By now, you've probably seen Jonathan O'Connell's report for the Washington Post that D.C. United's ownership has toured potential stadium sites in Northern Virginia and may be considering backing out of the deal reached last year with the District of Columbia to build a long-awaited new stadium on Buzzard Point. If not, go read the details there (or over here), I won't rehash O'Connell's reporting.
Instead, I'll tell you about my day so far. It started off really well. My 12-month-old slept in till 8 for the second day in a row (read: second time ever), and was a peach as I got her dressed and got her breakfast and walked her to daycare. I got home to catch up on the morning's news, read up on Freedom Kicks, and all was well - or at least fine - with the world.
Then I see a tweet from Steve Goff:
Okay, I think to myself. The team must be moving forward with those plans to build a new home for the U-23s and a future wholly owned USL affiliate - those rumors always centered around Loudoun County, right? And team officials always knew 2018 was the likelier opening date on Buzzard Point, and the city is taking the procedural steps to get ever closer to finalizing everything for construction to start.
I start reading O'Connell's story, increasingly frustrated that he's missing that detail - that this must be about a USL stadium, not an MLS stadium. And I keep thinking that right up till the communications from Virginia Governor McAuliffe's office make that line of thought completely unfeasible.
Virginia really is pitching D.C. United on moving to locations 45 minutes from the center of the city (not counting traffic). And United's managing partner Jason Levien is listening, even touring the sites.
Enter: the Rage.
Yes, I recognize this could well be a negotiating tactic from the team's perspective, a way to push back on the myriad changes new Mayor Muriel Bowser has insisted on, which have made the deal less favorable for United's ownership. But I also recall a time when Levien and Co. insisted that the club was all-in on the District and were not engaging any other jurisdictions in any level of talks. I remember speaking personally with Levien and Ben Olsen and others who insisted that the decade-plus that D.C. United sptent trying to land a new home in the region's core would be worth it once that stadium inside the District was there to call home.
I testified twice in front of the D.C. Council in support of the Buzzard point deal, arguing that D.C. United needed to be in D.C. and that the city is enriched by their playing here. That I was relieved when the infamous Prince George's move was called off several years ago before it could really even be called a thing, and that United would be an ideal partner for the city to revitalize a corner of the city that for too long had been relegated to an industrial wasteland.
And then this report, which leaves me feeling betrayed and angry. Either the club's negotiating tactics have changed, or something more fundamental has. Either way, I'm not a fan. The team moving out to the fringes of the Metro area is basically my worst-case scenario. I'll go from attending 95% of all home games to seeing the team sparingly at most. Worse, this club that I associate more closely with the District than any other professional sports franchise in the region - this club that has entered an unprecedented partnership with a D.C. voting rights group for next season's home uniform - would be turning its back on the city after years of insisting that "in the city" is the only place it wanted to be.
Right now, I can only hope that the club hasn't had a wholesale change of heart, just a change in their negotiation positioning, which still leaves me feeling a bit sick. When Jason Levien took the reins in negotiations with then-Mayor Vincent Gray, he had the prudence not to negotiate in public and not to weild the threat moving out of the city as a cudgel. That prudence led directly to a deal that former United President Kevin Payne never came close to reaching. Suddenly, with the D.C. Council moving forward on procedural steps necessary to clear the way for a Buzzard Point stadium, Levien may be reverting to Payne's failed tactics.
Regular readers will know that I'm the eternal optimist, so I'll end with my hope - stratching as I might be to maintain it. I have to accept that Virginia wants to poach the team from D.C., but I have to hope that United are not similarly interested. I have to hope that the club is just looking for a 12,000-seat USL-level stadium where D.C. United-B can play, and that the Buzzard Point deal is still the first and only option on the table for the first team to call home.
I hope my anger at reading today's report is ultimately misplaced and I can recant this column in due time.