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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

RFK Stadium: The Closest American Equivalent of Wembley or Maracaña

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
and Master Sergeant Ken Hammond.

There has been discussion recently that venerable Robert F. Kennedy Stadium (originally named DC Stadium) may be short for this world. The Washington Nationals played their final game last week at RFK, and will move to a new facility for the 2008 season. But that leaves the dilemma, for the powers to be in the DC Government, with what to do with RFK? Some want to tear it down despite its long tradition as a soccer venue. Which would force DC United to seek other locales and/or venues. DC United are the only local team to win a professional championship in the last 15 years. Actually, they have done it 4 times since 1996.

RFK is a unique soccer experience. In my humble opinion, it is the closest that American fans will ever come to the real thing in terms of a European or South American stadium atmosphere. Let's look at the history at RFK with regards to some of the quality international and domestic soccer games that have taken place. Along with the famous names who have graced the pitch:
  • 1975: Pele's first appearance with the Cosmos. Washington Diplomats 2 x Cosmos 9.

  • 1976: The Bicentennial Cup game between Italy 4 x Team USA 0. Giorgio Chinaglia, Bobby Moore, and Pele' represented the USA that day in May 1976. Fabio Capello scored on a penalty kick for the Azzurri, who also made their first appearance in Washington.
  • 1980: NASL Soccer Bowl between the New York Cosmos and Ft. Lauderdale. A sold-out RFK saw Chinaglia, Beckenbauer et al win, 3 x 0.
  • 1983: Team USA 1 x Juventus FC 1. The first and only appearance in Washington for one of the storied teams in world football. World Cup heroes Antonio Cabrini, Paolo Rossi, Gaetano Scirea, and Marco Tardelli played in this August friendly.
  • 1992: US Cup: USA 3 x Ireland 1. In the driving rain, a near sellout.
  • 1993: Brasil 3 x Germany 3 and Brasil 1 x England 1 for the US Cup competition. The first game, which was held on a Thursday afternoon, drew a crowd of over 35,000 to see an excellent game with Juergen Klinsmann scoring the equalizer in injury time. The second game was sold-out on a Sunday afternoon.
  • 1993: Italian Super Cup between AC Milan 1 x Torino 0. The first time a competitive Serie A game took place outside of Italy. Paolo Maldini and Enzo Francescoli made their first respective appearances in Washington.
  • 1994: World Cup. Washington hosted 3 first round games (Holland 2 x Saudi Arabia 1, Italy 1 x Mexico 1, and Saudi Arabia 1 x Belgium 0), along with one round of sixteen game (Spain 3 x Switzerland 0). All of the games were sold-out.

  • 1996: MLS opener between DC United 1 x LA Galaxy 2: Over 35,000 welcomed professional soccer back to RFK.
  • 1996: Olympics: USA 1 x Portugal 1. 57.000 filled RFK to the rafters for the first round match, and set a stadium record for attendance for any event.
  • 1997: MLS Final: DC United 2 x Colorado Rapids 1. Another sell-out despite heavy rain and a live ABC broadcast.
  • 1999: USA 1 x Argentina 0. A friendly that was also a sell-out.
  • 2003: AC Milan 0 x Barcelona 2. Over 45,000 attended on a warm summer night to witness the magic of Ronaldinho Guacho's first appearance in Washington.
  • 2007: DC United 1 x LA Galaxy 0. Almost 47,000, another soccer sellout (a reduced number due to the reconfigurations for the baseball team), welcomed David Beckham to Washington.
  • 2007: MLS Final in November. Hopefully, it will not be the last soccer game to take place at RFK Stadium.

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