07/12/2018 | News release | Distributed by Public on 07/12/2018 16:25
Just over 16 months prior to July 14's inaugural match, on Feb. 27, 2017, commemorative shovels struck dirt in an industrial corner of Southwest D.C. The slight shifting of sediment on the otherwise-barren site was merely a symbolic gesture, but with it came almost a tangible sigh of relief from those who have followed D.C. United over the years-ground had finally been broken on the club's own home in the District.
This Saturday, 502 days later, fans old and new, players past and present, and the community gather on that same site to debut Audi Field. Just as the ceremonial first dig signified the planting of new roots for D.C. United in the District, Saturday's inaugural match signifies the dawn of a new era for the most decorated club in American soccer.
'It's a special and transformative time for our club,' head coach Ben Olsen said. 'It will move us forward.'
While this weekend's game in particular is drenched in anticipation and excitement, the club's move into Audi Field is, as Olsen noted, also completely transformative in the long run. From both an on-field and business perspective, Audi Field signifies a new chapter for United, a chapter in which the Black-and-Red can honor the memories and success of the past while re-establishing a culture of winning in their new fortress.
'There are great days ahead for D.C. United with Audi Field,' former coach Bruce Arena said.
The promise of a new era stretches into the future with the opening of Audi Field's doors, but for years a home in the District was nothing more than an elusive dream for D.C. United. Although fans and local residents have watched Audi Field come to life from the empty industrial site over the past 17 months, the ongoing search for a home is a project more than 10 years in the making.
Numerous cycles of high hopes turned into unrealized plans left the most successful club in Major League Soccer history without a clear path forward, as the league continued to expand, soccer-specific stadiums continued to rise, and United's original, leased home continued to age.
'It will be nice to get into somewhere that is just our own,' defender Steven Birnbaum said. 'We're ready to get to Audi Field for the team and, more importantly, for the fans.'
With United receiving final construction approval for the Southwest D.C. site in February 2017, a long-awaited synergy was sparked between the club, the city, and the future, with its intersection manifesting in the form of Audi Field.
Next came the physical progress, and the various unions between United's storied past and promising future. Throughout the inaugural season, visitors will sit in 'raccoon fur gray' painted seats. Fans will eat pupusas made by the Polio family and chef José Andrés. Players will don their 2018 primary kits with Audi Field's coordinates on their neck tags and the club's four championship stars on their chests. Even in the setting of a new home, the past will remain entrenched in the fabric of the club.
Now, with final touches put into place and doors officially open, Saturday marks the new beginning. As the team christen their grounds and bask in the excitement of the first-ever match, they also turn an eye from the emotion of the present to the hope on the horizon, offering a warm welcome to this new chapter for one of the United States' most historic soccer clubs and most legendary fanbases.
'The fans deserve this stadium more than anyone,' Olsen said. 'It will be one of the great joys of my life to watch the fans make Audi Field one of the best atmospheres in the country.'
Audi Field may not offer the peeling paint, crumbling catacombs, or cohabitant critters that supporters grew accustomed to over the years at RFK Stadium, but the new abode gives the fans and the club arguably their biggest stride into the future since the team's inception. Audi Field will serve as the epicenter of D.C. United's resurgence, and as the inaugural season and this new era unfold, new memories, a reinvigoration of the club's culture, and a return to glory will follow.
'It's a time of excitement, a time of turning the page,' Olsen said. 'It's going to change everything with this club.'