D.C. United will play a home match Saturday evening, but for the first time in MLS’s 19-season history, the club will host a league match somewhere other than RFK Stadium.
United agreed to move the game against the Columbus Crew to FedEx Field — the Washington Redskins’ 79,000-seat home seven miles east of RFK — and be part of a doubleheader featuring World Cup champion Spain facing El Salvador.
International soccer at 4 p.m., domestic soccer at 6:30.
United has played at FedEx twice before, but for friendlies: Chelsea in 2005 and Real Madrid in 2009. Maryland SoccerPlex is United’s secondary home, for the U.S. Open Cup.
The FedEx visit interrupts a seven-game unbeaten streak at RFK, where United will not appear again until June 28. A league match at Montreal, an Open Cup game at Rochester, a possible Open Cup match at SoccerPlex and the World Cup break will occupy its time.
“It’s not really going to feel like a home game for me,” midfielder Chris Rolfe said. “Especially with all of the fans that are here for the game prior, it will be a mix of neutral fans. It’s not going to be RFK, that’s for sure.”
Organizers are expecting at least 55,000 spectators for the first match. How many remain for the second game is unclear. With many United season ticket holders placed in the upper deck, a departure by fans after the first game would create glaring empty patches in the lower levels.
While the first game is spectacle, the MLS match is serious business: With a victory, United would move into first place in the Eastern Conference.
Although they are close to home, United players will have to make adjustments: The FedEx surface is a few yards narrower than RFK’s and the grass is drier and thicker.
United agreed to the doubleheader because, otherwise, it would have been competing to sell tickets for a game on the same day as the Spain match.
“I get it. I am at ease with it. The players are at peace with it,” United Coach Ben Olsen said. “I’ve played here a few times and always enjoyed it. The guys are more excited than disappointed about playing here. … Even if half [of the fans] stay, it’s still going to be a pretty good atmosphere. I think it will be great. It will be different and I think the guys will be excited.”
Captain Bobby Boswell has a fond memory of FedEx: In 2005, in his rookie season, he scored against Chelsea to provide United with an early lead. The Blues responded with goals by Damien Duff and Hernan Crespo.
“The goal was great, the result wasn’t,” Boswell said after Friday’s training session at FedEx. “And because I was a rookie, I had to clean the locker room afterward.”
*Sean Franklin, who returned from a foot injury recently, is expected to start in place of Chris Korb (hamstring) at right back.
*The Crew will offer a much different look than it did for the first two meetings with United: Federico Higuain, one of MLS’s most influential attackers and Columbus’s leader in goals and assists, is expected to miss the match after injuring a hamstring Wednesday against Real Salt Lake; forward Dominic Oduro was traded Friday to Toronto FC for midfielder Alvaro Rey; and defender Giancarlo Gonzalez and Waylon Francis are on World Cup duty with Costa Rica.
*Game-time weather for DCU match: 81 degrees, no chance of rain, moderate humidity. A little warmer for the Spain-El Salvador match.
*Parking at FedEx Field will cost $40. For Metro users, the Morgan Boulevard station is nine-tenths of a mile away and Largo Town Center is one mile. Lots open at 1 p.m., stadium gates at 2.
*Univision will carry the Spain-El Salvador match, Comcast SportsNet will show the MLS game.
*Goalkeeper Joe Willis, midfielder Alex Caskey and midfielder Christiano Francois are with the third-division Richmond Kickers for Saturday night’s home match against the Harrisburg City Islanders. Richmond (6-1-5) is unbeaten in nine straight and third in USL Pro behind Orlando City and Galaxy II.
*Spain concluded three days of training at RFK with a jersey exchange with DCU players: Boswell, Rolfe, Cristian Fernandez, Bill Hamid and Perry Kitchen participated for United, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta and David Villa for La Roja.
Fernandez, a native of Spain, bonded with several of his former teammates from the under-19 and U-20 programs.
Olsen enjoyed a brief chat with his counterpart, Vicente del Bosque.
“He asked about how we are doing in the league. He seemed like a really kind man. I would love to speak Spanish and sit down with him for an hour, but I think he’s got some other things on his plate right now. … The whole experience has been good, them being around. Even though our guys are all pros, the young guys are still excited to be around that vibe. It’s the best of the best. It’s fun to watch. The way they play, for us soccer nerds, it’s a lot of fun.”