LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

D. C. United

Audi Field revives Buzzard Point and Rooney returns

A fan’s guide – the club from formation to today

D.C. United was one of Major League Soccer’s ten founding franchises when it began play in 1996. The Black-and-Red became the dominant force during the league’s first decade with four MLS Cups, three U.S. Open Cups and one CONCACAF Champions’ Cup ending up in the trophy cabinet at Washington’s historic RFK Memorial Stadium.

With MLS expansion, the Black-and-Red has found silverware far harder to come by, a move to soccer-specific Audi Field in 2017 the arrival of Wayne Rooney for two seasons shortly afterward failing to bring D.C. United any closer to another trophy.

Rooney returning as coach in 2022 failed to lift the team into the postseason, the Washington side firmly rooted to the bottom of the Overall Table. Goals from former Aston Villa star Christian Benteke in the preseason pointed to a more positive 2023 campaign as United welcomed the arrival of Polish international Mateusz Klich to bolster the midfield.

D.C. United ticketing/Chris Condon

United’s first season in 1996 ended in double glory under the leadership of head coach Bruce Arena and captain John Harkes. D.C. lifted the inaugural MLS Cup that October with a golden goal victory over Los Angeles Galaxy, dramatically reversing a 0-2 deficit. Substitutes Tony Sannah and Shawn Medved tied the score before club legend Eddie Pope hit the winner. 

An untried rookie before the season started, Pope also starred for America at the Atlanta Olympics that summer. The defender would go on to win 82 caps and play seven seasons for the Black-and-Red, who added the U.S. Open Cup ten days after their MLS triumph with a 3-0 defeat of Rochester Raging Rhinos.

The MLS Cup was retained in 1997 with pretty much the same side, playing at home in front of a sellout crowd of 57,431, then a record attendance for a single playoff match despite freezing rain. Arena steered his men to continental glory the following year with a win over Mexico’s Deportivo Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup Final, again the final played at RFK Stadium and Eddie Pope the vital goalscorer.

Arena was lured away to coach the United States national team after their disappointing showing at the 1998 World Cup. His departure twinned with changes to MLS salary rules that would lead to leaner times for D.C. United – but only after two more MLS Cups in 1999 and 2004.

RFK Memorial Stadium/Ian Thomson

Bolivian playmakers Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno were two of United’s key stars in the 1999 triumph over Los Angeles Galaxy, but MVP was right midfielder Ben Olsen, Rookie of the Year in 1998 when the Black-and-Red had failed to make it three-in-a-row in a controversial MLS Cup Final defeat to Chicago Fire. 

Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoichkov ended his playing career in a D.C. jersey in 2003 but failed to reproduce the form he had shown for Chicago. United then gave much-hyped American prodigy Freddy Adu his professional debut as a 14 year old during the 2004 season, bringing him on for the last 25 minutes in the MLS Cup Final played with ten men in the blazing heat of California. United stalwarts Jaime Moreno and Ben Olsen also starred. 

Fan favorite Olsen was appointed as D.C. United’s head coach at the age of 33 after a stellar career, during the dismal 2010 season. The U.S. World Cup midfielder stayed in charge for an entire decade, winning the U.S. Open Cup in 2013 and MLS Coach of the Year in 2014 after D.C. United topped the Eastern Conference.

RFK Memorial Stadium/Ian Thomson

Conference semifinalists in 2014 and 2015, D.C. United fell both times to New York Red Bulls despite heroic saves from Abdul ‘Bill’ Hamid, the first player to come through to the first team from D. C. United’s academy.

Olsen remained head coach as Indonesian entrepreneur, and global sports mogul Erick Thohir and U.S. sports executive Jason Levien, focused on building the club a soccer-specific stadium. The location would be Buzzard Point, a vantage point once coveted by George Washington, an area ripe for development at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.

It was a bold move. The club’s glory days were a decade before, and crowds at the soon-to-be-obsolete RFK Memorial Stadium rarely challenged its capacity of 20,000. League form in an ever-stronger, ever-expanding MLS was held together by Olsen’s tenacity as a coach and Bill Hamid’s skill as a goalkeeper. 

Audi Field/Chris Condon

A bolder move came with the arrival of Wayne Rooney halfway through the 2018 season. On the same day, July 14, Audi Field opened after tortuous negotiations between the City, club, and landowners. The Rooney effect was immediate, the ex-England star making a vital interception in stoppage time then setting up the winning goal against Atlanta with a peach of a long pass, the heroic combination considered by many to be the best play in MLS history. 

