Faced with the possibility of D.C. United sharing RFK Stadium with a Major League Baseball team in the near future, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said yesterday that a plan to build a medium-sized soccer complex needs to become a priority.
"We've got to get busy here and get a facility for a team that has been one of the great brands for soccer in this country," he said in a meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters.
"We can't continue to play back seat to baseball and have to figure out our future based on what Major League Baseball decides is going to happen. We've been here since 1996; we've been the major tenants at RFK. We've got a great relationship with the mayor and with the sports commission, but we've got to get a deal done as quickly as possible."
Citing scheduling conflicts and having to play on a surface that would include a dirt infield, Garber said United would have a difficult time sharing 55,000-seat RFK with a baseball team if the Montreal Expos move to Washington next season.
The MLS and MLB seasons run from April to October. Baseball officials are hoping to announce next month where the league-run Expos will play next season.
"We would have real challenges making RFK work," Garber said. "That being said, we've got to evaluate all our options and figure out what we can do to ensure that this team continues to be successful here."
Garber said the possibility of baseball coming to the city should accelerate the urgency of completing a plan for a proposed 25,000-seat stadium for United.
But if a deal can't be reached, "then we'll continue what we are, which is a tenant in a good soccer facility but not a facility that can compete with the other soccer stadiums that are being built across the country," he said.
"The fans of D.C. United deserve it, the team deserves it and it is a real focus for us to get it done. . . . We've been assured that the needs of D.C. United will be addressed at the appropriate time."
Mark Tuohey, the new chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, responded to Garber's comments by saying, "I share Don's enthusiasm and we are committed to making the interim situation for both teams work. We look forward to a long and prosperous relationship with D.C. United."
Officials from MLS, United and the city have been discussing a soccer stadium for several years. In April, United President Kevin Payne and Mayor Anthony A. Williams participated in a pregame ceremony at RFK to express their support for a joint stadium project to be completed by 2007.
The two locations under consideration are the RFK parking lots and an area near the South Capitol Street Bridge at Poplar Point as part of the city's Anacostia Waterfront Initiative.
Garber wouldn't discuss specifics, but said the recently announced soccer stadium deal in Denver is a 50-50 partnership between public and private groups.
A Washington project would involve United's primary investor, Anschutz Entertainment Group, and Akridge Companies, a local developer.
Garber wouldn't speculate on whether United would consider moving to another stadium temporarily -- such as Byrd Stadium in College Park, FedEx Field in Landover or Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis -- if a baseball team ends up here.
"A lot of discussions still need to happen and a lot of things need to fall into place before we go ahead and address those things," he said.
On other topics, Garber said:
* MLS has no plans to support a women's league following the demise of the WUSA last fall.
* In addition to expansion clubs in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, which will begin play next season, the league hopes to add two more teams soon. However, it might not happen in time for the 2006 season. He named Seattle, Houston, San Antonio, Cleveland and Rochester, N.Y., as top candidates but also said Atlanta and Philadelphia are in the mix.
* MLS teams will have a reserve league system in place next year, following the model of soccer clubs around the world, which presumably will allow rosters to be expanded.
* Current teams will be allowed to protect 12 of 18 veteran players during the expansion draft next offseason and won't lose more than three players. (All young players are exempt from the draft.)
* Despite the fact that 32 percent of games have ended in ties this year, there are no plans to reinstate overtime or shootouts.
MLS Notes: Easton, Md., native Alexander Yi, one of U.S. soccer's top young defenders, is hoping to sign with MLS after playing two seasons in Belgium.
He reportedly would prefer to play for D.C. United, but club officials said that if the 22-year-old from McDonogh High School and UCLA signs with the league, he would likely be allocated via a weighted lottery. . . .
Former United coach Thomas Rongen, who oversees the U.S. under-20 program, has emerged as one of several candidates to coach the expansion Salt Lake City club. Former U.S. World Cup coach Steve Sampson, a Utah native, is also believed to be under strong consideration. . . .
As part of this weekend's All-Star Game festivities, several players will participate in a youth soccer tour, which will make stops this afternoon at Gunston Community Center in Arlington, Jelleff Boys and Girls Club in Georgetown and the RFK auxiliary fields.