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May 11, 2017

Union looking for elusive road win in final trip to 'historic' and 'grimy' RFK Stadium

Soccer Union
051117_RFK_kk Kevin Kinkead/for PhillyVoice

The Philadelphia Union have one win, four draws, and five losses in ten trips to RFK Stadium. D.C. United will move from RFK to the brand new Audi Stadium following the 2017 MLS season.

Barring a possible playoff series, Saturday will be the Philadelphia Union's last game at RFK Stadium.

Once a glorious sporting mecca, the cavernous arena at 2400 East Capitol Street in Washington is now a dilapidated and mostly abandoned shell of its former self. RFK will lose its final tenant, D.C. United, at the end of the MLS season.

They're moving to the 20,000 seat Audi Stadium, currently being built near the Washington Nationals' ballpark in the Buzzard Point neighborhood. D.C. has played at RFK for 22 years, ever since Major League Soccer 's 1996 founding.

Union head coach Jim Curtin has visited RFK dozens of times during a playing and coaching career that spans 16 of those 22 years.

"Everybody walks in there and says, 'man, this place is falling apart,'" said Curtin ahead of Saturday's road trip. "There are a lot of negative comments, especially from the younger players, when they walk in there. It hasn't been taken care of very well. That's no secret. But talk about a stadium with a ton of history in football and soccer. Anytime you played at RFK it always felt – and it still does to me – it felt like a big game. That was maybe just ingrained in me from some tough D.C. battles. There was always the smell of stale beer and urine, or whatever it was, from a Dave Matthews concert the night before – those hot summer months, when its 85 or 90 degrees and it's kind of grimy."

That grime and staleness does bring a bit of charm to RFK, which was built in 1961 and hosted the Redskins, Senators, Nationals, Diplomats, and plenty of international and collegiate competitions.

There are jokes about raccoons and swaying beams and chipped concrete. "RFK is falling down" is the favored chant from visiting supporters. The pressbox is narrow with poor sightlines and the corridors are old and dusty, but that all adds to the lore surrounding one of Major League Soccer's most hallowed grounds, an arena that hosted three championship games.

Maryland native C.J. Sapong described RFK as "very historic."

"I grew up in that area," Sapong explained. "I've seen international friendlies and I've seen very intense D.C. United games at the beginning, back when MLS first started. I played there in the D.C. United academy as well. It'll be tough to see that go. It definitely built me as a player and I'll definitely pay my respects to RFK."

The Union do not have a great track record at RFK, earning just one win in ten trips. Philadelphia has lost four of the last five at D.C., blowing a late lead in 2016 and earning just seven of 30 possible points in seven years' worth of visits.

Here's the list:

August 22nd, 2010 – D.C. 2, Union 0 (Allsopp 22', 63')
July 2nd, 2011 – D.C. 2, Union 2 (Wolff 44', Kitchen 49' [OG], Najar 58', Ruiz 84')
August 19th, 2012 – D.C. 1, Union 1 (Carroll 8', Okugo 71' [OG])
April 21st, 2013 – Union 3, D.C. 2 (McInerney 7', 26', Casey 11', Kitchen 17', Pajoy 47')
October 12th, 2013 – D.C. 1, Union 1 (DeLeon 36', McInerney 90')
September 27th, 2014 – D.C. 1, Union 0 (Silva 10')
May 30th, 2015 – D.C. 2, Union 1 (Le Toux 5', Pontius 45', Rolfe 85')
July 26th, 2015 – D.C. 3, Union 2 (Sapong 1', Le Toux 4', Saborio 37', DeLeon 66', Espindola 79')
August 6th, 2016 – D.C. 2, Union 2 (Kemp 16', Barnetta 45+1', Pontius 57', Birnbaum 90+4')
April 1st, 2017 – D.C. 2, Union 1 (Ortiz 18', Acosta 27', Sapong 71')

The most memorable game was the 1-1 draw in 2012, a nationally-televised match that featured three red cards and a re-taken Dwayne De Rosario penalty. That game carried over the momentum from two prior U.S. Open Cup matches, combative games that were played at the Maryland SoccerPlex in the Washington suburbs.

Other matchups that jump out are the 3 to 2 win, with Jack McInerney scoring a first-half brace. The 2015 loss was tough to swallow, with Philly scoring twice in the opening five minutes before conceding three goals in an eventual loss. The most recent trip to RFK, April 1st of this year, saw a struggling Union team fall just short of an equalizing goal in a 2 to 1 loss.

These days, RFK might be falling apart, but MLS veterans don't have many bad things to say about it.

"There are a lot of positive memories from it," Curtin added. "A lot of big games obviously have been played there that I was lucky to be a part of. But you go into all of these nice, new stadiums now and it certainly is maybe... 'time' is probably the best way to put it. Maybe I'm a nostalgic or old school but I still love going there. I think it's a really cool place, a special place with a ton of history. It's been a struggle obviously, and congratulations to them for pushing it through and getting a new stadium, but RFK is a special place and I feel like a lot of guys, not just who played for D.C. United, but for other teams, they'll probably say the same thing. It was an intimidating place to go with amazing fans. You think of the bouncing side of the (stadium) with the fans in the supporter's section and the field always being good and the hot summer months where you just want to get out of there because you know it's gonna be a tough game against D.C. United."