With the return of goalkeeper Bill Hamid after a short spell in Denmark, the Black-and-Red roared into the playoffs, a 5-0 triumph over fellow contenders Montreal Impact sealed before a sellout crowd thanks to goals from Rooney and his new-found striker partner, Argentine Luciano Acosta. The so-called Luchoroo duo combined again in the decisive 3-1 win over New York City, each finishing each other’s moves for D.C. United to head into the postseason.

With all set up for a barnstorming run towards a long-awaited MLS Cup Final, United stalled at the first hurdle, before another full house at Audi Field. Bill Hamid and his Columbus Crew counterpart Zack Steffen defied two penalty takers each, Rooney and Acosta both failing from the spot in the shootout. Regular scorer of vital D.C. goals, including the overtime volley that tied this 2018 playoff, Nick DeLeon then blasted his penalty over the bar to put Crew into the next round. It proved to be the last shot he would take in a D.C. jersey, as DeLeon was traded to Toronto soon afterward.

Audi Field/Chris Condon

Now the wrong side of 30, Rooney’s powers were waning by 2019, apart from the occasional stroke of genius, such as his goal from inside his own half against Orlando that June. A 5-1 mauling by Toronto in the First Round of the playoffs, the last goal by former D.C. hero Nick DeLeon, ended the brief but thrilling Luchoroo era.

With Rooney back in England, 2020 would see another era draw to a close as Ben Olsen bowed out after ten years as D.C. coach. The team failed to settle, even after Rooney returned as coach halfway through the 2022 season, and proven goalscorer Christian Benteke arrived from Crystal Palace.

After finishing rock bottom in the Overall Table in 2022, Rooney’s Black-and-Red began the 2023 campaign with a 3-2 win over Toronto, the decisive goal in stoppage time coming from Ted Ku-DiPietro. The homegrown youngster had made his mark with the club’s USL affiliate Loudoun United, sold in February 2023, with D.C. United still retaining a minority stake.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

A soccer-specific stadium for D.C. United at last, Audi Field was built with fans in mind. An arena of 20,000 capacity, just above the club’s regular average over the past few seasons, the stadium is ideal for the Black-and-Red after two decades at the multipurpose RFK Memorial Stadium, now a white elephant and soon to be demolished.

Sadly, however, this in turn means that national capital Washington will be overlooked when it comes to the 2026 World Cup, for which a minimum stadium capacity of 40,000 is required. Audi Field at least hosts the MLS All-Star Game in July 2023.

The location is Buzzard Point. A tapering peninsula jutting out where the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers meet, for decades it had been earmarked for regeneration while being used as a dumping ground and industrial zone. The Pepco power plant dominated its polluted skyline, above the gay nightspots thriving under the radar in former factory spaces.

Less than two miles from the Capitol, the district became ambitiously known as the Capitol Gateway to the litany of politicians and entrepreneurs who sought to take advantage of this blighted, edgy eyesore. Things began to change with the Nationals Park baseball stadium opening in nearby Navy Yard in 2006, built by the same architects, HOK, later named Populous, responsible for Audi Field a decade later.

Close to the long-delayed Green Line on the Washington Metro system, Audi Field was opened just in time to provide a stage for Wayne Rooney to sparkle in the twilight of his playing career – the same day in fact. 

Planners had little space to play with, so touchlines and spectators are in unusually close proximity, the stands steep-sized, the atmosphere intense. Add to this the roar coming from general-admission sections 136-137 behind the north goal, home of ultra groups the Screaming Eagles and La Barra Brava, and D.C. United has become an intimidating place to visit for teams on the road. The contrast with RFK Stadium couldn’t be more stark. 

This Supporter Section is named the Chico Stand in memory of lifelong fan Chico Solares, and singing is in English and Spanish.

Prime seats, private boxes and suites are found along the sideline in the main East Stand, all five levels of it, including 500 seats beside the pitch. The other sought-after spot is in the MVP Heineken Tower, a panoramic bar lined with screens whose uninterrupted view all the way to Washington is aided by the empty northeast corner. The large D.C. United merchandise store sits below.

The huge terrace Eagle Club bar occupies a large chunk of the the West Stand. Away supporters are allocated the upper rows of section 112, spilling over into 113 if demand requires. Those buying seats in 135 and 138 in the north end will be treated to 90 minutes of noise and color from the ultras alongside.

