With Audi Field not scheduled to open until this summer, D.C. United will have to play two home matches in the spring at alternative locations — one in March and one in April to break up a string of 12 road trips.
The choices: Maryland SoccerPlex on March 17 against Houston and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis on April 14 against Columbus. Club officials have taken inspection tours, negotiated contracts and now await MLS approval. Both matches would kick off at 7 p.m.
The date of the season opener left few options: RFK Stadium, United’s home for 22 seasons, is unavailable because of a music festival in the parking lots; Navy is hosting a lacrosse game; Richmond is staging a Washington Spirit preseason match; talks with Oriole Park at Camden Yards cooled; Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium isn’t available; Nationals Park wasn’t interested; FedEx Field is too big and expensive; and University of Maryland facilities didn’t meet the team’s needs.
Between 1996 and 2017, the only United regular season game not to take place at RFK was in June 2014 against Columbus as part of a doubleheader with an international match (Spain vs. El Salvador) at FedEx Field.
Here’s a closer look at United’s two substitute sites:
Location: Boyds, Md.
Field. You’d be hard-pressed to find a misaligned blade of grass. It is a gorgeous playing surface, one that, in 2014, was named the best in the country by the Sports Turf Managers Association. With unpredictable weather in March, the groundskeepers will be put to the test.
Setting. On a nice night, the SoccerPlex is an idyllic spot. Beyond the almost endless stretch of athletic fields and facilities, farms and forest hug the property. The backdrop includes a giant barn called the MOOseum.
Vantage points. The seating sections push right up against the field, and even from the back row, a spectator can look into a player’s eyes and listen in on the interaction between teammates. Behind one goal, in front of a beer garden, a gentle grass hill invites picnic blankets and a view of the action from the goalkeeper’s perspective. Also, this kind of celebration is possible:
Familiarity. With 12 of the first 14 matches on the road, United needs to truly feel at home in these other two matches. SoccerPlex fits the bill, having been United’s second home for more than a dozen years as the venue for U.S. Open Cup matches almost annually.
Road less-traveled. The only way to SoccerPlex is by car, but that doesn’t mean you have to take I-270. For ticket holders in Loudoun County and western Fairfax County, the nostalgic and carefree (but not toll-free) route crosses the Potomac at White’s Ferry, which shuttles 24 vehicles at a time between Virginia and Maryland in 3 1/2-minute rides. It’s then 15 winding miles through pastures and the village of Poolesville before reaching developed suburbia near the SoccerPlex.
It’s out there. The drive is about 35 miles from downtown D.C., Alexandria and Fairfax, 25 miles from Silver Spring. Metro can only get you to Shady Grove, 11 miles away. Fortunately, the match falls on a weekend, not a weeknight, when rush-hour traffic scares off inside-the-Beltway fans for Open Cup matches. If you live in Rockville, Gaithersburg or Frederick, this is your game.
Small capacity. United averaged more than 17,000 per match at RFK last season. The two early home dates are not part of the season-ticket package; those fans, though, will have priority in purchasing seats. That will leave limited availability at SoccerPlex for the general public. United could’ve added additional bleachers on the concourse, but for a single match, it wasn’t cost-effective.
Seating discomfort. Half the stadium has molded plastic seat bottoms and the rest has metal bleachers.
No covered areas. If it rains, you’re out of luck. All seats are exposed to the elements.
Infrastructure. For the teams, locker rooms and treatment areas are small. For attending fans at a sold-out game, lines for concessions and bathrooms could test your patience. For TV viewers, the main camera is on a lower angle than you might be accustomed to for MLS matches.
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
Location: Annapolis, Md.
Stadium size. Plenty large enough for a United match, but not too large. A crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 would look and sound festive in this medium-sized college football venue.
Fan experience. Quality sightlines, two high-definition video boards, private suites, renovated concessions and restrooms.
Infrastructure. The stadium is accustomed to staging major college football, as well as lacrosse and non-sporting events, such as U.S. Naval Academy graduation. Teams will find spacious locker rooms and treatment areas.
Parking/tailgating. Ample space to leave your car in the lots surrounding the stadium and designated tailgating areas.
Annapolis. This is one of America’s great small cities and state capitals. The historic downtown is 1.5 miles from the stadium, with pubs, restaurants and shops lining Main Street. The Naval Academy’s immaculate grounds are a prime waterside destination. For a quieter maritime experience, Eastport is wedged between Spa Creek and Back Creek. If the weather cooperates, make a day of it.
It’s out there. Thirty-one miles from downtown D.C., 38 miles from Bethesda and 55 miles from Fairfax. Metro can only get you to the Beltway. Of course, you could always sail up the Chesapeake and park your yacht at City Dock (a.k.a. Ego Alley).
Traffic on and off Route 50. Fortunately, it’s only a mile from the exit to the parking lots. Unfortunately, if a big crowd turns out, everyone returning to the immediate D.C. area all at once would cause backups on Rowe Boulevard.
Artificial turf. RFK is grass. Maryland SoccerPlex is grass. Audi Field will be grass. Navy uses FieldTurf, an artificial surface. It won’t be the first time United will play on it this year: D.C. is at Atlanta on March 11.
No covered areas. Fingers crossed for decent weather.
Strange lines. It’s the middle of the lacrosse season, so there might be some unfamiliar markings on the field.
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