First MLS Experience: D.C. United RFK Stadium


Fans at DC United Match

Entering my sixth year living in the United States, I have definitely taken advantage of learning the rules as well as developing a deep interest for the most popular American based sports: gridiron football, baseball and basketball.

Especially after attending a big sport-oriented college like Pennsylvania State University, I made sure that I could at least experience one college-level game of baseball, football and basketball. Yet I ended up watching two full-seasons of football, one of baseball and half of basketball, as a spectator as well as a journalism student. So I discovered what a tailgate means, the euphoria that groups of alumni bring to town during each game, and the passion and pride born within the academics and transferred to the fields and courts.

However, the one sport I grew up following very closely—soccer—was never at the top of my priorities once I moved out of my native Brazil. But two years ago, I became more curious about Major League Soccer and have watched a few matches ever since.

And once I knew I was moving to Washington D.C. for working purposes, I reversed my to-do sports list and put a soccer game experience in the U.S. as a top priority. This became a reality last weekend in D.C. United’ home opener against Real Salt Lake for the MLS.

As soon as I found my way to the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, after taking the Metro to the Stadium-Armory station, I was in front of the west side. If you drive from downtown D.C. it would take 17 minutes in a day with no traffic, which may be rare in this metropolitan district.

Facing a Dwayne De Rosario poster hanging from the outside of RFK wasn’t the most impressive aspect at my arrival. I followed a wave of around one hundred fans going the opposite direction, passing under a bridge and entering the parking lot where close to four hundred other supporters were tailgating just as if they were about to enter a baseball or football game.

For those not familiar with tailgating, it is a festivity that takes place three to four hours before a sporting event in the parking lot of a stadium. Families bring mobile barbecues, pre-cooked foods, drinks (including alcohol) and games from cards to cornhole.

Among these fans there was an impressive group of 20 people with their faces painted in traditional United red-and-black colors, who were firing up others with percussion instruments and a number of different cheers sang both in English and Spanish.

As I went back and found my gate entrance, I was greeted by a staff volunteer who promptly pointed out how I could get to my section. Once in my seat, I could not avoid observing the pattern of every single chair that had been reserved for the match had a white large plastic trash bag attached so no fan would leave any left overs behind.


Another interesting initiative by the club worth mentioning is their “D.C. United’s Designated Driver of the Game” campaign. According to the official website, the designated driver of a group should visit a Good Sport booth inside the stadium. They open 90 minutes before kick-off and close 30 minutes after kick off. These drivers have the opportunity to win prizes varying from special prize packs, autographed mini-balls to a chance of winning round trip airfare, hotel accommodations and two tickets to the MLS All-Star Game or MLS CUP, if assigned to be the Designated Driver of the Season.

Aside from the sense of a positive and safe community United are trying to implement, the RFK stadium does show its age at 51 years since its opening. Parts of the paint are falling apart,  and big circles of water rust could be found in the between two rows in the lower section where most United supporters groups watch their team.


Recent news have showed that a group of investors could initiate the construction of a new home for United in the near future. Though there have been conversations of maybe changing cities, chief marketing officer Doug Hicks has said to the Washington Post this isn’t likely to happen.

“The emotional attachment the fans have with the team, if they think there’s a chance we aren’t going to be here, they are going to cut it off,” Hicks said.

But maybe they should also consider a smaller number of seats available from the current 45,596 at RFK. Back in 2001, the average was 21,518 supporters, but since then the stadium has seen a dramatic decrease to 13, 846 last season. The five-year playoff drought for United can be pointed to as one of the factors that have influenced the drop in attendance. However, during the 2013 home opening match, there were 17,072 supporters.

The over 17,000 fans present threw a party that showed me a fusion of South American flags and music from percussion instruments to European-style cheers.


A great visual for the home opening game was the showing of the District of Columbia flag.


The excitement was not restricted to the standings; a fan passed from boyfriend to a future groom after his girlfriend accepted his proposal during half time.

The sense of community in the stadium — with a vast number of families attending as well as the astonishing number of young kids running around with soccer balls in the parking lot — sends a strong statement that MLS and soccer are here to stay.

This mix of South American and European styles in the stands and the addition of players from both continents arriving to the MLS each year helps enthusiasts not only in D.C. but throughout the MLS in developing the league even further.

And, maybe my first-time viewer lucky charm was of some help since the team was able to obtain a victory during the opener, which did not occur last season

Post a Comment