Transportation

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

Audi Field must be the only stadium in MLS accessible by boat. The Potomac Riverboat Company runs a service to and from Audi Field on match days from Alexandria Marina and National Harbor to the Nationals Park dock. Tickets cost $20 one-way and $25 roundtrip.

Audi Field is equally distant from the Waterfront, and the Navy Yard-Ballpark Metro Stations on the Green Line of the Metrorail network. The club recommends you use Navy Park, with more restaurants and amenities lining M St SE in the 15-minute walk to the stadium. Take a left at Half St SW or First St SW. From Waterfront, head straight down 4th St SW. Signs will direct you in both cases.

The closest transfer point from Blue, Orange, Silver, Red, and Yellow Lines is central L’Enfant Plaza. The Silver Line runs from Dulles International Airport, tickets $6 on weekdays, $2 after 9.30pm on weekdays, all day on weekends. Within the city, the Weekend OneWay Fare is $2, a 1-Day Unlimited Pass is $13, including the Metrobus.

For parking, use the Audi Field SpotHero Parking Page, which will indicate free spaces and cost. Parking is also available at the Anacostia Metrorail Station, the next one down on the Green Line from Navy Yard-Ballpark. With a baseball stadium long established nearby, there are around 6,500 parking lots in the vicinity. 

There’s a free bicycle valet at the corner of 2nd Street SW and T Street, and a Capital Bike Share station at the corner of First Street and K Street SE.

Ticketing

When, where, how, and how much

Tickets are distributed online, and from the box office at the stadium up to four hours before kickoff. For all inquiries, contact ticketing@dcunited.com or call 202-600-9098.

Prices start at $27 for upper-row seats behind the south goal in sections 117-118, and near the corners in sections 120 and 124. You’ll pay $28 for General Admission in the raucous Chico Stand (sections 136-137), where everyone will be standing and singing. 

Seats closer to the pitch in the South End are $34-$36, while upper-row seats along the sidelines, around sections 101, 202 and 208 are $40. In 104 and 108 nearer the halfway line, admission is around $50, in more central 105 and 107, around $60. On the opposite sideline, in 125 and 127, it’s $65-$70.

A decent seat close to the action – and it is close at Audi Field – will cost you $75-$80, in sections 127-128. The priciest tickets are in the lower level of the East Stand, C2-C9, between $170-$200, going up to $220 in F1 and F10 at pitch level, and S240 in F3-F4.

Visiting team supporters are allocated the upper rows of section 112, at the opposite end of the stadium to the D.C. United ultras.

Merchandise

Jerseys, souvenirs, and all kinds of gear

The D.C. United Club Shop (Tue-Fri 11am-6pm, match days) is by Gate A , accessed within the stadium behind the Heineken Rooftop bar. 

Secondary jerseys in D.C.’s iconic cherry blossom are huge sellers, home uniforms keep the faith with the black and red. T-shirts and hoodies also come in black or red. 

tailgating

Enjoy the full matchday experience

Few MLS tailgates offer a panoramic waterfront view or rare birds of prey – but that’s what you get when you join the Screaming Eagles and other ultra groups, who carry over the Lot 8 tradition from RFK Memorial Stadium to the Matthew Henson Earth Conservation Center, two blocks from Audi Field at 2000 Half Street SW. 

Beer ($15) can be supped on the decking overlooking the Anacostia or inside the center. Bring your own food, non-propane grills welcome.

Where to Drink

Matchday beers at the stadium and downtown

Given its sketchy/industrial recent past, the immediate vicinity toward Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge has few drinking options, although this will change as urban development inevitably takes over. 

The one decent alternative, and we’re talking alternative, Bardo Brewery at 25 Potomac Avenue SE, failed to survive lockdown. The team behind the city’s popular Clarendon bars, B Social Hospitality, has earmarked this 750-capacity no-frills beer garden for a new venture, The Cove, due to open later in 2023. Alongside, Solace Brewing serves its Red Devils DC lager and Foggy Goggles India Pale Ale, plus hefty burgers, from its Outpost at 71 Potomac Avenue SE. Opening hours are from noon Thur-Sun, from 3pm Mon-Wed.

On the north side of the stadium at 20 M St SE, The Big Stick sports bar has long attracted baseball fans on matchdays, offering a huge range of craft beers, now including DC Brau Pils and Devils Backbone Vienna Lager. Plentiful TV screens and bar food also feature.

With the 2020 closure of Fadó in Chinatown, nearby family-run Irish Channel (500 H Street NW) now pulls in the soccer watchers, particularly Spurs fans. There’s live music four nights a week, all-day happy hour and buckets of beer at $25.

