't want to bother the team," said Klyberg. "It was great being around them, but we never feel like we want to impose when we're around the team, all we want is 90 minutes of solid play out of them, we don't need to be their buddies. We don't expect them to recognize us, or know our name. We're there for them."
A bit closer to home, Dale City played host to another unique event for small group of fans. Earlier this year Kraft Foods sponsored a sweepstakes where two lucky United fans could win the opportunity to host a barbecue in their backyard, inviting a few of their closest friends and a few members of the Black-and-Red.
Christopher and Sharon DiMascio were the lucky winners of the Backyard Barbecue sweeps. David and Milene Kent, more long-term fans of the Black-and-Red, offered their home - in particular David's basement, filled with United memorabilia - as the venue. Freddy Adu, Nick Rimando and captain Ryan Nelsen joined a small group of friends on an overcast day. Despite the cloudy skies and the threat of rain, everyone present had a great time.
Adu took a crack at the pool table, but showed that he's clearly more comfortable with on a larger expanse of green, as he went down quickly to the host. Rimando fared a little better, nearly winning before leaving a wide-open shot on the 8-ball.
Despite the loss in Columbus on Saturday, United took a step towards a return to the playoffs. With New England's loss to Chicago, United's magic number fell to four, with three games remaining. United can guarantee themselves a playoff spot this weekend with a win against the MetroStars and a loss or tie by New England. Even a draw makes things easy for the Black-and-Red, as they will then need only a win in either of their last two matches to return to the playoffs. United still hold one of the best home records in Major League Soccer, trailing only Columbus in the East (Columbus holds a game in hand to United) and Colorado.
John Roushkolb is a contributor to dcunited.com.