RFK reverts to United
© Courtesy MLS
by Chris Snear
At the completion of DC United’s 2-1 victory over CD Chivas in the home leg of their Copa Sudamericana series, the sprinklers kicked in at the north end of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium with nary a worker in sight. No one poised to roll up batches of sod, no hauling out the soccer goals through the south side ramp of the old joint, as the leaf blowers sweep the trash to the stairs in the lower section.
After a week of nostalgic tributes and sappy farewells for a baseball team that has been here merely three years, RFK is again a soccer stadium.
The Washington Nationals 5-2 victory over the Phillies last Sunday marked the last baseball game to be played in the rickety 46-year-old stadium. The club and city celebrated baseball’s past in the nation’s capital more than its present – and rightly so.
The future is fresh and hopeful for the Nationals, as they prepare to move into their new stadium on the Anacostia waterfront for the 2008 season. The new digs will feature brilliant views, a cozy crowd and up-to-date amenities, something the old horse never really had.
Loaded with character and passion, it decayed for a generation after the Washington Senators bolted for Texas in 1971. However, it stood proud on East Capitol Street, hosting the odd concert and a dozen or so football games every year from its most popular tenant of all time, the Washington Redskins.
But in 1996, it brought life to another kind of football team in DC United. For that one year, the city’s heartbeat and definitive mood-setter for decades, shared the legendary grounds with a team of a different sort, one that would immediately continue the indelible championship procession on the turf at RFK.
The Redskins literally shook the house like no other, selling out the 57,000 plus stadium for every game since the middle of the 1960’s. Their fans were passionate then and hopelessly optimistic today.
However, DC United established their own inspiring, fervent following, winning that first ever MLS Cup on a rainy miserable November day In Foxboro.
The Redskin players didn’t want to leave, United didn’t really want to share, and the Nationals had been looking forward to last Sunday since the official announcement of their new stadium over two years ago.
“I think it’s a win-win for both organizations. They will get to go into their new stadium and we will get the old RFK back (pause) without the pitchers mound, which will be nice.” said DC United midfielder Olsen with a smile.
The pitchers mound still sits on the hydraulic lift that moved up and down, pending on which team took the field that day. It now lies flattened at the corner of the north end penalty area, with the ominous seam around its border in plain view.
It may be old, decrepit and beaten down, but RFK is the only home DC United has known. United were expectedly professional about the Nationals entry after being the only full time tenant since 1997, when the Redskins moved to the character-deficient and miserable FedEX Field in Landover, Maryland
“The idea of having it back to ourselves and not have to worry about the infield. I’m sure the guys are excited about that; back to the way it was. We are going to make sure everything is the way we like it,” said United coach Tom Soehn.
“You get in here and you’re on your home field, you’re out there looking at the field thinking, ‘That might take a hop there, that might take a hop here,’ instead of just being able to play on a flat service…”
The infield dirt, baselines and home plate area are now covered for good with the heavy sod that workers diligently took up after every United match.
The treacherous seams dominated the entire north end of the field, with an empty dirt area and the National’s dugout behind the goal. The stands that formed around the dugout and down the left field line are now permanently shifted to collect the Screaming Eagles and Barra Brava.
The area patrolled by National’s third baseman Ryan Zimmerman so admirably for the last two seasons probably cost United a win during the July 17 SuperLiga match against Morelia of Mexico. Rod Dyanchenko’s low cross from next to the pitchers mound hit a seam on the way to Luciano Emilio, who was alone in front of the net, bouncing off his shin and over the goal.
Troy Perkins had caught a foot on the seam at the other side of the goal a month earlier, allowing a soft shot from current United teammate Jerson Montiero to sneak in the far post in a 3-1 win against Chicago.
“The infield got me,” said Perkins abruptly after that match.
The field will be completely re-sodded after United’s September 29 match against Toronto, when they take to the road for two weeks. The field will be Bermuda grass-based prescription turf, over-seeded with rye to accommodate the cooler season.
“Thank God. It’s stressful,” said Perkins about getting the new turf. “You get in here and you’re on your home field, you’re out there looking at the field thinking, ‘That might take a hop there, that might take a hop here,’ instead of just being able to play on a flat service, an even surface. Hopefully, they’ll do some things to RFK to make the way it used to be.”
The field needs to be put down soon as the stadium will host MLS Cup on November 18th for the third time in the league’s twelve-year history.
“I think everybody is [happy],” said Jaime Moreno about getting the stadium back. “We just want a soccer field, that’s all.”
Chris Snear can be reached at email@example.com.
© Snear/Cyber Soccer Associates, LLC 2007