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DC United is the most decorated club in the history of Major League Soccer. Rich in tradition with passionate fans, United play in RFK Stadium, the second oldest venue in the league, built in 1961. When the Houston Dynamo move into their new venue in 2011, the DC will stand alone with the oldest stadium in the league. United make do with what they have, but the most storied club in league history deserve a new venue.
I mean, I've definitely seen worse. RFK definitely has a certain charm. But it pales in comparison to other soccer-specific venues in this country.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Terrific food selection abounds here, with all your stadium standards along with much, much more. You can have healthy choices, with salads and wraps, you can get standard American fare, like ribs (real, actual ribs, not Spam shaped like ribs). There is a big Latin American lean here as well. If you have never had chorizo (a type of sausage), don't leave before you get some. Imagine the best sausage you have ever had of any kind. Well, chorizo is better. Wisconsin brats have nothing on Mexican chorizo. Get a pupusa while you're at it.
Beer selection is good, not great, and starts at $8 for a 20 ounce draft. There is a full bar with a view of the US Capitol building called, cleverly, the Capitol View Club.
All things considered: The atmosphere is not too shabby. The pride of the fans and history of the club make for a very good atmosphere. United go out of their way to make fans feel welcome, having truly embraced the stadium. The reason the score isn't higher is that we are dealing with an ancient venue. It's somewhat dark and, well, it's just old. Old is not necessarily bad, and, again, can lend a certain charm in places. But where other stadiums gleam, RFK is just, well, there.
The fans are what really pick this place up and make for a decent atmosphere to see a game. More on that in the fan section.
Yeah, just park and join the tailgates. Or take the Metro, which is close by and join the tailgates. The tailgates save this from being a zero, or, if possible, negative points. It's bad. Nothing to see here, just move along. Seriously, and be quick about it.
Honestly, I'm being as polite as humanly possible. This stadium is in a bad neighborhood. Really bad. United desperately wants to get out of it and the city of Baltimore has made overtures to build a soccer only stadium. I've been there many times before, and while I wasn't scared, that's largely because I was raised in a bad neighborhood and know how to handle myself. But I was definitely nervous, cause, let's face it, it's been a while.
DC United keeps the area somewhat enclosed for just this reason. It is a block or two from the Metro station, and that walk is well lit and policed, but if you veer even a block away from that, it gets dicey.
Of course there is a lot of safe and fun stuff to do in DC, but not near the stadium. The Redskins and Nats left for a reason. Of course, they both went to places that are almost as lousy, just not as dangerous.
It is a crying shame that the most decorated club in MLS history has to play in its worst venue. They do the best they can with it, but, wow.
The fans deserve, like, at least a 13. United boast three separate supporters groups, La Norte, the Screaming Eagles and La Barra Brava. They come out en masse to support their club. They stand, chant and sing, in various languages, for the entire match. They are ear-bleedingly, head-splittingly, goose bump-raisingly loud for the entire match. They wave giant flags on giant poles for the entire match. They really rock the stadium.
No, seriously. One of the charms of RFK is that the bleachers literally shake when the crowd gets into it. I have seen baseball and football here in the past, and when the home team scores, the stadium shakes. Now, it ALWAYS shakes.
For the entire match.
It is amazing to see, and even more amazing to feel. It defies description. It needs to be seen and felt to be believed.
The stadium is easy to find with any GPS (it's not new, so you don't need an update or anything) and has TONS of parking with great tailgates in it. The bathrooms are what you would (or should) expect in a 50 year old venue.
The stadium provides a less than average experience for a number of reasons. The age, neighborhood and, uh, age are just too much to overcome.
An extra point here for the fans. They are truly amazing.
Not the worst I've seen, but far from the best. For a United supporter, it's all you have, so enjoy it for what it is, a place to support your club while eating well with passionate fans. For a visiting soccer fan, drive two and a half hours to Philly and go to PPL Park, although PPL doesn't have chorizo.
Geoff Crawley is the Mid Atlantic Regional Correspondent and Voice of the Fan and is the host of a weekly podcast.
My RFK experience is from the short time frame that the Nationals spent there, from 2005-2007, but I sure hope DC United have improved upon the massive shortcomings I experienced there.
On the afternoon I went, which was an extremely-hot August 2005 weekday, the fans were non-existent; granted, the team just moved from Montreal and were all-but-out of the playoffs, so they were going to be pretty apathetic. And because it was super-hot in a concrete bowl, there was no escaping the heat.
The only bright spots were the ample parking (and easy connection to the Washington Metro) and the fact you're just minutes from all the popular tourist spots in DC; the immediate neighborhood, though, is something to be desired.
So, I hope DC United have been able to turn the place around, because it's not like the glory days of Redskins; then again, the cookie-cutter stadiums were never something to behold anyway.
Old decrepid building that moves no matter what level you are on.
Food & beverage - decent and average for a stadium, nothing special
Atmosphere - great in some areas of the stadium, dead in others
Access - easy to get to from car or subway.
Fans - great but sparse compared to other MLS stadiums.
Return on Investment - really do not feel like the stadium was worth the price of the ticket.
My dad loves Chevy El Caminos. Apparently they were popular for a while. So popular, in fact, that there were even a few knock-offs. Who else remembers the Subaru Brat?
I never got the appeal of the El Camino. I still can't tell if I find them more hideous or ridiculous, but it doesn't really matter. My dad's is now more than 25 years, which, by law, makes it a historic antique collectible in his state. I can no longer deny the history nor the appeal, even if it's not for everyone.
Well, that's RFK Stadium.
I started watching MLS after college, and DCU was looking for a new stadium. Somehow, 10 years have gone by. MLB briefly returned to RFK, then left, then a family of racoons moved in. From what I hear, the racoons haven't left, and neither has United.
(The RFK stadium site has a complicated federal status. That status has combined with a whole host of local politics to make DCU's stadium search a Sisyphean task.)
At 51, RFK has seen better days. But even in its prime, it probably wouldn't score highly on this site. It's a "multipurpose concrete donut." If you've ever been to one of the 60s-era cookie-cutters (Three Rivers Stadium, QualComm, Busch, the Vet, etc.), then you've essentially been to RFK. It's one of the last examples of an unfortunate-if-practical era in stadium design.
But unlike most of its class, RFK is still standing. It's a window into a different era of stadia. This is how millions of people saw their first games. If you look around, you can still spot some of the original wooden seats. It's a throwback--not to a classic era, but to a different and acceptable one. Stadiums of this era weren't as nice as the ones we have now, but they were a whole lot more cost-effective. And they had some other benefits, too.
DCU has a decent fan club culture. The tailgates are great (it's easy to drive in or take the metro. Or take a LONG, only slightly ill-advised, walk from the touristy parts of DC). And if you feel the stadium shaking...like, really, seriously shaking...it's ok; that's just the fan clubs making the most of this old place. If you want to get beer poured on you, sit with the fan clubs. If you want to watch them do their thing while staying dry, sit behind them. If you want no part of it, ask for a seat on the "quiet side." There's a place for everyone here, from drunken frat boys to 5th birthday parties and everyone in between.
United games are great, but RFK's a dump. But I love many dumps, and I hope this one never goes away. That day will come, and it will both be far too soon, and not nearly soon enough.
Tip: Washington, DC, has a large El Salvadorian expat population. So large, in fact, the El Salvador's national soccer team plays occasional home games here. Regardless of who is playing, though, you taste (literally) the Salvadorean influence on the pupusa stand on the second level. By far the best food in the stadium and, by default, that entire part of town.
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400 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001