DC fans voice support for stadium bid
WASHINGTON -- Since Major League Soccer's inception more than 14 years ago, D.C. United fans have helped set the standard for passion and commitment among supporters of the league, shaking RFK Stadium to its foundations as they cheered their team to four MLS Cup titles and a raft of other honors.But after years of fruitless searching for a new stadium -- amid myriad unfulfilled promises from local elected officials -- United still dwell in RFK as the aging facility approaches its 50th birthday. On Saturday afternoon, the Black-and-Red faithful made another compelling statement on behalf of their beloved club's long-suffering quest for a new home, gathering in historic Lincoln Park before marching down East Capitol Street to RFK en masse.Their beloved team wasn't scheduled to kick off the evening's match against Toronto FC for another three hours or so, and Washington's legendary summer weather had picked this day to arrive, bright sunshine pushing temperatures towards the 90-degree mark with waves of heat shimmering up from the buckled blacktop.But there was no denying the devotion United have earned over the years as an estimated 1,000 fans packed the tree-lined boulevard's eastbound lane in a passionate appeal on behalf of the club's stadium efforts, waving flags, chanting songs and bearing banners like "United? Don't Abandon DC" and "12 Trophies, 1 Home.""I'm very happy and excited that a lot of people showed up," said Oscar Zambrana, founding member of the Barra Brava supporters' club and a leading organizer of the march. "We cannot wait. We've got to do what we have to do to support the team, because we don't want to let them go."Even the night's opposition was represented, as a number of Toronto FC fans turned up early to show their backing, fully cognizant of the tremendous boost TFC's BMO Field home has provided the Canadian club since its 2007 inception."We like coming to D.C. It's a really nice town and people here have been really good to us," said Audrey Tobin, whose family are season-ticket holders at BMO. "So we figured we'll help support them if we can, because I'm sure they would do the same for us."The march's turnout delighted club leaders like team president Kevin Payne, who pointed out that the event was a fan-inspired idea, as the club only joined the planning in the final logistical stages."Our fans are great," said Payne. "We can always count on them, rain or shine, it doesn't matter. The hottest weather, the coldest weather, the worst weather -- they are phenomenal, and they showed up today. I think that crowd of people was exactly what we're all about: there were babies in carriages, there were 80-year-old men, there were people from every possible walk of life and every possible racial and ethnic background."Payne addressed the crowd at Lincoln Park, thanking those present for their support and predicting victory in future stadium negotiations, vowing, "We will be successful next time, I promise you."Earlier this year United looked to have forged an agreement with neighboring Prince George's County, Md., only for county officials to make a hasty about-face and withdraw their support for state-underwritten stadium financing within weeks. Club and league officials have acknowledged that relocation is a possibility in the absence of progress towards a new stadium, but both the organization and its fans are desperate to remain in the Washington region. United are presently engaged in behind-the-scenes discussions of varying stages with government officials in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia."We're talking right now to all three jurisdictions, at various levels and in various forms," Payne said. "We want to stay in the area. We certainly don't want to leave this area. We've become a tradition here -- we're the winningest team that this region has ever known, in any sport. And we certainly don't want to abandon it. We have deep, deep roots here."Many of the fans in attendance acknowledged the political hurdles and tortuous negotiations that continue to complicate their team's drive for a place to call their own. But their hope for success both on and off the playing field remains strong."It all comes down to money, when you actually think about it," said Troy Gant, a Barra Brava member. "But to show people that there are fans that would actually come out early on a Saturday and to have people from Toronto come down early to be part of the march, I think this shows them that it's more than a money thing -- it's more than a sport thing."With soccer, it's all about the culture, really bringing people together. And D.C. United does a lot for the community that the community would miss if the team were to leave."