D.C. United Hopes to Select Stadium Site in Prince George's County Within 30 Days

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 17, 2009

D.C. United has enjoyed 13 years at RFK Stadium, a gritty backdrop offering a touch of European soccer atmosphere and a distinct home-field advantage. But with yesterday's announcement that the club has partnered with Prince George's County to explore building a 24,000-seat suburban venue, United appears close to joining most other MLS teams that have moved into new stadiums the past 10 years.

The project still faces several government hurdles, but United executive chairman Victor MacFarlane said he hopes to break ground this year and open the facility late in 2011 or for the start of the 2012 season. County and team officials are reviewing seven sites, five of which are near Metro stations, and a final choice could be made within 30 days.

"I feel very good about it," United President Kevin Payne said. "The leadership of the county is very committed to this. We have a lot of faith in the process in Maryland. . . . We see this as a great step forward and we're ready to get to work."

Since MLS's launch in 1996,United has been based at RFK, which opened in 1961. With an enclosed design, modest capacity and access to Metro and highways, it served the club's purposes. But RFK does not offer the amenities of modern stadiums, and while other MLS teams have found new homes that benefited them financially and competitively, United has been unable to generate much game-day revenue outside of ticket sales.

For two years, the club pursued a stadium project at Poplar Point, park land across the Anacostia River from the Washington Nationals' new ballpark, but talks broke down last fall.

United has a lease agreement with the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission to play at RFK for at least two more seasons.

"RFK is a great, old building in ways, but it is falling apart and there doesn't seem to be any ability to spend significant capital dollars on it," Payne said. "We can't compete, we can't exist without a modern stadium."

Eight of MLS's other 14 teams play in medium-sized stadiums. The New York Red Bulls, currently housed at Giants Stadium, will open their own facility next year and the Kansas City Wizards plan to have one within three years.

"As a player, you would think about it: 'We're the winningest team in MLS, so why don't we have a new stadium?' " United defender Marc Burch said. "We're not going to be able to replace the stands bouncing up and down [at RFK] and making it look like the whole stadium is shaking, but it would still be great to have our own place."

Payne said preliminary plans call for a roof covering all seats and a permanent stage at one end to accommodate concerts. For United matches, bleachers would sit on the stage. United officials estimate 60 events per year, including men's and women's national team games and college and high school competitions.

The Washington Freedom, a women's pro team that plays at Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County, would also likely use the Prince George's stadium.

Playing in Maryland, however, might be problematic for fans traveling from Northern Virginia, home to United's largest fan base.

Said Payne: "It's possible we will have more fans now from places like Prince George's County, Anne Arundel County, Howard County, up into Baltimore. Perhaps fewer will be able to make it from places like Loudoun County. But our fans are very, very loyal. . . . We expect those fans to come with us."

United Notes: Despite suggestions from county officials, the club has no plans to change its name to P.G. United or Maryland United. . . . Zach Wells, the club's starting goalkeeper before being replaced late last season, has decided to retire and pursue non-soccer opportunities, sources close to the team said. Wells, 27, abruptly left training camp three weeks ago. He had been unable to participate in workouts after having offseason foot surgery. . . .

Local officials have reached a tentative agreement to stage a first-round doubleheader in the CONCACAF Gold Cup at RFK Stadium on July 8, sources said. The Gold Cup is the biennial regional championship for national teams. CONCACAF will announce several venues and pairings in a few weeks.

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