For D.C. United fans, it’s about time

Here’s Post columnist and D.C. United supporter Clinton Yates with a few thoughts on the news of a preliminary stadium deal. 

When I first saw the architectural plans Monday, my heart skipped a beat.

But there they were, those glorious drawings. The sketches of a stadium with ‘UNITED’ emblazoned across the building were enough to make me miss high school again, when photos of Raul Diaz Arce and Roy Lassiter hung on my bedroom walls. Back then, vuvuzelas were just called “horns” and the team won trophies. And more importantly, people actually showed up.

Being a United fan has been an up-and-down experience. I am lifelong fan. As in, the life of the franchise. Their arrival is the reason I ever started playing soccer. But recently, the experience has been miserable. The squad is the worst in MLS by a wide margin. The stadium has become not only depressing, but a borderline safety hazard. The open secret for years has been that the tailgate is far more fun than the product on the field.

Yet, not unlike the supporters’ groups that have grown over the years at RFK, it’s impossible to ever really give up the Black and Red. The news announced today, though not the first time a stadium deal has been bandied about (obviously), feels different. The plans make sense, there are no outside states involved and as far as we know, the economy isn’t going to tank tomorrow.

The news kept my phone ringing. Old friends wondering if this was really The One. So many plans have been dashed. Some die-hards refuse to believe it’ll really happen until they walk into a new facility and see it for themselves. I dialed a buddy who worked in the team’s front office for eight seasons. Kyle Sheldon, who now works for NASCAR in Charlotte, knows personally what the struggle was like, and believes in the current deal.

“I think what sort of triggered it differently for me was when I saw the media advisory that included all the necessary parties needed to make the deal happen. I think the difference now is that you’ve got a set of owners who are seemingly willing to spend the money necessary to make it happen,” Sheldon said. “It was probably fair to say it was a bit of a roller coaster, year in and year out. I saw four different renderings for locations over the course of my eight years there. A lot of false starts, a lot of stop and starts. A lot of excitement and hope, followed by disappointment. Not only for the front office, but for the supporters. They’ve been there through it all. … The hardcore group, they just keep going to games. I’m more than anything thrilled for that group of people.”

One of those people is Gino Azzouzi. An elder member of the Barra Brava, his crew is an integral part of what the team is all about.

“I think [fan pride]‘s hit an all-time low. I’ve never seen morale, hopelessness … in 17, 18 years I’ve been going to games, I’ve never seen people acting the way they act this year. We try to keep everybody positive, we try to keep everybody motivated, interested in the team. But I think this will do it. This will bring back a lot of people,” Azzouzi said. “I don’t think there’s many things you can say about D.C. United that actually bothers the fans. But when you mention the stadium, that kind of hits a soft spot in the heart. Hopefully this will take care of it once and for all.”

Watching as other cities built soccer-specific stadiums, places that don’t even have MLS teams, at that, became too embarrassing to endure. It’ll be hard for me to let go of RFK for good. It will always be the stadium of my youth, where I learned to love sports. But, it’s time to grow up. And it has been for years.

Clinton Yates is a D.C. native and an online columnist. When he's not covering the city, pop culture or listening to music, he watches sports. A lot of them.
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