WASHINGTON — D.C. United broke ground Monday at Buzzard Point, the future site of Audi Field, the club’s soccer-specific stadium to be built by 2018.
For D.C. United coach Ben Olsen, a former player for the team going back to 1998, the groundbreaking ceremony represents somewhat of a lifetime achievement.
“It’s incredible. I mean, this is really an incredible day for us,” Jason Levien, United Managing Partner, told The Sports Junkies ahead of the ceremony Monday morning. “For Ben, he’s been at it since 1998. We got involved in 2012 and we said ‘we’ve got to make this happen.'”
“I told people at that first press conference I was gonna use my machete to try to find a path to getting a stadium,” Levien said. “What I didn’t realize is we needed about a hundred machetes.”
“Jason won’t take no for an answer,” Olsen said. “I mean, he’s done a great job. A lot of people tried to get this stadium. A bunch of hurdles. And to his credit, to get this new home at this point, this quick into his ownership, it’s an amazing day for D.C. United. It really is.”
“We made it a team effort,” Levien said. “We really went through a long process with the mayor, with the city council, with all the stake-holders and the community, and I think we’ve come to a terrific place, and it’s gonna be an outstanding building. It really is.”
Several hundred D.C. United fans, who were helpfully shuttled over to the site from neighboring Nationals Park, were welcomed to enjoy the ceremony. They were greeted with D.C. United scarves — a nice touch on a lightly chilled day in D.C.
Guest speakers included Levien, Olsen, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Audi of America President Scott Keogh and others. But the occasion was especially inspiring for one speaker, D.C. United goalkeeper and D.C. native Bill Hamid.
“What an honor it is to speak on such a monumental day for D.C. United and Washington, D.C. sports,” Hamid told the crowd. “Growing up a lifelong D.C. United fan myself, it’s very heartwarming to see so many good people work around the clock tirelessly — on and off the field — to make this dream a reality for so many people.”
“D.C. United and RFK Stadium has meant a lot to me,” he said. “Attending my first game at RFK — a USA vs. Mexico match in ’95 — my local soccer friends and I made it a habit to come to as many United games as possible.”
“Early on, D.C. United won a lot of championships and grew a big fan base for people that are now a little bit older,” Hamid told 106.7 The Fan. “Now that we have this, it gives that experience to the kids that can come out and enjoy a new environment, enjoy a fresh atmosphere, and I can’t wait to see the smiles on their faces on that opening day.”
Olsen relished at having watched the love for soccer take hold of D.C. over his career, and to now finally witness United get its own stadium.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with this club as a player and a coach for nearly two decades,” he said. “So as you can imagine, this is a very special day for me, as it is for many of you.”
“Now, I know we’re all excited about next year, but the season starts this week and we have a job to do. We’ve got a lot of work to do this year, so I hope to see you all at good ‘ole RFK.”
“We’ve got another year there, so make sure you show up — good chicken tenders, still, empanadas,” he joked. “We’ve got one more year. Come out and support us and make sure you’re there this weekend, because the boys deserve it. They’ve been working hard.”
Mayor Bowser viewed the stadium deal as a point of pride, as another opportunity to create jobs and energize the city’s economy.
“It represents a contribution to what will be over a billion dollars of investment,” she said. “It will create jobs — 1,000 construction and permanent jobs — which will allow us to continue to be the jurisdiction here that has the healthiest economy in this region.”
“Our numbers don’t lie,” she said. “Our Chief Financial Officer said it best: The District of Columbia had its best quarter in the history of the District last quarter, and we keep doing things to attract business and people, and investment in sports is a huge part of that investment. World-class cities have world-class sports teams and facilities. And I just want to say Vamos United!”
D.C. United’s season begins at home — back where it all began, at RFK Stadium — against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, March 4.