Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Philadelphia Union 1 at D.C. United 2 - May 30, 2015


With the Blue Jays playing the Nationals on Monday, I needed to find another game on the weekend to make the trip to Washington worthwhile. Fortunately, D.C. United was home on Saturday, so I left New York that morning and after a very cheap Megabus ride ($1), arrived in Washington in the early evening.



D.C. United plays out of RFK Stadium, former home of the Senators, Redskins, and Nationals, among others. Located on the eastern edge of town, walking is not advised, though it is easy to get to on the DC Metro, with the Stadium/Armory stop leaving you just a short stroll away. Note for those taking the Metro - invest in the SmartTrip card, the $2 cost is saved on your first two rides (the cost of each paper ticket ride is $1 more). Coming out of the subway and turning onto Capitol Street SE, you will see the stadium looking resplendent at first glance, but that will quickly change as you notice the peeling paint on the facade. The stadium was opened in 1961 and it shows. Interestingly, there are two older venues in MLS: Providence Park in Portland (1926) and the Citrus Bowl in Orlando (1936) but I'm guessing those are better maintained.



Tickets go for as low as $20 here, and that is what you should buy. There are three levels of seating, but they are all in the lower orange sections as you can see below, with the higher seats actually offering better views of the action across the entire pitch. Soccer is not a game that lends itself to sitting close, but most fans fail to realize this, so you can take your pick of seats in the upper rows of the 300 level. Having said that, there are no good seats here, as the lower bowl forms a semi circle on each side, placing you farther away from the pitch than you need to be. Good soccer stadiums have you right next to the touch line, not 50 feet away as is the case here.



I sat here around here, not bad, but the scoreboard is partially blocked by the overhang, though there are ancient TVs around showing the game live.



The concourse is large enough, with fairly boring food options scattered throughout. As soccer is only 2 hours long, you should save your appetite for one of Washington’s fine restaurants, though I do recommend the $4 lemonade if you get thirsty.



One end of the field has United’s four championship banners (1996, 1997, 1999, 2004) and members of the hall of tradition.



That is really all there is to say about RFK, for soccer at least. The club is looking to construct a soccer-only venue and the sooner that happens, the better. MLS needs to provide top notch venues if it is to be considered a top notch league.

The Game

The Philadelphia Union were in town in a battle of uncreative nicknames, one of my big complaints about MLS. The two clubs had played 10 days ago with Philly winning 1-0 on a last gasp winner. This time, it took them only five minutes to score when Andrew Wenger (in white below) easily dispossessed Steve Birnbaum in the penalty area and passed to a wide-open Sebastian Le Toux, who drove the ball past an aggrieved Bill Hamid to stun the locals.



Birnbaum had a chance to redeem himself but a shot off a corner was saved off the line by defender Fabinho. A few minutes later Wenger drove one off the crossbar, and that miss would be rued. Just as the announcement that there would be one minute of added time, Taylor Kemp played what seemed like a harmless cross into the Union box and Chris Pontius (below) rose to deliver a spectacular header that beat a surprised Brian Sylvestre.



The second half saw both teams with golden opportunities only to have the keepers make great saves. A draw was looking likely, but in the 82nd minute, a long, looping cross found the arm of Union defender Zach Pfeffer in the box, leading to a penalty called by the sideline official. Chris Rolfe calmly slotted it past a helpless Sylvestre (below) to give the home side the 2-1 lead.



That was all she wrote as Union really had no chance to equalize and DC United snapped a three-game winless streak with the victory, pushing them 4 points ahead of New England for first place in the Eastern Conference. United have not lost in 19 straight at home in all competitions, and look to be a solid bet in the playoffs.



Notes

These fans had the best sign of the game. They may still get their wish.



The club partnered with Make-A-Wish to welcome a 17-year-old Liberian battling blood cancer to the fold, going so far as to put him on the cover of their match day program.




The Blue Jay game on Monday was rained out, rather annoying as I had a seat in the first row just down from the Blue Jays dugout. The powers that be decided to make the doubleheader on Tuesday a split (i.e. separate admissions). I would have stayed if it had been a single admission DH (Toronto sees few of those) but it wasn’t worth it for two separate games. So I’ll have to revisit Washington next time the Blue Jays are there (2021 at the latest) and stay for the whole series.

Best,

Sean

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