By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Jun 24, 2022) US Soccer Players – One week after FIFA opted not to put the national capital region on its list of 2026 World Cup sites, Major League Soccer turned up at Audi Field on Thursday to present a consolation prize of sorts. DC United’s home stadium, commissioner Don Garber officially announced, will host the 2023 All-Star Game, the event’s third trip to the city and first in 18 years. While it’s not comparable in scope, Washington’s soccer community can use some good news.
“This is a nice announcement coming off the back of a disappointing week,” said DC’s former coach and longtime midfield standout Ben Olsen. “I don’t know if it basically covers that one up, I think there’s still some wounds with that. But this is awesome.”
For a long time, DC could legitimately boast of being US soccer’s spiritual home. The sport, at all levels, enjoyed a significant following in this profoundly international, multicultural region for decades. From support of national team games to successful MLS, WUSA, and NWSL clubs to producing local talent, the game clearly thrived in the area. A metropolis of this scale is not accustomed to missing out.
“Well, listen, we know what we have to offer here. We’re a sports capital. We love soccer,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser. “We have built a beautiful stadium for our team – both, now that the Spirit are playing here as well. We do big events, people love visiting DC. And so I’m sorry that FIFA missed out on that, perhaps, but I think they have some opportunities to bring events here in anticipation of the World Cup. And we hope they strongly consider that. We’re still willing to work with them.”
A key backer of the project that became Audi Field, Bowser won Tuesday’s primary election, effectively confirming her third term in office. Whatever happens from here, she already has a place in soccer history as the civic leader who helped DC United secure a home of its own after a litany of others failed.
“Soccer is cool in DC, it is the sport here in this area. So having the All-Star Game come here will be beautiful,” said Ed Foster-Simeon, president and CEO of the US Soccer Foundation, the Washington-based nonprofit that works to grow access to the sport. “It will also help expand the game in some of the under-served communities here, because seeing it here live, seeing the excitement, seeing the celebration, seeing the best players, will then create more excitement in communities.”
It took the better part of two decades to move Audi Field from concept to reality. The stadium remains a dream come true, particularly for local soccer fans of a certain age. It holds crowd noise. The sight-lines, and exterior views of city landmarks, are excellent. Public transportation is close at hand. Whatever mistakes were made, soccer has a foothold at the heart of the so-called capital of the free world. Next year it will get the closeup it deserves just as much as the meteoric expansion success stories elsewhere.
“We made a commitment when they got this deal done that we would bring a game to them as soon as we could. And this was just the right timing, the right cadence for granting DC the game,” said Garber. “This stadium was one of the biggest lifts we had in our league’s history. And we can’t have a better location, you can’t have a more intimate environment. But I know that they’re looking at ways to ensure that they could build on the fan experience, whether that’s a(n enhanced) roof or whether that’s changes in terms of how they’re going about premium and hospitality, and more opportunities for their supporters in the supporters section to have easy access to food and beverage. They’ve got a great plan.”
Given how quickly things can change in MLS, there’s no assuming what the standings might look like by next summer. DC had early success at Audi Field during the Wayne Rooney era. Returning to prominence in the Eastern Conference is once again the job, with United announcing the signing of Designated Player Taxi Fountas earlier this week and another forward, Martin Rodriguez, on Thursday.
While DC United itself continues to look for answers on the field, they now have a showcase league event on the schedule for next season.
“It’s not just the game, right? It’s what it means to the community and all the different programming that comes with it,” said Alecko Eskandarian, one of several United alumnus to take part in Thursday’s announcement. “Obviously for me and these guys, the city holds a special place in my heart. So I’m really, really happy about the game returning here, just because I know what it’ll do for the next generation of kids that get inspired from events like this.”
More from Charles Boehm:
- The USMNT’s engine room evolution
- What the Concacaf Nations League means for the USMNT
- Preview: USMNT vs Uruguay
- CBS goes all in with UEFA Champions League final: “We’ve finally found our groove”
Photo by John Dorton – ISIPhotos.com