Photos: Mark Raker
Making his American Major League Soccer debut, the 32-year-old British soccer legend looked sharp, drilling crisp, efficient passes and notching an assist to Paul Arriola, who scored two goals in the home team’s 3-1 victory.
Afterward, a smiling Rooney sat before a throng of reporters in the club’s gleaming new interview room and declared himself proud of his new club and the new stadium. But he also laid down a challenge to his D.C. United teammates for the weeks and months ahead.
“It was a great atmosphere,” said Rooney, who knows a thing or two about atmosphere after representing England in three World Cups and claiming five Premier League championships with the fabled Manchester United club. “It’s a great stadium that’s built for atmosphere, but we have to create the atmosphere on the pitch. We can’t expect the fans to come in and make noise if we’re not exciting them. It’s our job to excite them.
“For the fans and the players, it was a big game,” Rooney added. “Now, we’ll enjoy tonight’s victory and get ready for the next game.”
The Audi Field home opener at Buzzard Point, just a stone’s throw from Nationals Park, represented a new chapter in D.C. United’s storied history, which includes 13 titles, four MLS cups and a long wait for a home of their own.
The soccer club contended with a grueling, four-month road schedule as it awaited the opening of the stadium in July. According to D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen, it was worth the wait. Olsen took a quiet walk around the stadium before the home opener to soak up the significance of the moment.
“This is one of the great nights in D.C. United history, and we’ve had some good ones,” Olsen said after the game. “After four months on the road, to play the way we played, score goals and be entertaining was just a great night for the organization.”
The new stadium, which cost nearly half a billion dollars, delighted enthusiastic D.C. United fans who have endured years of subpar soccer conditions at RFK Stadium, a crumbling relic built for American football – not soccer. Audi Field’s sleek and modern design, stellar sightlines, and upscale concessions put it among the very best venues for soccer in the United States and perhaps the world.
Arriola, a small but speedy 23-year-old forward for D.C. United, had a hint of awe in his eyes as he described what it was like to play in the new stadium.
“It was awesome,” he told On Tap. “To look up and see the fans right on top of you – you can look up and stare them right in the eyes. The fans obviously deserve this place, to come to a beautiful field and stadium, and it gives us confidence to go out there and perform.”
Aside from Audi Field’s opening, D.C. United’s biggest move this season was the acquisition of Rooney. The father of four and global soccer legend signed a reported $13 million contract for two-and-a-half years, with D.C. United holding an option for an additional year.
Rooney is the only player to score 200 goals and provide 100 assists in the British Premier League, and is now the highest paid player in MLS history. After the home opener, Olsen reinforced what a great decision the big contract was for his team.
“We saw what Wayne is: a high-quality, elite soccer player,” Olsen said. “He didn’t lose possession, made some key passes and got on the end of a few balls in the box. This is what he’s going to do for us. With his character, he’s here to help the team get better on and off the field.”
Olsen added that to put it simply, he just makes the right plays.
“There’s a lot of value in that, making the right play in the moment. We’re still a young team, so he can help with the soccer aspect and the mentality he brings with his experience. That’s the exciting part about this. We’re lucky to have him.”
Arriola said Rooney immediately makes D.C. United a better team with his leadership on the field and in the locker room.
“He’s a very humble guy on and off the field,” Arriola said. “But on the field, you can see his quality. The way he plays really suits a lot of our players. We’re still trying to get the chemistry together and it will take time, but he just wants to get in here and work and win. That’s the type of player we need right now.”
For his part, Rooney said he’s ready to write the next chapter in his storied career.
“I have said this since I committed to the club: I want to win, and I am vocal on and off the pitch,” Rooney said. “I’m vocal with the coach, vocal with my teammates and we speak [about] which we think is the best way to win a football match. I think the most important thing is communication, not just for myself but for the players, and the players know that.”
Rooney acknowledged that some of his younger, less experienced teammates may be a bit intimidated by his success on the global soccer stage, but he stressed that he is now one of them.
“I am a D.C. United player,” he said. “I am exactly the same as these players and I want to win. What I can bring is my desire to win, and that’s every day on the training pitch and every game.”
