WASHINGTON — The last five months haven’t been pleasant ones for D.C. United. A lowly 2-14-4 record and only nine goals scored in 20 matches say all you need to know.
But Thursday’s press conference with D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the announcement of a $300 million public-private partnership to build a 20,000-seat soccer stadium in the Buzzard Point area of Southwest D.C. injected some serious optimism about the future of the franchise at an ideal time.
“I’m thrilled, as you can imagine,” said United third-year coach Ben Olsen, who has been a part of the club in one capacity or another since 1998. “I’m over the moon about the situation.
"I love this city, I love this team and today they come together with a huge first step to get us the stadium we deserve. The stadium that our fans have deserved, players before me have deserved, the coaches before me have deserved and the front office before this. It’s a great day.
While land acquisition issues, approval from the city council (five council members were in attendance at Thursday's event) and a finalized stadium plan are only some of the major obstacles that remain for the league’s most decorated franchise to finally move out of RFK Stadium, the signing of a term sheet on Thursday was a big first step.
“I believe in the District and I believe in this team being in the District. Our ownership has done a very good job in a short amount of time to push this tangible first step through,” Olsen said. “Now there’s a lot of work to do, from what I hear. But with [managing partner] Jason Levien at the helm, he’s not going to take no for an answer and he’s going to push this thing until we get to the big house.
Levien has been aggressive in his pursuit of a stadium since joining the club one year ago. In the proposed deal, the District would assume the cost of land acquisition and infrastructure while United would pay for the full cost of the stadium, estimated to be roughly $150 million. Levien said while United haven’t finalized a blueprint that he believes construction would take anywhere from 18-22 months to complete.
“I think it’s going to drive our culture and our fans and our team to new heights,” Levien said. “I think this is a long time coming. And I think that there’s going to be a pep in everyone’s step in the locker room. I talked to our players and our coaches and our management about this. This is something everyone wanted to see happen and I think it’s going to resonate on the field as well as in the city.”
Levien said the team’s focus is to have the facility ready by the start of the 2016 season, but said that the outer end of the timetable could be the 2017 season. Despite the many hurdles likely to crop up throughout the development process, Levien is as optimistic as ever about making United’s new home a reality.
“We’re all in right now. We’re fully committed to this project. I have a lot of confidence in this community,” Levien said. “We signed a term sheet that requires us to move forward. Over the last 12 months there have been stops and starts along the way. Certain things that were important for our city, certain things that were important for our team. So getting here was quite an accomplishment.”
Nick Cammarota covers D.C. United for MLSsoccer.com.