Construction on D.C. United’s new home at Audi Field continues apace, but there have been signs that have opened the possibility of some early-season home games being played outside of Audi Field. In September, D.C. United President of Business Operations Tom Hunt told Steve Goff:
“We want to get every single match at Audi Field, if we can,” club President Tom Hunt said in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday. “If we can’t, we have some ideas that we think would be a very cool, unique event for our fan base and the expansion of our fan base.”
He declined to elaborate, but his comments suggest United could end up playing elsewhere in the metro area or beyond.
The team told me in September that they are still on track to play all 17 home games at Audi Field and continue to work with the League to make that happen.
More recently, the team opened up the possibility in a recent email to season ticket holders:
Add "we plan to play all home games at Audi Field" to the retracted statements list I guess pic.twitter.com/l5aWcbALog— Scandalous Gringo (@ChrisHowdy) November 28, 2017
And Steve Goff heard rumors yesterday that the team is making preparations to play one or more games at alternate locations (something we at Black and Red United has heard as well). So, if D.C. United did have to play one or more home games outside of Audi Field, there are a number of options (of varying quality)
Highest probability options
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium - Capacity: 34,000; location: Annapolis, Md.; year opened: 1959; primary tenant: Navy Midshipmen. The home of Navy’s football team and a Major League Lacrosse team also hosted Crystal Palace Baltimore of the USL in 2007. This stadium has a more intimate atmosphere than other possibilities mentioned so far, so even though it has artificial turf I will rate the probability as high.
City Stadium - Capacity: 9,000; location: Richmond, Va.; year opened: 1929; primary tenant: Richmond Kickers. If D.C. United wanted to get outside of the DMV, the place most likely to host a game would be the Richmond Kickers’ City Stadium. Already configured for soccer, with natural grass and where D.C. United has played before, it would be a good idea to spread the team’s appeal to new fans. While the capacity is listed as 9,000 for USL games, I would think they would find a way to fit in a couple thousand more people to raise it to 12K or so. Don’t believe people who tell you the stadium’s capacity is 22,000; the tall stand hasn’t been used in a decade and is unsafe to put people in more than a few rows up.
Medium probability options
M&T Bank Stadium - Capacity: 71,000; location: Baltimore, Md.; year opened: 1998; primary tenant: Baltimore Ravens. A similar situation to FedEx Field, though a better stadium experience. The primary benefit, however, is that this could expose United to a new set of potential fans, which has been a stated goal of the team if they have to play away from Audi Field. The venue has hosted Gold Cup matches and international friendlies, but given its size I would rate it medium on the probability scale.
FedEx Field - Capacity: 82,000; location: Landover, Md.; year opened: 1997; primary tenant: Washington Professional Football Team. The alternate venue with which United is most familiar, this behemoth has hosted United and international friendlies throughout the years. However, it is a slog fans fans to get to (and leave) and the team wouldn’t gain much buzz by playing there. I rate FedEx Field as a medium on the probability scale, just since we already know that it can host a soccer game; I would think they would try other options first.
Low probability options
William H. Greene Stadium at Howard University - Capacity: 10,000; location: Washington, D.C.; year opened: 1926; primary tenant: Howard University. Nestled into the center of D.C., this would be a fun option in the heart of the city. And even though they could probably find a way to pack 2,000 or 3,000 more fans in, it seems extremely unlikely for size reasons.
Nationals Park - Capacity: 41,000; location: Washington, D.C.; year opened: 2006; primary tenant: Washington Nationals. The closest stadium to Audi Field, Nationals Park would be convenient and would give fans the ability to see the progress of the new stadium. However, the work it takes to change a baseball stadium to a soccer field is substantial, and it has never hosted one before. I would rate Nationals Park as low on the probability scale.
Oriole Park at Camden Yard - Capacity: 45,000; location: Baltimore, Md.; year opened: 1992; primary tenant: Baltimore Orioles. Another baseball stadium with baseball stadium problems. It has never hosted a baseball game, so just like Nationals Park it would cost a significant amount of money to retrofit. I rate the probability of games here as low.
RFK Stadium - Capacity: 45,000; location: Washington, D.C.; year opened: 1961; primary tenant: none. D.C. United’s first and long-time home, with which we are all intimately familiar. However, it is a well-known monetary disaster, so I rate the probability of playing here as very low.
Prince George’s Stadium - Capacity: 10,000; location: Bowie, Md.; year opened: 1994; primary tenant: Bowie Baysox. Another baseball stadium, but this one is out in the ‘burbs a bit and couple probably find a way to fit 12K or so. I just don’t think it has anything distinguishing about itself
Scott Stadium at UVA - Capacity: 61,000; location: Charlottesville, Va. year opened: 1931; primary tenant: UVA football. Now we get into the realm of the really out there. Scott Stadium is another big football stadium, but as an older college stadium it likely is on the small side, if not too small. That and its location make this very unlikely, though possible.
Klockner Stadium at UVA - Capacity: 8,000; location: Charlottesville, Va.; year opened: 1992; primary tenant: UVA soccer. One of the first soccer-specific stadiums in college soccer, Klockner suffers from the same location issues as Scott Stadium but would be a very intimate setting. I still rate this very low on the probability scale.
Lane Stadium at Virginia Tech - Capacity: 66,000; location: Blacksburg, Va.; year opened: 1966; primary tenant: Virginia Tech football. This is absurd, but why not throw it out there. Lane Stadium is rocking for Tech games, so would the novelty of an MLS game draw a similar crowd? Probably not, which is why this is very very unlikely.
Bridgeforth Stadium at JMU - Capacity: 24,000; location: Harrisonburg, Va.; year opened: 1975; primary tenant: JMU Dukes. Another absurd option, like Lane Stadium, but at least this one has a cozier atmosphere.
Out of the running for various reasons
- Probably too narrow: University of Maryland’s Maryland Stadium, Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson University, Armstrong Field at Hampton University, Foreman Field at Old Dominion University, Dick Price Stadium at Norfolk State, Walter J. Zable Stadium at William & Mary
- Not enough capacity: Maryland SoccerPlex (4,000), University of Maryland’s Ludwig Field (7,000), George Mason University Stadium (5,000), Old Dominion Soccer Complex at ODU (4,000), Sportsbackers Stadium at VCU (3,250), Georgetown’s Cooper Field (2,500), Georgetown’s Shaw Field (1,625), and a myriad of small college stadiums that dot Maryland and Virginia
If D.C. United cannot play in Audi Field, their stated goal of drumming up excitement across the region comes into play. Given that, I think that a Baltimore-area option and a Virginia-based option are the most likely. I think D.C. United may have really liked to have tried to find a way to make a game work in Hampton Roads, but it just doesn’t seem like any stadium there will work. My guess is that D.C. United will play at least one home game at both Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and at City Stadium in Richmond.