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MLS Officials: United Played on Irregular Field

Dimensions at RFK Didn't Constitute a True Rectangle on Saturday

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 26, 2005; Page D03

D.C. United might have been playing on a lopsided field at RFK Stadium on Saturday night.

According to a report filed by the MLS officiating crew following United's game against the New England Revolution, there appeared to be a six-yard difference between the two diagonal lengths of the field.

The game's officiating crew says United's Ben Olsen and the Revolution's Marshall Leonard, right, were not playing on a rectangle. (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

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Before the game, two officials "very unscientifically walked it off," Joe Machnik, who oversees MLS's on-field competition, said in a telephone interview yesterday. "One of the [lengths] was six yards longer than the other, which could mean the field was not a true rectangle and was more like [another type of] parallelogram.

"We're not saying what the officials determined is 100 percent accurate, but it does seem to indicate a problem."

Tony Robinson, spokesman for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which oversees stadium operations, said the commission has not been contacted by MLS but, if that happens, "we will look into it."

A source close to the commission, who requested anonymity because the matter hasn't been formally addressed, said stadium officials said they believe "it's a classic misunderstanding. They're fairly certain the dimensions are accurate."

United is scheduled to share RFK with the Washington Nationals for three years until a new baseball stadium is built near the Anacostia River waterfront. It's a unique arrangement that has meant significant adjustments to the RFK field and some of the seating areas before and after MLS games and Nationals homestands.

The dirt sections of the baseball infield are covered with turf, and the north bleachers, located along the third base line for baseball, are swung around into left and center field to create seating on the far side of the soccer field.

United officials said they have expressed concerns to the sports commission since the transition began in earnest early this month, primarily dealing with the levelness of the temporary grass. They plan to address the field dimensions with the commission this week.

"I don't think they'd ask the Nationals to play on an 88-foot base path. We don't expect to play on a field that's the wrong size," United President Kevin Payne said. "We understand this whole transition thing is still new for everybody, but we're going to have to get better at it."

Before United's first home game, "we weren't convinced that the field had right angles," Payne said. "There was no question the penalty spots [12 yards from the goals] were off-center. We didn't go out and remeasure before Saturday's game, but they did work off the same corner points as the first game. The first surveying crew had a difficult time lining the field out, for some reason, and it ended up being done kind of manually. That's something that needs to be addressed."

Machnik said that a few weeks ago there was a "general sense that something's not right, but we couldn't put a finger on it."

That's why, he said, game officials decided to count the diagonal lengths before Saturday's match. He said the issue would be discussed by MLS's operations committee today and, depending on the outcome of the talks, a league representative would likely ask the D.C. commission to perform a more scientific check of the dimensions.

United's next home game is May 7 against the Columbus Crew.

"We all knew it would be a challenge" accommodating soccer and baseball at RFK, Machnik said. "We need to come to a determination whether it's an optical illusion or if we have a real problem that needs to be fixed."

Payne said there were no discussions about postponing the game against New England or relining the field because "the referee never mentioned it to us" beforehand. If the team had been notified, Payne said, "I doubt we would've done anything because, at that point, it's pretty much impossible to reline the field; it takes a long time.

"The sports commission is doing its best. Hopefully between now and our next home game, we'll be able to sort this out."

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