State of the Game: US Soccer and the future of RFK Stadium

As a former D.C.-area native, born and raised in the suburbs of Silver Spring, Maryland, RFK stadium does have a place in a lot of memories for me.  I have seen D.C. United in RFK  from ten years old all the way to twenty three before I moved.  If I am sitting down, in my mind I can put myself back on any one of the many Metro trains, sitting in those orange molded plastic seats with blueish design upholstery, hearing “doors closing please step back from the door” fifteen times as I take potentially three different train lines to get from Silver Spring Station on the Red line to the D.C. Armory stop on the Blue and Orange lines.  Luckily getting on where I did, I always got a seat up until Metro Center or Gallery Place, but from there once you switch trains you’ll most likely have to stand the rest of the way.  As you walk out of the station, and down the street you pass street vendors selling anything from D.C. beanies and water, to D.C. United t-shirts, hot dogs and tickets to the game you’re already going to.   Once you make it around the corner, and you’re done glancing at D.C. armory and convention center on your right, you look straight ahead, there it is, the beast that is RFK stadium.

DCUThe nostalgia is nice, it brings me back to when I would go in high school with friends I played soccer with in school or my club team.  That nostalgia though sometimes has to compete with different memories from going to college in Philadelphia.  I got to go to the Union’s first home game of their inaugural season at Lincoln Financial Field of course against D.C. United.  D.C. lost that game 3-2 and during my time at school in Philadelphia I got to see what an MLS era soccer specific stadium could look like and mean for a team’s supporter base.  Especially where one doesn’t need to watch out for occasionally falling cement.

D.C. United fans have a massive amount of pride for the most successful club in the MLS and even more so for RFK going back to its time as the Redskins stadium making it bounce as United fans now do exclusively.  Today RFK is sold out, believed to be at a capacity of around 46,000 give or take, for the US Men’s National Team  friendly match against Germany.  The game comes as a cap to a weekend where the nation’s capital hosted the USSF Annual General Meeting.  Have no fear Business Of Soccer was naturally represented by none other than Chris Savino, (@ChrisSavino).

There is surely much to talk about from what was discussed in the AGM with regards to the strides US Soccer is making as a whole, especially with Sunil Gulati’s new position on the FIFA Executive Council.  What is most likely not on the discussion table though is the need for D.C. United to finally move on from RFK. Tonight’s game will be the venues twenty second US National Team match, a record among US venues.  It most certainly is a fitting location for the USSF centennial celebration with a 13-3-5 record at the location, but this should also be an opportunity to see the stadium for what it is.

Rich in history, RFK is also severely lacking in functionality.  In what was arguably one of the more frustrating times for D.C. United, the sharing of the stadium with the Nationals, D.C.’s MLB franchise, there now exists an area of RFK that is such an eye-sore for anyone who goes there.  It was once filled by a stand that was converted to be removed in the conversion of the field back and forth between baseball and soccer games.  It has now permanently been removed, yet nothing has really been done to cosmetically clean it up.  Beyond that the top area of the stadium is covered for D.C. United games with the bottom bowl capacity enough.  Tie both those in with what is by far the highest rent for the oldest stadium in use of any soccer stadium in the country, and the result is simply an environment that is not appropriate for one of the best MLS franchises.  Having a stadium that is literally crumbling just isn’t acceptable.   RFK-edit019

D.C. United fans deserve more.  The club has a lease through to the end of this season, and most likely will need another regardless if a deal for a new stadium is met, but the future of where D.C. United calls home needs to be sorted out.  The centennial match is definitely not the best place for that discussion to take place among decision makers, but it should be noted that RFK was considered for the US World Cup Bid as a venue but dropped in favor of Fed-Ex Field in nearby Landover.

RFK is seen by many as more than a stadium, it’s a memorial to the man it is named after.  Certainly taking away the location’s last tenant will be a difficult decision but it needs to be made.  Moving homes doesn’t take away from any of the history the club has, nor will it be a guarantee of more to come.  What it will do is take D.C. United into the next stage of its progression as a club and give a new generation of fans a home to build the same kind of memories that many have built with RFK.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.