A revitalized D.C. United debuts Audi Field amid old school pupusas and a whole new experience for soccer fans.
The numbers that mattered most to the over-capacity crowd at Audi Field were 3-1, the score that gave its hometown D.C. United Major League Soccer team a much-needed win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 14. After struggling in the beginning of the season—in part because the Black and Reds played all of their games on the road while waiting for their new stadium to open—they dominated the Whitecaps, going ahead on a gorgeous curling shot by Yamil Asad that found its way just under the crossbar in the 27th minute.
But there were so many more numbers when the Black and Reds opened their LEED gold-certified soccer-specific stadium in southwest Washington D.C. Those include $500 million, the rough cost of the stadium; the 1.3 miles to National Mall; the mere 8 feet that some seats are away from the field; and the $125,000 that the team will save annually on electricity generated by the stadium’s solar panels.
“We’re still a young team, so Rooney can help with the mentality he brings with his experience.”
The impressive numbers only hint at the larger story of the fan experience. After 22 seasons in the RFK Stadium, a fun, modern and innovative matchday experience is something the diehard D.C. United fans have earned.
Generating buzz in SW DC
Opening Night included a FanFest with local bands and DJs playing outside and food trucks and a large beer garden helping to get people in the spirit. Two people in particular loomed over how fans will move into this new era of United soccer: global super-chef and humanitarian José Andrés, who helped spearhead the food and beverage offerings in the stadium, and English club legend Wayne Rooney, who was due to make his United debut.
Both were well-represented throughout the pre-game, with Andrés’ Pepe “mobile sandwiches” food truck outside and Rooney’s face on United ads and on the commemorative program. By the time the gates opened and the crowds poured in to sample some of Andrés’ signature dishes—like his take on tapas bar staple patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), which was handmade potato chips and an irresistible spicy sauce poured on top, or traditional Mexican street fare—the buzz was building.
By game time, the crowd wanted to see Rooney, who wasn’t in the starting lineup. After halftime, fans began to chant his name, and their wishes were collectively granted when United Head Coach Ben Olsen subbed Rooney in in the 58th minute to roars.
Olsen said of Rooney, “We’re still a young team, so he can help with the soccer aspect and the mentality he brings with his experience. That’s the exciting part about this. We’re lucky to have him.”
Rooney—who was signed away from his boyhood team in Liverpool, took almost no time at all to get in on the action. The 32-year-old, who holds the records for most goals scored for both his national and main club teams, wasted no time in showing his class, providing clever distribution to his teammates as the game started to open up. This culminated in two Paul Arriola goals in the 69th and 80th minutes—the latter of which featured a pinpoint assist from Rooney.
A touch of class
Just as Rooney’s touch was obvious, so was that of Audi. Throughout the stadium area, a sense of performance and class spoke to the field’s namesake, like the 2018 Audi R8 V10 plus Coupe on display in an Audi Sport pavilion just outside the main gate (along with one that was on display on the stadium itself, at the club level). The four rings were well-represented throughout, but there was plenty of Audi soul, too, especially in the innovations that will help run the stadium and engage the fans.
You can start with the LEED gold certification, granted by the United States Green Building Council, as part of the environmental impact and its use of sustainable design. In this case, Audi Field incorporates multiple green initiatives, including solar panels, LED sports lighting, robust recycling, a green roof and on-site renewable energy systems. In fact, the solar panels will provide roughly one million kilowatt hours of solar power annually, enough to offset nearly one-third of the stadium’s projected electricity usage, which will save the soccer team around $125,000 annually in utility bills, according to New Columbia Solar, which installed the panels.
Sometimes innovations aren’t enough. There has to be heart, too. Whether it’s the perfect moment in a drive when you hit the curve just right, or Rooney hitting a streaking winger in stride for a breakaway, an experience has to be authentic and true.
Maybe that was why—as attendees got used to their new seats, United’s biggest fans waved their new flags on one end of the stadium, and the lines moved briskly through the bevy of restaurant options and canteens that dotted the concourse—one line stood out.
Audi Field incorporates multiple green initiatives, including solar panels, LED sports lighting, robust recycling, a green roof and on-site renewable energy systems.
It was the one for pupusas, a thick corn tortilla traditionally stuffed with cheese and meats and long a favorite of the United fans, particularly those with ties to El Salvador and Honduras, where these street-side snacks are omnipresent.
Andrés knew this was the one non-negotiable item from the old days and celebrated them in a tweet. After all, it’s not just a new stadium. For Andrés, Rooney, the team and the scores of D.C. United fans, it’s also home.