- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

D.C. United president Kevin Payne is advising fans to buy tickets as soon as possible for the club’s opening game April3 against the Major League Soccer champion San Jose Earthquakes.

Club officials predict the game will be a sellout. RFK’s capacity for an MLS game is now 24,603, down from the listed 26,169 last season, and Payne says RFK’s upper bowl will not be opened to accommodate an overflow crowd.

RFK’s normal capacity is 56,500, but the seating has been downsized for MLS games, with only the lower bowl and mezzanine open. The upper bowl is closed to control costs, but that’s not the main reason.

“We need to create a sense of scarcity and urgency about buying tickets, and you can’t do that with a 56,000-seat stadium,” Payne said.

As of yesterday, the club had sold 14,000 tickets, the most for a home opener at this stage since its first season in 1996.

If the game is sold out in advance, the club will “publicize it heavily” in the English and Spanish press to discourage a walk-up crowd, Payne said. But what does the club do if the match sells out on game day?

“We do what other teams do and turn fans away,” said general manager Stephen Zack. “The whole point of the downsize sellout is to encourage people to buy in advance.”

There is greater interest in this season’s home opener, because 14-year-old forward Freddy Adu — the most talked about player in MLS history — could make his debut for United.

“We don’t know yet whether Freddy is going to play or not,” Payne said. “It’s obviously a game that could be historic in a lot of ways. That’s up to [coach] Peter [Nowak].”

Traditionally, United gets the biggest walk-up crowds in the league. The home opener in 1999 drew a walk-up crowd of more than 12,000, and the D.C. Sports Commission, which is responsible for game-day sales, was ill-prepared to deal with the club-record turnout of 35,167. Some fans waited for more than an hour to get tickets. In recent years the home opener has run smoothly, but the crowds have been smaller.

United’s second home game on April24 against the Chicago Fire, which will be Freddy Adu bobblehead night, is also predicted to be a sellout.

Crowd figures for United’s last eight home openers: 1996, 35,032; 1997, 28,749; 1998, 18,108; 1999, 35,167; 2000, 24,147; 2001, 22,216; 2002, 15,033; 2003, 17,321.

When United takes the field, it will be a more fit and disciplined team than in the past few seasons, according to Payne. New coach Nowak, who played for years in Germany, is a strict disciplinarian and is putting his team through longer and more intense training sessions.

“This will be a very fit, athletic and fast team, especially in the attacking third,” Payne said. “Peter’s idea is that you should be ready to play 120 minutes, not 90. Last year there were games when we ran out of gas late. I don’t think that will be an issue this year.”

United notes — An announcement on forward Jaime Moreno will be made next week. The club is pleased with Moreno’s performance and is likely to offer him a contract. … Former United star Marco Etcheverry came off the bench in the 61st minute to help Bolivar beat Colo Colo of Chile 2-0 in the Copa Libertadores on Thursday in La Paz, Bolivia. … Sports Illustrated for Kids predicts in its April issue that United will finish last in its conference. Said the magazine: “Freddy Adu will be a blast to watch, but he won’t keep D.C. out of the cellar.”

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