(Your City Here) United?

"We are getting close to the point where we can't continue to go on operating the team at RFK," Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said of D.C. United. (File Photo By Joseph Kaczmarek -- Associated Press)
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Friday, April 10, 2009

MLS Commissioner Don Garber suggested yesterday that if D.C. United is unable to reach a solution for a new stadium soon, the league might have to move the four-time champions to another city.

"Why we don't seem to be able to get a deal done is incredibly frustrating and it could be that, if something can't be resolved, we will move the team," he said in a telephone interview.

Garber made his comments two days after the Prince George's County Council rejected a proposal to further explore the possibility of working with United on a 24,000-seat venue in Landover. Last fall, talks involving the team and District government about a project at Poplar Point, a swath of parkland along the Anacostia River in Southeast, collapsed for various reasons.

"We are getting close to the point where we can't continue to go on operating the team at RFK, a facility that didn't work for Major League Baseball, does not work for D.C. United," Garber said. "We have to develop a plan to get United in a partnership with a public entity in the region sometime soon or we will have to very seriously think about alternative locations."

He did not offer a timetable for when a deal needed to be consummated.

While most MLS teams have moved into new stadiums or are building medium-sized facilities, United has been based for 13-plus seasons at 48-year-old RFK, which has not aged gracefully and is too big for MLS's purposes. Seating capacity is around 45,000; United averaged about 20,000 fans last year and has drawn an average of 17,600 over its history.

Club officials also have cited RFK's lack of amenities, such as private boxes, and their small stake in game-day revenue.

A team spokesman said United investors Victor MacFarlane and Will Chang did not want to comment on Garber's remarks.

"The ownership group is very committed to the team and to Major League Soccer, but no different than any other sports team in this country, they will not be able to continue to play in RFK and be successful" financially, Garber said. "It does not have a economically viable model playing in a stadium that is substandard.

"Victor and Will are very frustrated. They look at what has been done for hockey, basketball, baseball and football, and believe that D.C. United has earned the right to be able to sit with public officials and engage in a productive discussion that will hopefully lead to a deal."

Since Prince George's County's rejection of the stadium proposal, which would have relied heavily on state-supported bonds, jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia have approached United about a possible project, Garber said. He said he also hopes to discuss the matter with Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).

The Prince George's vote left Garber "confused and shocked" because the county had reached out to United after the District talks ended. "I certainly hope other businesses that are interested in bringing jobs and economic development to that county have a better experience with them than we did," he said.

United and the Los Angeles Galaxy have the strongest soccer brand names in the U.S. sports market, and D.C. has made strides on the international scene with exhibitions and tournament games against famous clubs from places such as Spain, England and Latin America.

The only MLS team to ever move was the San Jose Earthquakes, who, after 10 years in the Bay Area, left for Houston in 2006 because of stadium issues. The Earthquakes were reestablished as an expansion team based in Santa Clara, Calif., last year.

MLS, currently with 15 teams, will expand to Philadelphia next year and Vancouver, B.C., and Portland, Ore., in 2011. St. Louis, Montreal, Miami, Atlanta and Ottawa have expressed interest in MLS as well.

-- Steven Goff

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