- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 2, 2004

D.C. United officials said all the right things in welcoming baseball’s return to the nation’s capital, but there are deep concerns on how soccer and baseball will coexist at RFK Stadium in the next few years.

United president Kevin Payne was adamant his team will not be playing over the bare mound or basepaths the diamond requires.

“We’re not the A-League,” said Payne referring to a minor league. “We don’t know what the solution to [the infield dirt] is yet, but we’ve made it very clear to them that is not a solution that we will accept. That is not conducive to the proper quality of play, and it’s dangerous for our players.”

If there’s no solution to the infield problem you also can forget the U.S. national team or top European soccer teams dropping by RFK over the next three years.

“If we can send a man into outer space, I’m sure we can find a way to solve this,” Payne said. “Tray systems have been used to cover up [artificial turf], but there are costs associated with it.”

Grass trays were laid down at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., for the 1994 World Cup and at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., for Major League Soccer games in 1997, but the procedure was costly and time consuming.

Soccer teams in Washington have played on infield dirt before. The Washington Whips played at D.C./RFK Stadium in 1967 and 1968, but those were different times and soccer demands a little more respect these days.

“We don’t want to play across infield dirt with grass an inch-and-a-half or two inches above that level,” Payne said. “Do I want Freddy Adu to go out there and blow his knee out playing because there is a baseball infield?”

RFK has been a cozy home for soccer since 1974, when the Washington Diplomats began playing there.

United has averaged 17,000 a game in more than 150 matches since moving into the bowl in 1996, and RFK has known as one of the best soccer facilities in America. But all that is about to end.

In order to accommodate baseball, most of the east stand’s lower bowl from sections 327 to 338, will be removed. Those are the sections where United’s most colorful and devoted fan groups, the Screaming Eagles and La Bara Brava, congregate.

Soccer fans welcome “America’s game” back to RFK, but give the “world’s game” its fair shake.

United notes — D.C. United (8-10-9) will be without captain Ryan Nelsen and striker Alecko Eskandarian, both suspended, for tonight’s game at the MetroStars (11-10-6).

United coach Peter Nowak said he might consider giving forwards Santino Quaranta and Jason Thompson some playing time after both played well in a midweek 6-0 win over Guatemalan team C.D. Municipal. United can lock up a MLS playoff berth with a win over the MetroStars combined with a New England tie or loss.

Back again — American University midfielder Freddy Llerena scored his first goal since his leg was broken in March 2003 by Hristo Stoitchkov in a scrimmage between United and American. Llerena scored in the Eagles’ 1-0 win over Navy.

Overseas — Bobby Convey is struggling to break into the starting lineup with English club Reading.

Convey, who moved to Royals in a $1.5million deal in July, sat on the bench in last week’s 1-0 win over Watford but did come on as a late substitute in the club’s 1-1 tie at Ipswich on Tuesday.

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