Sunday, October 18, 2009

RFK as National Stadium?

My friend Jeff put me onto a Bill Simmons article on Friday, and while it was just his weekly picks for football and other things in life, there was a particular pick that struck my eye:

RFK STADIUM (-3) over Any Other Soccer Venue
Did you see Wednesday's incredible USA-Costa Rica game? Phenomenal crowd, upper decks hanging over the field, entire sections swaying, tons of history … the whole thing was Estadio Azteca-esque, only without the fluid-throwing. I was lucky enough to stand on that field once with the Hogs for a 2002 column. It's an incredible place. Every seat feels like it's right on top of you. So can't we just make it official? Every big American soccer game should be played in RFK. We need the home-field advantage. Done and done.

That really surprised me, because although the game on Wednesday at RFK (which I attended) was one of the most incredible atmospheres that I had been a part of, the idea of a national stadium has not been thrown around that much. However, it’s a discussion that has picked up over the past few days as the nation looked back on the game and the fan experience. Here in DC, the local chapter of the American Outlaws has wanted to make it so that whenever there’s a big matchup that DC is thrown into the mix because of the incredible atmosphere that results from every match. However, there are other stadiums and parts of the country that have lots of games. Whenever Mexico comes to play in a World Cup qualifier, the game is undoubtedly in Columbus, where we are undefeated and untied. We have never lost in Foxboro either. However, there’s something about having the national team in the nation’s capital that not only has a nice ring to it, but brings out the best in the USMNT supporters.

In most countries, the national stadium for their team is in the capital. In England, it’s Wembley Stadium in London. In France, it’s Stade de France in Paris. In Spain, it’s the famous Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid. On this side of the pond, Mexico almost always plays in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Trinidad & Tobago play in their national stadium in Port of Spain, El Salvador plays in San Salvador.

Now, there are some exceptions. Germany plays in Munich a lot, although Munich is not the capital. Costa Rica plays most of their matches in Saprissa and are very tough to play at home. Brazil, while they play a couple games close to the capital of Brasilia, play many games in Rio or Sao Paulo. Canada plays their games in Toronto instead of Ottawa for the most part.

The idea of a national stadium in the United States is something that should be considered, although since our country is so large, not every game would be played there. Some people would say that New York would be considered with the almost-finished Red Bull Arena along with Chicago’s Toyota Park, LA’s Home Depot Center, the soon-to-be-completed stadium in Philly, along with Columbus Crew Stadium and RFK Stadium in DC. RFK is, by far, the biggest of that group, but other than Mexico games in Columbus, the best pro-American crowds have been in games in DC. US Soccer has noticed as well…RFK has held 3 USMNT matches since October 2008. The nation’s capital is easy to get to from any American city, despite its location on the East Coast. Between Dulles, National and Baltimore, there are many options for flights into the area, and just about every major city in America has at least one flight to DC. It makes sense.

Having multiple games in DC at RFK would also be great for DC. Perhaps, with the national team playing more games here, it can be used as an extra incentive package to lump into DC United’s plans to get a new stadium built in the area. You can even call it DC National Stadium or something like that. By making the new stadium a national stadium of sorts, with a capacity of somewhere around 30-35,000, it not only will make a stadium that is loud and intimidating, but also will serve wonders for DC United and their wonderful, rabid fanbase. Finally, it can serve as that intimidating place to play no matter who the opponent is, whether it is Mexico or Trinidad & Tobago. Games will always be well attended, with a crowd at or near capacity and very loud and on top of the action all game. You can throw in the bouncing stands as well, which also serves as a way to distract the opponent and disorient them. Also, with a national stadium in DC, it will be easy for our overseas players to make the trip back for games.

As this debate gains more and more traction, it’s easy to consider DC as a place that more and more games are played. It will also make it even easier if it can get DC a new RFK Stadium that keeps the intense home-field advantage, which is something that will only help the U.S. become more of a force in the world’s game. Regardless, if you are talking about creating a place that no opponent wants to face us in, RFK Stadium, located within our nation’s capital, might be the stadium that U.S. Soccer was looking for all along.

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