In the 10 seasons it has called RFK Stadium home, D.C. United has hosted nearly 200 matches, including the MLS Cup, all-star games and international exhibitions. But for the highest-profile game in the club's history -- a July 28 exhibition against English Premier League champion Chelsea -- United has decided to abandon cozy RFK and play at FedEx Field, the Washington Redskins' mammoth facility in Landover.
Team officials cited the larger seating capacity (91,665 compared to 45,000) but also acknowledged that field conditions at RFK played a major role.
"RFK Stadium has been a great home to us and we've enjoyed a lot of success there," United President Kevin Payne said yesterday during an international teleconference unveiling the "World Series of Football," which will involve United, the Chicago Fire, Chelsea and AC Milan.
"It's our belief that in the current configuration, where we're sharing with baseball, the field unfortunately is not up to the standards that we want to display with a team like Chelsea. We felt it was much more prudent to play the match [in Landover], and frankly give the match a much greater chance of success in front of a larger crowd at FedEx Field."
The RFK field has some rough spots at one end, where temporary grass is installed over the Washington Nationals' dirt infield before a soccer game is played. No players have been injured on the turf, but some have complained that the seams between the temporary and permanent grass and a some general unevenness have affected play slightly. United and the Nationals are scheduled to share RFK until a new baseball stadium opens in 2008.
Tony Robinson, spokesman for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which operates RFK, said: "The team notified us of their intentions. It's their prerogative. We understand their desire for hopefully seeking more than the 40,000 tickets available at RFK and the higher aminities. RFK just doesn't give you those luxuries. It doesn't concern us too much."
As for the field, he added, "We're continuing to attempt to make improvements to the conversion so that it's as good as it can possibly be given the challenges we have."
Payne said FedEx Field's dimensions will be 72 or 73 yards wide and 113 yards long -- about the same as the field at RFK and adequate for an international match. The last major soccer competition at FedEx was the 1999 Women's World Cup.
Since MLS's launch in '96, United has played almost every one of its home games at RFK. The exceptions have been early-round matches in the U.S. Open Cup and Champions Cup at Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown.
United has played English clubs before but never one with an array of stars that just completed one of the greatest seasons in English history. Chelsea went 29-1-8 to finish well ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United and claim its first top-flight league title in 50 years.
Chelsea's match in Washington will come in the heart of the club's preseason preparations -- 16 days before the start of the 2005-06 campaign. Peter Kenyon, Chelsea's chief executive, pledged that Coach Jose Mourinho will have his full roster.
"Nobody at Chelsea will be taking it as a given," he said. "The fact that we're playing an MLS team tells you how far U.S. soccer has progressed and we will be treating it like any other game. The preparation will be serious."
Because of the Chelsea game, United had to move its regularly scheduled match against Real Salt Lake at RFK to Aug. 31.