- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

Major League Soccer officials visited RFK Stadium yesterday, the day after announcing their decision to play the 2007 MLS Cup in the District on Nov. 18.

The decision was made, in part to recognize D.C. United, one of the most dominant franchises in the 12-year league’s history. A desire to market the game also had an impact on the move.

“This is a thank you to the city of Washington and the D.C. region and the D.C. fans,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said at RFK yesterday. “If we can replicate what we have in this market everywhere, we will have ourselves a great soccer league.”

The 2007 final will kick off at 12:30 p.m., and air live on ABC.

Choosing RFK is a change of direction for MLS, which has held the last six finals at small 20,000 plus-capacity soccer stadiums. RFK’s current configuration has a capacity of 44,000 and more seats could be added for the final.

“If D.C. United is in the final it will sell out and we will probably have to put stands in the end zone,” Garber said.

D.C. United averaged 18,215 fans for its 16 home games in 2006 — fourth-best in MLS.

“This is the league’s appreciation of our fan base,” D.C. United president Kevin Payne said. “The MLS Cup being here in 2007 will add a little extra focus and discipline to our team.”

D.C. United has won four MLS titles but has experienced disappointing postseasons in the last two years.

This will be the third time that RFK has held the MLS Cup. In 1997 United won its second MLS title, defeating the Colorado Rapids 2-1 before a sellout crowd of 57,431 in the pouring rain at RFK. United is the only team to win the final in its home stadium.

In 2000, the Kansas City Wizards defeated the Chicago Fire 1-0 for the title before 39,159 at RFK.

United has shared RFK with baseball’s Washington Nationals the last two years. The arrangement caused the need for a new seating arrangement and grass being laid over the infield for soccer games. The MLS Cup is scheduled well after the Nationals’ last game at RFK and D.C. officials hope to have the field in perfect condition.

“It really depends on when the Nationals’ season ends and what our schedule is like,” Payne said. “We will probably have a two-week window when we can re-sod half of the field and no longer have the jigsaw [turf] to replace the baseball diamond.”

Officials at yesterday’s press conference also mourned the death of Lamar Hunt, who died Wednesday night after a long battle with cancer. In addition to owning the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, Hunt was a pioneer in American soccer and a founding investor in MLS. He was the owner and operator at one point of three MLS teams, the Columbus Crew, the Kansas City Wizards and FC Dallas. He also built the first soccer-specific stadium in 1999 to house the Crew.

“For many of us, the last time we saw him was when he left his hospital bed to attend the MLS Cup in Dallas last month even though his team wasn’t playing in it,” Payne said.

Hunt was an investor in the North American Soccer League’s Dallas Tornado in 1967, owning the team for 14 years.

Notes — Payne said D.C. United could announce a major player acquisition as early as next week. When asked if the new player was from Argentina, Payne said “You can assume they are not coming from Europe.” …

The U.S. men’s team will renew its rivalry against Mexico with a game on Feb. 7, 2007, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

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