A night to remember: D.C. United finally opens a home of its own

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Patrick McDermott
The club opened up its long-awaited Audi Field on Saturday night, a milestone for a franchise that hopes better days lie ahead

Several hours before D.C. United inaugurated Audi Field on Saturday, manager Ben Olsen took a stroll by himself around the silent stadium.

Seeing his team in a new home must have seemed a bit surreal for Olsen, who has been with DCU as a player and coach since 1998.

Olsen had a front-row seat as D.C. United thrived in the early days of MLS, and then stagnated as the club struggled for relevance during a long and fruitless search for a new stadium.

"I wanted to look around because I knew once the game happened, I wasn't going to be able to appreciate the moment," Olsen said. 

On Saturday night, D.C.United finally got the jolt of life it so desperately needed.

It came in the form of a brand-new stadium, a 3-1 win over Vancouver, a debut for a world-renowned star who looked like he still has plenty in the tank, and a sense that better days lie ahead.

After more than two decades of calling the crumbling RFK Stadium home, D.C. United finally has a soccer stadium of its own. 

With his team up three goals late in the game, Olsen admitted that he let his mind wander just a bit, thinking of "how long of a struggle this club has gone through to get this building."

United attempted to leave RFK for well over a decade before Audi Field became a reality. Proposals came and went. Years passed, and the team was still playing in the cavernous and creaking RFK Stadium, built in 1961. 

"We just never thought it was going to be built," Olsen said. 

But eventually, it did get built. And with the new stadium came unprecedented new investment in the on-field product. 

Saturday saw the debut of Wayne Rooney, by far the most expensive and well-known player in club history. 

Many derided the 32-year-old's signing, saying the England legend was all but washed up. But in a 32-minute appearance on Saturday, Rooney looked anything but.

Rooney was dynamic, combined well with teammates, and got his first MLS assist with a 80th-minute layoff to Paul Arriola, who scored a brace on the night. 

"I thought we played some fantastic football," Rooney said. "It was a great victory. It was a big night for the club. We're all delighted."

Wayne Rooney D.C. United MLS 2018

Though the result on the field couldn't have been much better, the night didn't go off completely without a hitch. 

There were reports of multiple sections of railing falling. One piece even hit a D.C. United team employee, who was treated for injuries on the scene. 

An ongoing feud between D.C. United and a pair of supporters groups meant that scores of die-hard fans didn't attend the match in protest.

The atmosphere suffered as a result, and was relatively tame at times compared to the rollicking RFK Stadium at its rowdiest. 

With the introduction of Rooney and two second-half Arriola goals, eventually the stadium awakened. 

"They got there," Olsen said of the Audi Field crowd. "The energy got there. It took a couple goals to get that building rocking."

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United will hope that trend continues as the last-place side pushes for an unlikely playoff berth with 14 of its remaining 19 MLS games at home.

Whatever happens the rest of the way, the club has another special moment to add to its illustrious history, and the promise of more to come in the future. 

"This is one of the great nights in D.C. United history, and we've had some good ones," Olsen said. 

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