Every Friday home game, Washington Nationals fan enjoy a live pregame show from some of the DMV’s best bands and ice-cold beer on the Budweiser Terrace. This week, fans enjoyed music from Lovely Rita as the Nationals warmed up to play the Atlanta Braves. Photos: Mike Kim
Soccer fans united at sports bar Across the Pond in Dupont Circle, where they enjoyed the World Cup watch party, food and drink specials, and great company. Photos: Mike Kim
The 89th annual Midsummer Classic comes to DC this summer, with the MLB All-Star game at Nationals Park on July 17. Though most hype will be focused on the players on the field representing the National and American Leagues, the District is set to host a score of events to enhance the occasion. So if you can’t get enough of America’s favorite pastime, these events are home runs.
THURSDAY, JULY 12
Capitol Riverfront Outdoor Movie Series Showing of A League of Their Own
There’s no better way to enjoy a summer evening than watching an outdoor movie along the Anacostia riverfront. Bring your picnic baskets and lawn chairs for an evening of family-friendly fun for an outdoor viewing of A League of Their Own in Canal Park. Movie starts at sundown, free to attend. Canal Park: 200 M St. SE, DC; www.capitolriverfront.org/canal-park
THURSDAY, JULY 12 – WEDNESDAY, JULY 18
Yards Park All-Star Installations
Larger-than-life inflatable installations will be featured throughout Yards Park and Canal Park, including 15 eight-foot baseballs repping all MLB teams and two 12-foot baseball gloves. This event, presented by The Yards and Capitol Riverfront BID, offers baseball lovers the perfect Instagrammable photo opportunities to enjoy before or after a game or dinner along the riverfront. Installations are all day, and it is free to attend. Yards Park: 355 Water St. SE, DC; www.capitolriverfront.org/yards-park
FRIDAY, JULY 13
Capitol Riverfront Friday Night Concert Series in Yards Park
19th Street Band will offer a live waterfront concert for people of all ages to enjoy. Make a perfect summer evening of it by eating dinner at one of the beloved restaurants at The Yards. 7-9 p.m. Free to attend. Yards Park: 355 Water St. SE, DC; www.capitolriverfront.org/yards-park
FRIDAY, JULY 13 – TUESDAY, JULY 17
GEICO All-Star FanFest
The Walter E. Washington Convention Center hosts this five-day festival. Fans will be able to test out their playing skills in new, cutting-edge attractions, meet some of the game’s biggest stars and receive free autographs from MLB Legends. Times and ticket prices vary. Walter E. Washington Convention Center: 801 Mt. Vernon Pl. NW, DC; www.mlb.com/all-star/fanfest
MLB’s “PLAY BALL Park”
2018 PLAY BALL Park will be located at The Yards near Nationals Park. PLAY BALL Park is a 56,000-square-foot interactive area where the MLB and its programming partners will provide fun, engaging and educational activities for youth baseball and softball players and their families – all in the backdrop of the Midsummer Classic. There will be “free play” hours throughout the schedule, but the majority of programming will come from various partners including USA Baseball, USA Softball, The Positive Coaching Alliance, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and others. Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., and Tuesday from 12-7 p.m. Free to attend. Yards Park: 355 Water St. SE, DC; www.mlb.com
SATURDAY, JULY 14
The Color Run All-Star 5K Presented by Nike
Presented by Nike, The Color Run MLB All-Star 5K is coming to DC for the 2018 All-Star Game. A pre-race party will be held at the start line with music, dancing, warm-up stretching and giveaways. This event is open to the public and will feature an untimed run around the Anacostia River, through Anacostia Park and Yards Park. Festivities begin at 8 a.m., registration is available online. Yards Park: 355 Water St. SE, DC; www.thecolorrun.com/locations/washington-dc
SATURDAY, JULY 14 – SUNDAY, JULY 15
All-Star Summer Riverfest Festival
The Yards and the Capitol Riverfront BID will host an unforgettable family-friendly All-Star Summer Riverfront Festival at Yards Park and the boardwalk all weekend. Yards Park will be transformed into a real-life sandlot where attendees can enjoy live music, pop-up bars, tasty food, photo booths, baseball-themed activities and games including bocce, sand art, and oversized board games such as scrabble and chess. 1-5 p.m. Free to attend. Yards Park: 355 Water St. SE, DC; www.capitolriverfront.org/yards-park
SUNDAY, JULY 15
All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game
