So D.C. United have a stadium. What’s next?

Feb 18, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; D.C. United Head Coach Ben Olson (L) talks with Montreal Impact head coach Mauro Biello before their match in the 2017 Rowdies Suncoast Invitational at Al Lang Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; D.C. United Head Coach Ben Olson (L) talks with Montreal Impact head coach Mauro Biello before their match in the 2017 Rowdies Suncoast Invitational at Al Lang Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /

D.C. United finally have a stadium. All is right in Washington D.C.

Well, not really. Aside from the sad clown carnival show that has become our executive office and for the most part our legislative body (judicial branch, we are cool enough. Just don’t start using puffy wigs) there are some reasons to be hopeful that 2017 will not be the raging dumpster fire that 2016 was in our nation’s capital. Both the Capital and Wizards are relevant.

The University of Maryland looks like they might do something in the NCAA Tournament. The Cherry Blossoms are coming in. And the Washington Spirit look like they may be a playoff contender, despite having dropped half of their roster.

But there was another cause for celebration on Thursday evening. By a vote of 5-0 the D.C. Zoning Commission voted to pass what is now being called Audi Field, the future home of D.C. United. Goodbye, RFK Stadium and smells of various foul odors. Hello, Southeast Washington D.C. and the pristine water of the Anacostia River!

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This has been a long time coming for United and to be fair the city itself. Negotiations between both parties have been going on for close to two decades with multiple different ownership groups and politicians working on this project. It is a process all too uncommon in D.C., a city that has some level of autonomy but still answers to the federal government. It is also a city made up of two very different sets of people: those that were born and raised in the District and those that are transplants from elsewhere due to school or work. These things need to be kept in mind when discussing any matter involving land as cultural and political sensitivities need to be considered.

But the legislative process is done and on Monday February 27th MLS Commissioner Don Garber, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Audi of America President Scott Keogh and D.C. United CEO Jason Levien will all be on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony. Pictures will be taken, nice words will be said, Levien will apparently be bringing his machete (machete>chainsaw. Just kidding Timbers supporters), and supporters can breathe a giant sigh of relief.

So what happens next?

That seems to be the Designated Player dollar question with this side. For years the running theme with United was that the club could not spend money because of their high rent at RFK Stadium. So with that hindrance removed the hope is now that the club can start to actually make money. Their deal with Audi for naming rights which the Sports Business Journal has reported will net the club about $4 million a year over the course of 10-15 years will help.

Beyond the money though it is credibility that the club lacks. Although they are the most successful clubs in U.S. Soccer history it is a club whose name doesn’t have quite the luster that it once did. While other sides in the league have packed their stadiums, brought in some of the top players in the world. and earned national and international recognition United seemed to have been stuck in neutral. The club has rebounded nicely since their disastrous 2013 campaign where they won just three matches during the MLS regular season. Long gone are the days of Marco Etchverrey, John Harkes, Eddie Pope, and Jaime Moreno. Although things have been looking up lately there is still plenty of work to be done.

The challenge that United officials will face is bringing back the club’s rich history while at the same time forging a new path. The first step would be tapping into the rich soccer youth market in the DMV region. For years the club seemed to turn a blind eye towards working with the local soccer community, in particular the Central and Latin American market. That needs to change, not only from a standpoint of recruiting talent but also raise interest in the club. In the early days of United RFK Stadium would be packed with supporters from various different cultures including Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadorean. It has waned a bit in recent years but is something that could be regained with a little effort from the club.

Working with the local neighborhoods would also help. Soccer is at its best when it can capture the essence of the local neighborhoods and transfer that into the stadiums. The D.C. United that played at RFK Stadium, in terms of how supporter culture is built, may change when the team moves to Buzzards Point. It is a very different part of the city than the concrete jungle of RFK. People that have never attended a United match simply because one has to transfer over train lines may now be interested in the club. New fans and new interest in supporter culture will be good for this side and help erase some of the acrimony that was built up during the legislative process.

The good news is that the club already has some things working in their favor. On the pitch the team has made the playoffs in each of their last three seasons and seems to have found a rhythm under coach Ben Olsen. In the stands the club saw a bit of an uptick in attendance last season and still maintains one of the healthiest set of supporters groups in the league. District Ultras, La Barra Brava, and Screaming Eagles are some of the oldest SGs in MLS and have for many years distinguished themselves not just for their support of their team but their charity work as well.

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For both the city and Audi Field is a chance to create an atmosphere different from RFK and bring the club into the modern age of American soccer. But there is still a lot of work to be done. United have to now work on not just upgrading infrastructure but also finding a culture that fits in with the community. They have done it once before not let’s see if they can do it again.