It’s finally the week in which Audi Field will host it’s first game, and D.C. United and the city of Washington, D.C. marked the occasion with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday afternoon. After years of toiling away at the friendly confines of RFK Stadium, United will finally have a place of their own, with the opening game this weekend against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
On Monday, members of the team, ownership, city officials, fans, and media gathered around the northwest entrance of the stadium for the official unveiling of the $400m project.
“Today is the day we have been waiting for. A landmark day, in a landmark year for D.C. sports,” Managing General Partner and CEO Jason Levien told the crowd. “It’s difficult to overstate the magnitude of what today represents. Today we christen our glistening new home.”
When Levien and General Partner Erick Thohir took over the club in the summer of 2012, they had one mission on their mind - keep United in D.C., by getting a new stadium within the city limits. The stadium will open almost five years to the day when the original plan for the stadium was released in July of 2013, but finally, United will have a place to call their own.
“I want to give a big thank you to all the D.C. United fans who have stuck with us for more than 20 years,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said, recognizing the difficult road it took to get the team a stadium in the city.
Monday’s ceremony was the first chance that many people had to get a close-up view of the stadium. The groundbreaking for the stadium came back in February 2017, and since then, the team has been quickly trying to get everything ready for July 14th.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who was at that ground breaking ceremony, was also present on Monday. He has long advocated that United needed a stadium of their own to keep the team in the city, but allowed United to continue at RFK, even while it held the team back amongst its peers. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, Garber spoke highly of Audi Field, which is just one of three soccer specific stadiums that will have opened from April 2018 to March 2019.
“One of the great new cathedrals for our sport, a great beacon for hope….. for what our sport can be throughout our region,” the commissioner said of the stadium at Buzzard Point.
Wayne Rooney was also a featured speaker, as he continues to make public appearances at every opportunity, ahead of Saturday’s game, which is more than likely to be his Black-and-Red debut. Rooney, who recently arrived at the highest paid player ever in United’s history, spoke about what the stadium meant to him, when he first came over to visit with the team at the end of May.
“When I spoke to [the team] about coming here to play, I could tell the excitement which they had about the stadium, and also the new training ground, which will be here next year,” said Rooney.
“It played a big part in me coming here,” the 32-year-old said. “And hopefully, in the next few years, we can climb up the table, and bring titles, and create some wonderful history in this stadium. I’ll see you’s all on Saturday, and hopefully three points.”
From there, the ribbon was officially cut by Thohir and Levien, and United opened the gates to the stadium for fans to get a view from the northwest corner opening. It was evident that there was still work to be done at the stadium, and that all of that likely won’t be finished by Saturday.
But that didn’t dampened the mood as players and fans mingled in the concourse of the new stadium. The team has spent most of the first four months of the season on the road, and while the team has struggled to pick up many points in their endeavors, there’s almost a new sense of hope surrounding Audi Field.
That was best summed up by Charity Blackwell, the Director of Writing for DC Scores, who opened up the ceremony by reading a poem.
“D.C., like soccer, is a space where we can all feel United,” said Charity at the end of the poem. “And let’s go, D.C. United.”