Another central option, Lucky Bar in Dupont Circle, has so far failed to open since the pandemic. As and when it does, you’ll find three big screens and 22 TVs showing English, German and Spanish leagues on weekend mornings. Also long established in Dupont Circle, Public Bar Live (1214 18th St NW) provides 40 screens for sports action, sunset views from its upper terrace and DJ parties till 3am on weekends.

timeline

Following the local soccer scene
RFK Memorial Stadium/Ian Thomson

1967 Scottish side Aberdeen competes under the guise of Washington Whips during the inaugural United Soccer Association tournament with manager Eddie Turnbull invited to the White House on the eve of the league’s kickoff to meet then President Lyndon B. Johnson. Whips wins the USA’s Eastern Division before losing an amazing championship decider by 6-5 in sudden-death overtime to Los Angeles Wolves, represented by England’s Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Washington also enters an expansion team, Washington Darts, in the American Soccer League season kicking off in September 1967. Scottish head coach Norman Sutherland had formed the club four years earlier as an amateur team called Washington Britannica.

1968 Whips’ new home-based squad joins the newly created North American Soccer League for one season before disbanding.

Norman Sutherland earns the ASL’s Coach of the Year award after leading Washington Darts to a successful debut season. The ASL transitions to a summer schedule with an additional 12-game season, Darts winning the championship.

1969 Darts beats Syracuse Scorpions in the ASL playoff final to win a second successive championship. Norman Sutherland retains his Coach of the Year award.

1970 Darts tops the NASL’s Southern Division after paying a $10,000 franchise fee to switch leagues. Rochester Lancers thwart the capital side from winning a third straight championship with a comprehensive win in the playoff final.

1971 Financial problems force the sale of the Darts franchise. The team relocates to Florida after a disappointing season and becomes the Miami Gatos.

1972 D.C. briefly gains ASL representation again as Virginia Capitol Cavaliers changes its name to Washington Cavaliers. The team picks up one point from its ten games before folding at the end of the season.

RFK Memorial Stadium/Ian Thomson

1974 Washington Diplomats is one of eight teams added to the NASL as the league expands to 15 cities across the U.S. and Canada. Fewer than 5,000 fans show up on average for the team’s home games.

1975 Pelé’s arrival at New York Cosmos triggers a sharp rise in crowds across North America. The Dips sets an NASL record when 35,620 fans attend RFK Stadium to watch the Brazilian legend.

1977 Former Whips owner Earl Foreman announces plans to commence the Major Indoor Soccer League over the winter of 1978-79. The NASL’s growing popularity sees the Dips’ average attendance exceed 13,000.

1980 Diplomats makes a splash in the transfer market by signing Dutch legend Johan Cruyff and his former Netherlands teammate Wim Jansen. Cruyff scores ten goals and provides 20 assists in what proves to be the franchise’s final season.

1981 Washington soccer fans earn a reprieve when Detroit Express relocates to the U.S. capital and assumes the Diplomats’ name. The new Dips is one of seven franchises to fold at the end of the year as the struggling NASL contracts to 14 teams.

1983 Team America is created in a bid to regenerate interest in the NASL and to provide regular, competitive games for the U.S. national team in advance of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. RFK Memorial Stadium is chosen as the team’s home venue. The Americans lose 15 of their last 17 games to finish bottom of the league and the team is withdrawn at the end of the season.

D.C. United Club Shop/Chris Condon

1988 A new American Soccer League starts up after the demise of the NASL four years earlier. A reborn Washington Diplomats is one of the ten entrants. The D.C. metropolitan area gains a second ASL team with Fairfax, Virginia-based Washington Stars also serving as a charter member. Diplomats wins the inaugural championship after a two-legged playoff final victory over Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

1990 The East Coast ASL merges with the Western Soccer Alliance to form a new national American Professional Soccer League. Diplomats finishes bottom of the APSL’s Eastern Conference before being terminated by the league at the end of the year for significant financial difficulties. Stars merges with league-winning Maryland Bays and moves to the suburbs of Baltimore.

1994 RFK Memorial Stadium cohosts the World Cup, welcoming Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, and witnessing a wonder goal from Saeed Al-Owairan of Saudi Arabia.

1996 RFK Memorial Stadium cohosts the Olympic football tournament, shortly after D.C. United starts out in the inaugural season of Major League Soccer.

2018 D.C. United moves out of RFK Memorial Stadium and into the new-build Audi Field at Buzzard Point. Wayne Rooney plays his first game on the day of its unveiling.