Jesse Marsch has fond memories of RFK Stadium as a player and a coach.
The former D.C. United midfielder and current Red Bulls head coach has seen the stadium in its glory days during MLS’s formative years. It is now a crumbling facade inhabited by raccoons.
RFK Stadium will close its books on being United’s home venue this Sunday. Gone will be a history of American soccer that started with the Washington Diplomats of the old NASL. In recent years, the stadium has seen its fair share of glory and frustration both with the United States national team and its MLS tenant. Sunday’s final match at RFK Stadium will be the close of an era, featuring two teams who were the first rivals in league history.
United is out of the playoff picture and has been since May. But doesn’t matter much for a Red Bulls side that clinched a postseason berth two weeks ago. The upcoming match is meaningless for playoff-seeding matters and Marsch may elect to rotate his squad to keep his stars players fresh for the play-in game.
“I think we’re going to be very smart about how we use guys,” Marsch said on Wednesday following training. “We can’t have too many guys start who we think will go less than 90 minutes. We know it’s an important game for the fans an important for the Atlantic Cup and we’d love nothing more than end DC’s time at RFK with a loss.”
“That will be our emphasis, we’re going to go there, no matter who is on the field, go after the game in a big way. And the points can help us MLS Cup time. There’s enough motivations to make sure that we put a really good foot forward.”
Marsch, who was a draft pick of United during their inaugural season, remembers his first professional goal at RFK Stadium as well as other moments as a player, such as lifting MLS Cup in 1997 within the home grounds.
As a coach, one of his first games with the Red Bulls was at RFK Stadium, with his squad producing a gutsy performance in the playoffs that year against United, a series they won.
Back in the league’s formative years, RFK was the model stadium. It was a more intimate size than most of the massive football stadiums and for many years, United didn’t share the venue with any other tenants.
With bouncing stands, frothy crowds and three MLS Cups in the league’s first four years, RFK was the standard for support and venues in an era where soccer-specific stadiums didn’t exist.
“What we had in the early days was a training facility, which was the Redskins’ old facility and basically our own stadium. Even though it wasn’t our own stadium because no one else was really playing there,” Marsch said.
“It felt like at the time that it was ahead of the ball game and it felt like a proper club. It’s probably gone backwards by those standards and obviously where MLS has gone, it’s really now gone backwards. Hopeful that in all ways, they can add to what they do there. It’ll be good for the league, good for us, good for everyone.”
RED BULLS NOTES
– Defender Aurélien Collin (plantar fasciitis) didn’t train on Wednesday due to illness.
– Defender Connor Lade (head injury) road the stationary bicycle today.