Taking place after the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Nationals Park, the All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game features baseball icons and some of the biggest names in television, music and movies playing a fun-filled exhibition game. Nationals Park: 1500 S Capitol St. SE, DC; www.mlb.com/nationals
Outdoor Showing of The Sandlot
There’s no better way to enjoy a summer evening than watching an outdoor movie along the Anacostia riverfront. Bring your picnic baskets and lawn chairs for an evening of family-friendly fun for an outdoor viewing of The Sandlot at Yards Park. Movie starts at sundown. Free to attend. Yards Park: 355 Water St. SE, DC; www.capitolriverfront.org/yards-park
SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game
This game played at Nationals Park will showcase the best prospects and tomorrow’s MLB superstars. Many of today’s All-Stars – including the Nationals own Bryce Harper – made their first appearances on a Major League stage at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. This will mark the first part of the All-Star Sunday doubleheader. Ticket prices vary. Nationals Park: 1500 S Capitol St. SE, DC; www.mlb.com/nationals
MONDAY, JULY 16
T-Mobile Home Run Derby
The game’s top sluggers compete to see who can launch the most home runs into the stands at Nationals Park in a single-elimination tournament. This event has become a popular signature of the MLB All-Star Week experience and draws much fanfare. Tickets vary. Nationals Park: 1500 S. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.mlb.com/nationals
The Wharf celebrated the opening of Audi Field, new home of D.C. United, on Transit Pier with a soccer-themed party sponsored by the team featuring games such as Foosball, dancing, a DJ and sangria to cool off. Photos: Mike Kim
As the Nationals warmed up to play the Miami Marlins, Justin Trawick & The Common Good entertained fans with Americana tunes on the Budweiser Terrace for the pre-game show. Photos: Mike Kim
It was the late, great Tom Petty who sang “waiting is the hardest part,” and whether it was the full 44 years of a founding fan, Alexander Ovechkin’s 13-year quest for the Stanley Cup or you jumped on the Capitals’ bandwagon sometime this spring, the wait is over: your Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions, and the party is (still) on.
Thursday night, 17,000-plus crowded into Capitol One Arena, and many thousands more flooded the streets of Chinatown, to rock the red in support of their team, even though Game 5 was played in the gleaming desert lights of Las Vegas, some 2,400 miles away.
DC has long been maligned as a second-class sports town, and the grains of truth in the stereotypes make the barbs sting all the more. The District’s affluence and transient population makes for casual fanbases that are more concerned with stadium amenities than the team itself; the Wizards are underachieving and dysfunctional; the football team’s glory days are long past, relegated to a boondoggle of a stadium and saddled with a megalomaniac owner unable to stop himself from repeatedly breaking his favorite toy; the Nationals (until recently the Caps’ baseball counterparts) are highly talented but unable to perform in the clutch.
Ever since Evgeny Kuznetsov’s overtime goal in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals vaulted the home team past the back-to-back champion Penguins, media personalities and outlets of all stripes had come out of the woodwork to mock the mania that has swept the DMV (like here, here and here). And no one has made more hay trading in this kind of mid-tier snark than ESPN commentator Mike Wilbon, who called DC a “minor league sports town” for getting excited about finally besting their rivals in the playoffs. The same Mike Wilbon who sported his Chicago Cubs gear when the baseball team advanced to the World Series in 2016. Wilbon and his ilk would have you believe there is a “right way” to enjoy a playoff run, and this kind of orthodoxy is almost exclusively the province of the bitter. Thousands of people don’t swarm downtown or into an arena (especially not 70,000 of them in the span of minutes) to watch on jumbotrons out of mere curiosity; they do it to be a part of something special, something real. Call it bandwagoning if you will, but if it is, remember there’s no zealot like a convert.
Last Tuesday night (and in the days and weeks before, frankly), the Capitals changed all that, coming from behind to beat the Vegas Golden Knights and capture their first Stanley Cup. From the jubilation of “exorcising the demons” against Pittsburgh, to battling back from the brink of elimination to knock off the Lightning, and capture the Prince of Wales Trophy, to stealing the spotlight in Vegas, the Caps’ wild ride is one that neither they, nor anyone else in the DMV, will ever forget.
