D.C. United opens new sta­dium on Satur­day

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY ADAM ZIELONKA AND ANDY KOSTKA

Be­fore the cer­e­mo­nial rib­bon was cut at Wash­ing­ton’s new soc­cer-spe­cific sta­dium in Buz­zard Point, Char­ity Black­well memo­ri­al­ized the mo­ment with a poem.

The spo­ken word artist, also di­rec­tor of writ­ing at the youth outreach pro­gram DC Scores, was the first of many guest speak­ers Mon­day af­ter­noon. But her words landed with the most im­pact.

“Ten years ago I didn’t know where I would be,” Black­well rapped at the con­clu­sion of her poem, “but right now, I’m in a city that em­braces di­ver­sity. ’Cause we live in times where back­grounds, be­liefs and pol­i­tics can be di­vi­sive — but D.C., like soc­cer, is a space where we all can feel United.”

Audi Field, a project in some sense 14 years in the mak­ing, will open for busi­ness Satur­day when D.C. United hosts the Van­cou­ver White­caps for a Ma­jor League Soc­cer match at 8 p.m.

“I want to say on be­half of all of us in Ma­jor League Soc­cer,” long­time MLS com­mis­sioner Don Gar­ber said, “this was the one sta­dium that we knew we needed and that we were wait­ing for for so long.”

His­tory

Audi Field re­places RFK Sta­dium as D.C. United’s home field. It is the 19th

MLS sta­dium to open, Gar­ber said, and the lat­est in a leaguewide trend of clubs con­struct­ing 20,000-seat build­ings for them­selves rather than shar­ing cav­ernous NFL are­nas.

The first plan to build a soc­cer sta­dium in the city can be traced to 2004, when Poplar Point was the pro­posed lo­ca­tion. When the Mon­treal Ex­pos moved to town and be­came the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als, con­struct­ing a base­ball sta­dium jumped ahead on the pri­or­ity list. Af­ter com­plaints about dis­plac­ing res­i­dents in Poplar Point, the soc­cer project was scrapped.

United also con­sid­ered build­ing in Prince George’s County near the Red­skins’ FedEx Field, but the county coun­cil there op­posed the plan.

In the 2010s, shortly af­ter the club was sold to Ja­son Levien and Erick Tho­hir, Buz­zard Point drew mo­men­tum as a real pos­si­bil­ity. The club and the Dis­trict reached an agree­ment in 2013 and the D.C. City Coun­cil ap­proved it the next year.

The city con­trib­uted $150 mil­lion for land ac­qui­si­tion, while United spent around $250 mil­lion to build.

Audi signed on for nam­ing rights to the sta­dium in Fe­bru­ary 2017, the same month the project broke ground. Be­cause the project was not fin­ished in time for the start of the 2018 MLS sea­son, United has been a team of road war­riors for most of the sea­son, head­ing to sta­di­ums in Mary­land for just two “home games” so far.

Food and tail­gat­ing

When D.C. United left RFK Sta­dium, it also bid good­bye to the vast ex­panse of park­ing lots sur­round­ing the com­plex. So when the Black and Red play at Audi Field, ex­pect a dif­fer­ent dy­namic for pregame tail­gat­ing.

Gone is the rau­cous tun­nel un­der In­de­pen­dence Av­enue that con­nected Lot 8 to the sta­dium, which shel­tered most of the loud­est fans. In­stead, there’s a fan plaza at Audi Field that will fea­ture a con­cert by ’90s cover band White Ford Bronco be­fore Satur­day’s opener.

There are other op­tions sur­round­ing the sta­dium for pre-and postgame eat­ing or drink­ing. Bardo Brew­ing is about a quar­ter-mile away from Audi Field. Bardo of­fers an out­door beer gar­den in view of Na­tion­als Park and the Ana­cos­tia River. Field House DC, an­other out­door beer gar­den, is lo­cated about two blocks from the sta­dium.

