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D.C. United really did break ground on a stadium

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Audi Field will soon be a real building at Buzzard Point. We can barely believe it.

It never seemed like today would come. That’s the thought that I had over and over again yesterday, right up until - with my own eyes - I witnessed actual earth being moved in the name of building D.C. United a stadium. It was not a dream, or a hallucination. I was there. There are people who can testify to my whereabouts at the time, photographs, video, dirt from the site between the treads of my shoes, a SmarTrip card used to get to Navy Yard...it happened.

It happened. The seemingly impossible happened.

I suppose it’s not fair to say that it “never” seemed like today would come. It actually did seem like today would come, over a decade ago. Poplar Point seemed at first like a fait accompli (at least, it did to me in my mid-20s). Wealthy developers who get this sort of thing done frequently took ownership of the team. Mayor Adrian Fenty came to a packed RFK Stadium to promise everyone there that United would have a new stadium in the District. Side note: I would be completely fine with Fenty being barred entry at Buzzard Point for the duration of the building’s existence.

The PG County proposal came and went at what felt like breakneck speed. The deal came and went so quickly that I had just enough time to weigh convenience (at the time, I lived a short bike ride or long walk from the proposed site) against moving out of the District, and I came down on the side of staying in DC. It wasn’t entirely a relief that this idea fizzled out - after all, it left United severely restricted due to the rent at RFK Stadium, and also 0-for-2 on stadium proposals - but part of me was sincerely OK with having to roll the dice in order to stay in the club’s spiritual home.

But let’s be real: rolling the dice was nerve-wracking as hell this time. Things fell through in the ‘burbs in 2009, and we’re breaking ground in 2017. Don Garber said it yesterday: “This team could not have stayed here, regardless of its historical significance to our league and even to professional sports in the District.” The financial strain United was under was severe. It wasn’t just about competing in a league that is increasingly narrowing the window to win without spending; it was about staying in D.C.

This push for a move to Buzzard Point has been referred to as United’s “last, best chance” fairly often. The more important descriptor there is “last.” The District simply doesn’t have many spaces for a stadium left, and Garber’s quote pointedly tells us that MLS - with a long queue of expansion candidates - was not interested in waiting much longer. With Poplar Point off the table, a failure to cross the line at Buzzard Point would have left the club with no options. Yesterday had to happen for D.C. United to remain the DMV’s MLS club.

Celebrations in the southern corner of the city aside, we’re not done at RFK. Building a new stadium is wonderful, but finishing up on East Capital Street means something too. Bill Hamid put it best: “We have to go out strong. We have to send it out the right way.” The urgency in that statement connects deeply with me. This club has won 13 trophies, but only two times - the 1997 MLS Cup and the 2008 US Open Cup - have they been able to lift a trophy at home (note: if my figures are accurate, they also won the 1997 Supporters Shield at home, but the Shield only came to exist in 1999). RFK - the home of the most storied club in American soccer history - deserves to be sent off with a trophy being lifted in front of the fans that have made the old place shake for over twenty years.

Still, yesterday was something else. I’m writing this deep in the night, because I can’t sleep. I can’t bring myself to let this day end. After 21 full seasons of supporting this club, and nearly two decades of pondering about, hoping and wishing for, and losing sleep over where this team will play in the years to come, the issue is finally, truly settled.

It happened. You can stop worrying. We have a home that is truly ours.