As fans approached RFK Stadium on Saturday for the All-Star festivities, they were greeted by a mecca of interactive soccer activities hailed as "Soccer Celebration." The name is a fitting one that could be extended to the whole weekend's allure.
The 2004 Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game and the Celebration Game that precedes it are essentially soccer celebrations in and of themselves. The atmosphere around RFK Stadium on Saturday highlighted the celebratory aura that this year's event has taken on.
Fans of all ages gathered in the parking lots to tailgate and kick the ball around, while others lined up at the souvenir stands to buy T-shirts, hats and programs. The hottest selling items were -- not surprisingly -- anything containing the Freddy Adu moniker.
The best place to be to get the brain and body into the soccer mode was Soccer Celebration. With dozens of inflatable soccer challenges, competitions to enter and people to see, the fan's All-Star experience could only be completed by spending some time at this family-oriented event.
Some of the main attractions were the autograph booths, where fans were able to meet and mingle with some of Major League Soccer's most accomplished players, including John Harkes, Cobi Jones, Marcello Balboa and Tony Meola. Fans from all over the Washington metropolitan area and of all ages showed up to show off their skills and meet their idols.
"I really like soccer and coming to play the games," said young Alex Shaia of Richmond, Va. "It's fun and I want to see the games."
Jones, still one of the league's most exciting players at the Los Angeles Galaxy, agreed and said connecting with the league's youngest fans is important.
"I think it's great for the youth to have something to do to come out before the game," Jones said. "It's very important to show that we [the players] are not stand-offish and we enjoy interacting with the fans."
Katie Coulter, 10, of Burke, Va., found several ways to get involved.
"We come to a lot of D.C. United games," she said. "I like to play the games here and win the prizes. I want to see Landon Donovan."
The older fans had their own ideas about which game would be more entertaining.
"I came to see the 'old-timers' game," said Chip Bartosch of Stafford, Va. "I want to see how quickly they get winded."
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.