WASHINGTON – D.C. United will end their 22-year residence at RFK Stadium 141502266" tabindex="0">on Sunday as their Atlantic Cup rivals the New York Red Bulls hit down for Decision Day Presented by AT&T (4 pm ET; MLS LIVE).
It’s the last MLS game in the last remaining venue from the league’s inaugural season in 1996, and the place that has hosted more US national team games than any other. After an interminable wait for a new home of their own, United will christen Audi Field next summer and open a brand-new era in its tradition-laden history.
But is it really the last soccer game at RFK?
Well, no – in fact, you yourself can play on that famous pitch if you and a dozen or so of your friends register a team in the Last Call at RFK Cup, a daylong 6v6 tournament on 141502267" tabindex="0">Nov. 18 that benefits DC SCORES.
Even United themselves are only moving their matchday activities for now: The team and staff will continue to train at the RFK auxiliary fields and work out of the stadium’s locker rooms and offices next year while the club pursues a new training complex somewhere in the region.
And not if you ask Events DC, the entity that operates the stadium, the adjacent D.C. Armory and other venues around the nation’s capital. No further matches are on the official schedule at this time, but contrary to some perceptions, RFK is not set for demolition just yet. Its management would welcome one-off soccer occasions in the future, and just about any other sort of occasion befitting the old bowl.
“We look forward to announcing what is on the horizon for the RFK Campus in 2018 and beyond after D.C. United’s departure. Their new home in Buzzard Point will only aid to Washington, D.C.’s vibrancy as a destination and help our city to further redevelop the southwest corner of the District,” said Events DC president Gregory A. O’Dell in a press release this week.
“As part of the Campus’ redevelopment efforts, Events DC will focus on activating the site and transforming it with a new destination for sports, recreational and waterfront activities for generations to come.”
RFK sits at the center of nearly 200 acres of waterfront land at the edge of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The US Capitol building sits less than two miles to the west, while hard to the east is park space along the Anacostia River. The “campus,” as it is officially known, is an almost-blank slate that city leaders and community members are currently debating how best to utilize.
Long-term proposals include a lavish mega-stadium that would house the local NFL team – and quite possibly serve a major World Cup venue if the United States successfully wins the right to host the tournament in future – or a new indoor arena for the city’s pro hockey and basketball teams, should their current venue in the Chinatown neighborhood outlive its usefulness. There’s also a “no-anchor” option that would open up more of the land for other community-oriented uses, perhaps including affordable housing in a metropolis desperately short of it.
Since last spring, the city has been conducting public presentations and meetings around D.C. to solicit input from residents and chart a path forward. That helped lead to a short-term plan for the campus featuring three multi-use playing fields for local youth and adult sports leagues, an indoor sports complex and a market hall with food, groceries and fresh-produce options.
New pedestrian bridges will be built to better connect the campus to Kingman and Heritage Islands in the Anacostia, and crucially, a new memorial to Robert F. Kennedy is also central to the plan no matter when RFK Stadium finally does get demolished to make way for what’s next. The short-term plan could begin to be enacted as soon as next year and is projected to run for the next five or so years.
So if you get a chance to catch Sunday’s match, or if plans do materialize for a USMNT sendoff game or any other sort of soccer event at D.C. United’s longtime home, don’t miss out, because the final countdown clock on the old place is finally cranking up in earnest.