The Na­tion­als Park area fea­tures a plethora of din­ing op­tions on the way from the Navy Yard/Ball­park sta­tion, such as Chipo­tle, Gor­don Bier­sch and The Salt Line.

In­side the sta­dium, D.C. United an­nounced in 2017 that they part­nered with Levy and famed D.C. chef José An­drés for all food and bev­er­age ar­range­ments. Levy al­ready op­er­ates at Cap­i­tal One Arena, FedEx Field and Na­tion­als Park.

D.C. United de­scribes on its web­site the culi­nary op­tions in­side the sta­dium as “world class”. One food item cer­tain to con­tinue from RFK Sta­dium to Audi Field is pu­pusas. Sev­eral lo­ca­tions around the con­course at RFK Sta­dium sold hand­made pu­pusas, and they grew near and dear to fans’ hearts.

An­drés an­nounced in a video on Twit­ter last year they would be in­cluded in the Audi Field cui­sine.

“You think I’m go­ing to be tak­ing away a tra­di­tion?” An­drés said. “Give me a break. I love you and don’t worry, pu­pusas will be part of the D.C. United fam­ily for­ever.”

Trans­porta­tion op­tions

Be­cause Audi Field is just a few blocks away from Na­tion­als Park, the clos­est Metro stop is Navy Yard/Ball­park. Sig­nage at that sta­tion point­ing com­muters in the di­rec­tion of the ball­park was re­cently up­dated to read “Ball­park and Soc­cer Sta­dium.” Navy Yard is only ac­ces­si­ble by the Green Line.

For those driv­ing in, Audi Field is si­t­u­ated just off the Frederick Dou­glass Memo­rial Bridge. There are 6,500 park­ing spots near Audi Field, ac­cord­ing to its web­site. How­ever, with the build­ing’s ca­pac­ity at 20,000 seats, car­pool­ing or tak­ing pub­lic tran­sit when pos­si­ble would be ad­vis­able, as with any en­ter­tain­ment venue.

Fi­nally, Audi Field of­fers bi­cy­cle park­ing out­side the south­west cor­ner of the build­ing and com­pli­men­tary bike valet park­ing on match days.

On the field

With all that out of the way, let’s not for­get the ac­tual prod­uct on the field.

United is cou­pling the de­but of Audi Field with the de­but of star player Wayne Rooney in Black and Red. The English for­ward trans­ferred to United from Ever­ton of the English Pre­mier League this sum­mer.

Both at his in­tro­duc­tory press con­fer­ence July 2 and the rib­bon-cut­ting cer­e­mony last Mon­day, Rooney made clear that Audi Field and the new era it should en­tail was a big fac­tor in his de­ci­sion to join United. Gen­eral man­ager Dave Kasper said Audi Field was the first place club of­fi­cials took Rooney dur­ing his first visit with the team.

The all-time lead­ing scorer in the his­to­ries of both the English Na­tional Team and Manch­ester United, Rooney is ex­pected to pro­vide of­fense and star-power even at age 32. In D.C., he joins lead­ing scorer Dar­ren Mat­tocks, cap­tain Steve Birnbaum and up-and-com­ing de­fen­sive mid­fielder Chris Durkin, who is 18.

How­ever, United has hung near the bot­tom of the MLS Eastern Con­fer­ence stand­ings all sea­son. They stand 2-7-5 en­ter­ing Satur­day’s match, good for just 11 stand­ings points. But United only has been outscored 29 goals to 23 on the sea­son.

ADAM ZIELONKA/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Audi Field, the new home for D.C. United, was un­veiled in a cer­e­mony on Mon­day. The first game at the 20,000-seat sta­dium is Satur­day.

ADAM ZIELONKA/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Mayor Muriel Bowser is joined by D.C. United CEO Ja­son Levien, coun­cil mem­ber Jack Evans and chil­dren from the D.C. Scores com­mu­nity pro­gram in a rib­bon-cut­ting out­side Audi Field, the new Ma­jor League Soc­cer sta­dium, on Mon­day.

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