D.C. United is in advanced talks with Loudoun County about building practice fields, offices and a 5,000-seat stadium for a lower-tier team at Philip A. Bolen Park in Leesburg, Va.
If a deal is reached, the county would provide land for the facilities and approximately $15 million in financing for construction, including a stadium to serve a United-owned team in the second division.
Under the proposal, the team would repay the county for the cost of constructing the facilities — “a win for our finances and for our residents,” said Dulles District supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau, who also is chair of a committee overseeing the county’s finance, economic development and government operations.
The issue will go before the county’s board of supervisors at a Jan. 10 public hearing.
The project would include four fields: two exclusively for United and two shared with the public. United would also operate its youth academy at the complex.
“Securing a site for a permanent training facility and a second-division team has been a top priority for the club,” United General Manager Dave Kasper said. “We believe that Loudoun County is an ideal location for these facilities and we will continue to work with county leaders to finalize an agreement.”
The arrangement would be similar to the Washington Redskins’ set-up in that the team would practice in a distant suburb and play in the immediate D.C. area. The Redskins are based in Loudoun County (Ashburn) and play at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
From 1996 through 2000, United practiced at the old Redskin Park in Herndon, on the Loudoun-Fairfax County border near Washington Dulles International Airport. The sale of that property pushed the team into the city for practices.
After 22 MLS seasons playing matches at RFK Stadium, United will christen Audi Field in Southwest D.C. next summer.
D.C. has practiced on fields on the RFK campus for 17 years, and will continue to do so until a new training facility opens. Once the Audi Field project commenced, the organization began seeking a location to build a large practice complex. There is not enough space around Audi Field for practice fields, and the stadium is for matches only.
United officials say their principal offices will remain in the District, a contractual requirement in their partnership with the city to build Audi Field. However, one source familiar with the team challenged that claim, saying most employees would have to move to Bolen Park, which is 42 miles from the new stadium.
Club officials said much of the front office, which includes the ticketing and marketing departments, will work in a building attached to the south side of the 20,000-capacity stadium, three blocks from Nationals Park. The coaches and support staff would be based in Leesburg.
In announcing the plan, Loudoun County said approximately 50 United employees would work in Leesburg. There are more than 80 people listed in United’s directory, including coaches and technical staff for both the first team and academy.
Currently, United’s executives and staff work in offices on the fourth floor of RFK Stadium.
United had spoken to George Mason University in Fairfax and the D.C. government about a possible training complex and small stadium, but those discussions stalled. The city, at one point, suggested land at the St. Elizabeth’s redevelopment in Anacostia. There was also speculation that United’s training needs might be included in the city’s plans to redevelop the RFK campus.
Meantime, the Leesburg announcement moved United a step closer to owning and operating a second-division team. Last year, United applied for an expansion franchise in the second-flight United Soccer League. The other league directly below MLS is the troubled North American Soccer League, which has taken legal action in a desperate effort to keep second-tier status. No NASL clubs are aligned with MLS organizations.
Many MLS clubs already have their own second-division teams, which are used, in large part, for player development purposes. Some first-team players are loaned to the USL squad, but most players are on second-division contracts.
For several years, the Richmond Kickers have served as United’s USL affiliates. That relationship is expected to continue for at least one more year.
A second-tier team would also strengthen United’s brand in the outer reaches of the metro area. The team would wear the same colors and probably have D.C. United in its name. Other MLS-affiliated USL teams go by names such as New York Red Bulls II and Orlando City B.
Under the Loudoun proposal, the county would have use of the stadium for sporting events and concerts.
Loudoun County was slated to gain a second-division soccer team a few years ago, but plans to launch the NASL’s Virginia Cavalry collapsed amid financial issues. The Cavalry would have shared a stadium with a minor league baseball team at the One Loudoun development in Ashburn.