After years of speculation and intrigue, Major League Baseball has finally announced that the Montreal Expos will relocate to the nation's capital in 2005. While new facilities are in the works for both teams, for the time being, D.C. United will have to share RFK Stadium with the new Washington baseball team.
The league-owned Expos have struggled for several years while MLB determined their new home, considering bids from the Washington area, Las Vegas, Monterrey, Mexico and a host of other cities. But more than 30 years after the departure of their last team, the Senators, the District of Columbia is home to baseball once again.
Mayor Anthony Williams and the D.C. City Council have made plans for a $400 million stadium for the Expos franchise, to be built on the western shore of the Anacostia River. But in the meantime, RFK Stadium will undergo a $13 million reconfiguration in time for the 2005 baseball season.
This will affect United in a number of ways. RFK's seating arrangement will be altered in order to provide optimum sightlines for baseball, reducing the quantity and quality of soccer seats in the stadium's lower bowl. Also, scheduling will be complicated by the two leagues' overlapping seasons.
But the general eventgoing experience should improve, with revamped concessions and the like. Upgrades to luxury suites will enhance United's offerings for high-end ticketholders and corporate clients.
But the most crucial aspect of baseball's arrival centers around the playing surface itself. The prospect of playing soccer on a dirt infield hardly inspires enthusiasm among players and fans -- no club in MLS history has ever shared facilities with a baseball team.
The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission has assured United officials that all efforts will be made to maintain a suitable environment for soccer. One possibility that has been discussed in the media: covering the infield with grass to be brought in on removable trays, similar to those used in Detroit's Pontiac Silverdome during World Cup 1994.
A statement by United CEO Kevin Payne notes that club officials "look forward to working with the DCSEC to ensure that the playing surface will remain at the high standard to which our players and fans have become accustomed."
The long-term solution to United's quandary clearly lies in a soccer-specific stadium. While discussions are in the early stages, city officials have expressed support for a new United facility at southeast Washington's Poplar Point, on the eastern bank of the Anacostia across from the planned baseball site.
United officials stress that these are preliminary negotiations, but they are optimistic that the Black-and-Red will have a new home for the 2007 season. AEG, the team's ownership group, is fully committed to financing of the new stadium, which would host soccer as well as concert events and be flanked by practice fields and park facilities reminiscent of Los Angeles's Home Depot Center.
So, despite the questionable merits of United having a new housemate, the future holds bright possibilities for soccer in the nation's capital.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.