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DC United game vs Crew a big event for Navy soccer, Annapolis area

For Navy men’s soccer coach Tim O’Donohue, Saturday’s MLS match at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is an excellent chance to gain some exposure.

In one of the college soccer’s biggest hotbeds, that’s not always easy.

Situated in Annapolis, Md., O’Donohue’s program is less than an hour’s drive from perennial powers Maryland, as well as the Georgetown and Maryland-Baltimore County programs that have reached the final weekend of the College Cup in the last decade.

But Navy will become the first local college to host the highest level of the US professional game when D.C. United welcome Columbus Crew SC in D.C.’s last home match (Saturday, 7 pm ET | Full TV & Streaming Info) before the opening of Audi Field in July.

“It’s great to give some attention to Navy soccer and the Naval Academy, and certainly to have people just associate us with hosting such an exciting event,” O’Donohue told MLSsoccer.com. “We’re really recruiting top players, and we have a really good young team. … We want to be a top 40, top 25 program in the country, and we think we can do it.”

Navy have one national title to their name, in 1964, and last reached the national semifinals in 1967. But they remain a Division I program that competes in the Patriot League.

Recent alum Joseph Greenspan even found his way to MLS with Colorado and Minnesota over the last three seasons, and now plays in the USL while serving as a Navy reservist.

The Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs played an NHL game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium back in March. | USA Today Images

And before O’Donohue took the Navy head coaching job, he was an assistant at UConn, where he recruited former Orlando City forward Cyle Larin and worked with Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake and Vancouver right back Jake Nerwinski.

“I think the league is really in a great spot,” O’Donohue said. “For us, for our players, just to see the overall technical quality, the pace, everything up close is going to be a great experience for our players, and I think for the community.”

While hosting MLS soccer is a first for Annapolis, major pro sports are not.

Just last month, the NHL's Washington Capitals hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs at Memorial Stadium in an outdoor hockey match. Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals played an exhibition against the Boston Red Sox at Navy's Max Bishop Stadium in 2017, with the Baltimore Orioles slotted to do the same against a yet-to-be-determined opponent in 2019.

The impact of Saturday's game goes beyond the soccer program, of course, with D.C. as a club doing their part to draw attention to the event.

On Thursday night, D.C. players Ian Harkes and Russell Canouse -- along with TV announcer Dave Johnson -- appeared for a Q&A session at the Annapolis Fado location, one of the Maryland capital city's most well-known soccer bars.

And military members are being allowed free admission to the match with a military ID, likely guaranteeing a big Naval Academy presence in the stands on Saturday.

“I’ve talked to a lot my of friends in the area, soccer friends with local youth teams, and people are really excited about the game,” O’Donohue said. “It’s a real opportunity for Navy and Annapolis.”