The arrival of the new facility will end United’s wait of more than a decade for a custom-made home to replace RFK Stadium, a decaying, oversized municipal complex that had hosted D.C. since the 1996 inaugural season and offered limited revenue streams. Only New England has waited as long for a proper venue. Unlike the Revolution, which is owned by the NFL’s Patriots, United had become desperate for a place to do better business.
The Vancouver Whitecaps will be United’s first opponent at the new stadium, with a 7 p.m. kickoff, according to full club schedules released by the league on Thursday afternoon. MLS did not intentionally schedule the grand opening around the time of baseball’s midsummer classic July 17. Rather, United and MLS had targeted June 30, but the league encountered broader scheduling complications and pushed the date.
The following weekend was not optimal because the Nationals are home; to avoid parking and logistical issues, United is trying to avoid staging games on the same day as the Nats. However, there are two conflicts on the schedule: Aug. 19 and Sept. 2. In both cases, the Nationals are scheduled to play early in the afternoon and United late in the day. The MLS team might end up changing those kickoff times to evening.
United officials say the 15-month construction project, a public-private venture costing more than $300 million, is on schedule. The club is looking into the possibility of a soft opening with a small crowd for a nonleague game or event, such as the U.S. Open Cup, in June.
Before moving into Audi Field, United will play 12 away matches and two home games at alternative venues in the metro area, MLS announced Thursday. Fifteen of the last 20 regular season matches will take place at the new venue (five on Wednesdays, 10 on weekends).
As previously announced, D.C. will open the season at Orlando City on March 3 and visit Atlanta United on March 11 before hosting the Houston Dynamo on March 17 at a venue to be determined. Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County is almost certain to stage the game, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.
The other spring home game (April 14) will probably occur at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. United might have gone to Navy for both matches, but March 17 isn’t available because of a men’s lacrosse game.
Club executives said they did not want to comment on the venue search. Officials at the SoccerPlex and Navy said they’ve been approached. An announcement is expected in the coming weeks.
United also considered Richmond’s City Stadium, Maryland’s Ludwig Field and RFK Stadium, United’s home for 22 seasons. RFK was not available March 17 because of the ShamrockFest music festival in the parking lots.
Maryland SoccerPlex, a grass field that houses the Washington Spirit women’s team, holds about 5,200 spectators. United has played many low-key U.S. Open Cup games there since it opened in 2000. Navy’s stadium, with an artificial-turf playing surface, has a capacity of 34,000.
Alternative venues for regular season matches are subject to MLS’s approval.
For months, United and MLS wrangled over the number of games at Audi Field this season. For revenue purposes, the team wanted all 17 home dates in the new venue. Citing scheduling headaches and an unfair advantage late in the season, the league mandated at least four home matches at secondary venues. They eventually compromised.
United’s road-heavy calendar early in the year is one of the most harrowing in league history. In 2011, Sporting Kansas City opened with 10 consecutive away matches before its new stadium opened. In 2016, Toronto FC played eight in a row on the road while BMO Field was undergoing renovations.
D.C. will play seven straight on the road between April 28 and July 4, including two trips to Los Angeles and visits to Salt Lake City, San Jose and Seattle. None of those western trips are close together, forcing the team to travel back and forth or remain out west.
Conversely, United will enjoy a seven-game homestand between Sept. 12 and Oct. 21, including visits by the archrival New York Red Bulls and MLS Cup champion Toronto.
With United hosting Atlanta on Sept. 2 — a Sunday during Labor Day weekend — Audi Field could host an NCAA men’s match between Maryland and Virginia the next day.
D.C. United 2018 MLS schedule
|11||at Atlanta||3 (ESPN)|
|31||at Kansas City||8:30|
|28||at Philadelphia||3:30 (UniMas)|
|12||at Real Salt Lake||9|
|19||at San Jose||10:30|
|28||at Los Angeles FC||8 (ESPN2)|
|30||at New England||7:30|
|4||at Los Angeles Galaxy||10:30|
|21||at Atlanta||3:30 (Univision)|
|25||New York Red Bulls||7:30|
|19||New England||6 (FS1)|
|26||at New York Red Bulls||7 (FS1)|
|8||at New York City FC||3:30 (UniMas)|
|16||New York Red Bulls||1 (ESPN)|
|21||New York City FC||TBA|
*- at alternate home venue to be determined
**- opening game at Audi Field
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