After sharing RFK Stadium for three years with the Washington Nationals, D.C. United again has the aging venue to itself. Numerous nostalgic stories were written in recent days about the Nationals departure, but few mentioned that United has used the venue for 12 years.
“Being involved in soccer you develop a thick skin,” said United executive vice president Stephen Zack, who has run the club’s front office from the team’s inception. “It wouldn’t have been a great story line to say that the Nationals are leaving, but don’t worry RFK is still here and D.C. United is still there. … We’ve been here 12 years and will be for a few more.”
Starting on Monday — with United on a road trip — RFK will go through a number of changes. The baseball infield will be removed and a new field will be laid for United’s game against the Chicago Fire on Oct 13.
“We are pleased about getting the stadium back to full soccer-mode and to make it back into a true soccer field and not have the inconvenience of the converted infield,” Zack said. “By the time we host the MLS Cup [Nov. 18] we will have one of the nicest fields in the league.”
Also gone will be the hydraulic pitchers mound, the outfield wall, the foul poles and the Nationals sign from the background of the giant clock.
According to Zack, the seats that were removed from behind the north goal were not kept, and the area will remain empty. Instead, the space might be paved and used for pre-game parties. Consequently United’s capacity will remain at around 46,686 and will not return to the days when 57,431 could squeeze in.
The players have the option to take over the baseball locker room but “are leaning towards staying where they are,” according to Zack.
The concrete dugout will likely remain, but Zack says he can’t imagine RFK ever holding another baseball game.
“Our goal is to make this the best venue for us and get the maximum profitability out of it,” Zack said
There are plans to turn the baseball press box and the baseball radio and TV booths into corporate suites.
Coexisting with the Nationals turned out better that Zack ever imagined, even having to deal with 19 field conversions each season, which took between 48-72 hours to complete and cost the Nationals about $40,000 each time.
“Our frustrations were minimal,” Zack said. “The conversion of the field was by no means the best case for our team but it was probably the best answer to the problem. Other than a few bad bounces here and there it did not affect the team play.”
One bone of contention was the scheduling of games, but United was confirmed two weekends each month, its schedule was never really compromised.
“If you had asked about this three years ago I was all gloom and doom,” Zack said.
While United’s goal is to get a new soccer-specific stadium, for the near future RFK remains its home.
“This is a fantastic stadium to watch soccer in,” Zack said. “When you are in your seat in the lower bowl and the sound and the crowd hits you it’s amazing.”
However the 46-year-old venue lacks “high-end seating” and corporate suites, Zack said. There concession areas are antiquated and there are some “gloomy areas” that are a waste of money to fix.
Zack says he expects the U.S. national teams will once again schedule games at RFK. He’s also sure, there will be a few nostalgic stories written when United finally leaves the venue.
“When we leave — talk about memories!” Zack said. “I’m sorry, but other than the Redskins, nobody has won anything here but us. There will be the memories of us winning [the MLS Cup] in 1997 before a sold-out crowd of 57,000 in the rain and hopefully memories of this year’s MLS Cup. It will be really bittersweet when we leave.”