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Fed-up United fans will be on the march
by Ridge Mahoney, May 8th, 2009 9AM



So virulent is the friction between competing political parties during the past decade or so that "compromise," the process once heralded as vital to the democratic process, is practically an epithet these days.

Compromise used to be a bastion of statesmanship and leadership, but any senator or congressman who risks crossing the aisle these days is, in many cases, no less vulnerable than a solider trying to navigate a no-man's land between enemy lines. What was once praised as courageous and wise is now declaimed as weak and spineless, if not outright treason.

Yet by compromise MLS lowered its expansion-fee thresholds -- from $40 million to $35 million -- to admit Vancouver and Portland as its 2011 additions, and San Jose Earthquakes co-owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher worked out a new agreement with the San Jose City Council to move forward on a stadium project. In the cases of Vancouver and Portland, MLS wanted those cities -- and the expansion fees, even reduced -- and tweaked its benchmarks.

The San Jose City Council voted unanimously to trim $43 million off the price of a plot of land it owns on which a stadium is to be built near San Jose International Airport. The price is still staggering -- $89 million, down from $132 million - and the stadium itself will cost between $50 million and $60 million. Under terms of the deal, land around the stadium can be developed, and by selling those rights to developers, Wolff can generate revenues to offset his expenses and help fund the stadium.

The complex deal and took most of the last eight months to negotiate, yet both sides - which had originally struck a much different arrangement more than a year ago - started with a willingness to get a deal done. So far, United has fallen well short of finding that level of cooperation.

For compromise to work, there must be willingness to compromise on both sides, and such a dynamic is sadly lacking as D.C. United lurches from one municipality to another in search of the proper, if not perfect, storm of political backing, financial underpinning and shared interests.

This isn't to say politicians should roll on their backs and sign off on a deal in exchange for nothing more than a nice tummy rub, but disgruntled -- and in some cases, irate -- United fans forget that staggering roadblocks have been the norm, not the exception, in nearly every MLS stadium project, and that gazillions of dollars won't buy anything without governmental green lights.

How many false starts, political implosions, and dead ends preceded the go-ahead for Red Bull Arena? Radical reversals blocked projects in Salt Lake City, Chicago and Dallas. Two stadium referendums lost at the ballot box in Ohio, where the 10th anniversary of the opening game at Columbus Crew Stadium will be celebrated this weekend.

United is stagnated, lacking an other side with which to deal, negotiate, argue and, ultimately, compromise. Its rabid and loyal fans have taken up the cause, so far, without success.

In March, United fans sent so many e-mails to Maryland state officials that their office servers crashed, but the deluge failed to produce a favorable vote on a stadium proposal. A few of those officials decried the tactic as heavy-handed, reflecting perhaps just how much support any such proposal really had.

Prior to this week's home match, fans are staging a rally and march to RFK to demonstrate their support in the hope that something tangible will come of it. It's worth a shot, a very public and visible salute, and unless trouble breaks out and car windows are smashed, won't be perceived as intrusive or obnoxious. If the rally and march are half as colorful and zany as the Screaming Eagles and Barra Brava celebrating a goal at RFK, somebody will get the message.

United fans fear recurring failures will result in the team moving, as hinted or threatened by Commissioner Don Garber. Some of them point to the shift of the original Quakes to Houston after the 2005 season as a possible harbinger of things to come, but in that case, operator-investor Anschutz Entertainment Group had given up on the market. There's no evidence that D.C.United owners Victor MacFarlane and Will Chang are so disposed. They retain the will but can't wait forever for the right way.

There will be nostalgia aplenty for D.C. games played in a rocking, rickety RFK, and that's what United fans want and deserve: the satisfaction of trooping into their stadium - decked out in team colors and badges, swathed in banners and flags -- to watch their team and reminisce of days gone by and better left behind, tailgating in Lot 8 or swarming en masse from the Armory Metro station.

Before there can be compromise there must be an entity with which to haggle, and until that second party emerges, the stadium game can't be played.


  1. David Sirias
    commented on: May 8, 2009 at 12:03 p.m.
    Look, I know nothing about the local politics in DC, or the intended use of the RFK land, but why cannot the team build on the existing RFK site. Tear the old structure down, and erect a smaller new facility. Play on a college campus for a few years until it's done. Is the solution right underneath everyone's nose?

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