D.C. United’s new home is the 19th soccer-specific stadium to house a Major League Soccer team since the league began in 1996, and it is the 16th that is currently in use. Another will open next year in St. Paul, Minn.

The fact that team owners and cities are willing to pony up the money to build new stadiums — Audi Field cost between $400 million and $500 million — speaks to the upward trajectory of the league and the sport.

Soccer-specific stadium

Multiuse stadium

Audi Field

Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium was renovated into MLS’s first soccer-specific stadium in 1998 for the short-lived Miami Fusion.

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Note: BMO Field in Toronto was converted from soccer-specific to multiuse in 2016.

Soccer-specific stadium

Multiuse stadium

Audi Field

Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium was renovated into MLS’s first soccer-specific stadium in 1998 for the short-lived Miami Fusion.

’96

’18

Note: BMO Field in Toronto was converted from soccer-specific to multiuse in 2016.

Soccer-specific stadium

Audi Field

Multiuse stadium

Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium was renovated into MLS’s first soccer-specific stadium in 1998 for the short-lived Miami Fusion.

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Note: BMO Field in Toronto was converted from soccer-specific to multiuse in 2016.

Soccer-specific stadium

Audi Field

Multiuse stadium

Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium was renovated into MLS’s first soccer-specific stadium in 1998 for the short-lived Miami Fusion.

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Note: BMO Field in Toronto was converted from soccer-specific to multiuse in 2016.

For D.C. United, the dream of a cozy new venue has been 14 years in the planning. While soccer-specific stadiums sprouted in other cities, United made the best of historic, cavernous and crumbling RFK Stadium, a relic of a time when stadiums were built for multiple sports and perfect for none.

But the giant 1960s-era circle had a certain mystique to it, thanks to a long soccer history and groups of die-hard supporters whose passion willed United to four MLS Cup victories.

Now the team hopes the same mojo can materialize anew just a couple of miles southwest of RFK.

What makes a stadium soccer-specific?

Venues built especially for pro soccer in the United States are smaller than typical NFL and baseball stadiums, averaging about 25,000 seats. (Audi Field’s capacity is 20,000.)

But it isn’t just the size that makes them more intimate. They are designed to get the fans — and fan noise — as close to the players as possible.

Soccer stadiums are designed to be noisy. Roofs have to be open to allow sunlight to reach the natural grass fields, but full canopies or large overhangs keep some of the elements out and the crowd noise in.

Die-hard supporters are vital to a stadium’s energy. Audi Field has designated sections in the north stands to accommodate 1,500 of D.C. United’s most raucous fans. These sections have bleachers rather than seats — these folks rarely sit anyway — so armrests won’t get in the way. The team has allotted space to store drums and banners.

In keeping with soccer tradition, both teams enter the field together rather than from opposite sides of the field (a la the NFL), and the benches are side-by-side. At Audi Field, players will walk from below-ground locker rooms up a short flight of stairs behind the south goal. As they emerge, only a railing will separate them from fans.

Perhaps most importantly, the seats are extremely close to the field.

CROSS SECTION OF EAST STANDS

The nearest seats to the pitch will be about 8 feet away.

Upper level

Suite

Main concourse level

CROSS SECTION OF EAST STANDS

Upper level

The nearest seats to the pitch will be about 8 feet away.

Suite

Main concourse level

CROSS SECTION OF EAST STANDS

Upper level

Concessions

Suite

level

The nearest seats to the pitch will be about 8 feet away.

Suite

Club level

Main concourse level

CROSS SECTION OF EAST STANDS

Upper level

Concessions

Suite

level

Suite

Club level

The nearest seats to the pitch will be about 8 feet away.

Main concourse level

Stands at soccer stadiums tend to be near the sidelines and steeply pitched, creating a tight bowl that rises from the field. Audi Field’s seats are even closer than most thanks in large part to a power company easement that runs below the east stands, forcing the stadium into a narrower-than-usual east-west footprint.

The closest seats are eight feet from the sidelines, and the stands rise at a steep 30- to 35-degree rake (depending on location) so that the farthest seats are just 129 feet back.

Some things to know about Audi Field

It’s near Nationals Park. The stadium sits about four blocks away on Buzzard Point, and the main entrance at the intersection of Potomac Avenue, First and R streets is roughly half a mile from the Navy Yard-Ballpark Metro station. The Waterfront station is also less than a mile away.

Parking will be very limited. Veteran RFK tailgaters will need a new strategy, as the stadium has no parking lot or garage — but it does have some outdoor gathering areas. United has partnered with SpotHero to provide 3,700 parking spaces in nearby lots. On game days, at least 190 bicycles can be dropped with a bike valet, and more can be locked at racks around the stadium perimeter.

The best view is from the Heineken Rooftop Club near the main entrance. Anyone with a game ticket can pop up there and look across to the Capitol dome and Washington Monument.

The Capitol dome and Washington Monument are visible from the Heineken Rooftop Club.

Northwest

entrance

Team

store

Main

entrance

Fan section

bleachers

Player

entrance

Bike

valet

NORTH

The Capitol dome and Washington Monument are visible from the Heineken Rooftop Club.

Northwest

entrance

Main

entrance

Team

store

R STREET

Fan section

bleachers

Player

entrance

Bike

valet

NORTH

Main

entrance

NORTH

Team

store

The Capitol dome and Washington Monument are visible from the Heineken Rooftop Club.

Player

entrance

Fan section

bleachers

Northwest

entrance

Bike

valet

Main

entrance

NORTH

Team

store

The Capitol dome and Washington Monument are visible from the Heineken Rooftop Club.

Player

entrance

Fan section

bleachers

Northwest

entrance

Bike

valet

It’s designed to be eco-friendly. The team hopes the stadium will earn LEED Gold certification for environmentally friendly buildings. For instance, the 334 LED sports lights, which come on instantly, can do colored light shows and last for about 20 years, much longer than traditional metal halide lights.

The turf is Northbridge Bermuda grass, cut to three-quarters of an inch tall. The field is bowed slightly for proper drainage, and below it are water filtration basins that collect rainwater from the stadium and pump it into the city’s storm sewer system. Freezing weather is rare in D.C. during the March-to-October MLS season, but if needed, the field could accommodate a hot-air system to warm the turf from below.

The food should be interesting. Superstar Washington-based chef José Andrés will oversee all the stadium offerings and work with Levy, the company that runs concessions at Capital One Arena, Nationals Park and FedEx Field. Andrés plans to introduce dishes such as gourmet tacos with short rib, pork and mushroom options.

Lovers of chicken tenders can rest easy, however, as the usual stadium fare will be around as well. And the iconic pupusas will be there, made by Factoria Maria Pupuseria, the same family business that served them at RFK.

About this story

Sources: Architect Jon Knight of Populous; Randy Swanson, senior project manager for Legends; D.C. United; Major League Soccer; South Florida Sun Sentinel. Stadium model courtesy of Populous.

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