The details of Game 5 seem almost inconsequential in retrospect. The Cup isn’t won in a single game, after all. The image that will stand the test of time is Alexander Ovechkin finally claiming his hard-earned prize (and the Conn Smythe to boot). The Great 8 played like a man possessed throughout the postseason, and watching every heaving exhale of relief, primal scream of exhilaration and laser-intense stare was high drama surpassing any show on TV (also, more sports should follow hockey’s example of presenting the trophy to the team’s captain, rather than the owner).
It seems ridiculous to say, given he is two years older than me, but as #8 held that silver cup aloft, I felt as proud of him as if he were my son. My large Russian son. Every grey hair, broken tooth and past playoff disappointment melted away as he hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup in triumph, but he wouldn’t be in a position to do so without the entirety of the Caps roster (and let’s not forget coach Barry Trotz and his hot laps) pulling on the rope as well.
There was Kuznetsov elevating his game and giving Caps fans a glimpse of the team’s future leader. Devante Smith-Pelly’s big goals and physical play (the WWE Championship belt at the parade was a nice touch, too). Tom Wilson’s galvanizing fight in Game 7 against Tampa Bay. Braden Holtby’s stellar saves (Game 2 anyone?) and steadying presence. Lars “The Tiger” Eller’s game-winning goal to clinch the Cup. And of course, there was T.J. Oshie. Watching Oshie embrace his father, Tim, stricken with Alzheimer’s, was a moment almost too personal for television, one that would bring even a stone man to tears. But the sad moments wouldn’t last (as evidenced by Oshie ghost-chugging when his name was called at the victory parade), for as great as it would have been for the Caps to sew up the Cup at home, the team found themselves in the best possible place to party (and presumably listen to “We Are the Champions” on repeat) until the sun comes up.
The Stanley Cup is no stranger to multi-day celebrations, but since the scoreboard at T-Mobile Arena hit all zeroes on Thursday night, Ovechkin and his merry men have embarked on an epic bender that would make Keith Richards proud, and they’re bringing the District along for the ride. The Stanley Cup is unique among the major sports leagues’ trophies in that it’s, you know, a cup, and while past winners have utilized this added functionality to make Jell-O molds or the world’s fanciest cereal bowl, our intrepid heroes have made it the centerpiece of their Beltway Bacchanal. Drinking champagne straight from the Cup, Cup Stands and all manner of euphoric revelry have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Russian Machine Never Breaks.
While the players might be in rough shape from their days-long celebration, the hockey gods gifted the capital with a picture perfect day for the parade, and Caps fans did not disappoint. Some pretended to be busy with work before the parade, others didn’t bother with the pretense, staking out spots along the parade route as early as 3 a.m. Someone ask Wilbon if this is how minor league sports towns celebrate (by the way, there was a lone arrest during the Capitals victory celebration on Thursday night).
From my vantage point high above Penn Quarter, I could see Ovechkin shoulder pressing the Cup high above his head, which he has seemingly been doing (when not drinking from it) nonstop since Thursday night. I could even make out the usually stoic Holtby waving his arms like a madman as the parade turned from Constitution Ave. onto 7th St. On the stage on the Mall, whether it was Holtby, Oshie, Coach Trotz or the incomparable Great 8, each lauded the Caps faithful for their support along the way. And one more rendition of “We Are the Champions” left no doubt that this is truly The People’s Cup.
On and off the ice, the Stanley Cup Final is about coming together and enjoying the ride. And across the DMV, we needed a ride to enjoy right now. The Capitals’ Stanley Cup run has been the best kind of distraction from the competing circuses at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue and all the sideshows that so frequently accompany them. Our town takes more than its fair share of flack as a result, absorbing the frustrations of an increasingly divided country. It’s about time we had something to call our own, and it’s all down to an extraordinary team, and the fans who followed them every step of the way. And so, to steal a phrase from commentator Jeremy Roenick, welcome to the District of Champions. Drink it in.
After finally winning the elusive Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals celebrated with the entire city of DC, and the fans from surrounding areas, with a packed day full of speeches, music and tons of chants. Photos: Mark Raker