Once revered as perhaps the toughest place to play in Major League Soccer, RFK Stadium in recent years has been all too welcoming to visiting teams. Last season, D.C. United’s tendency to let points slip away at home was the fatal flaw that kept it out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
This campaign, however, has been a different story. United, who at 9-5-3 sit in a tie atop the Eastern Conference, have been particularly efficient at home, going 6-1-2 with 20 goals scored. Entering Saturday’s match against the Montreal Impact (5-8-3), D.C. is enjoying a five-game winning streak in the nation’s capital.
RFK Stadium, it would appear, is a place worth fearing once more.
“Early in the season, we sat down and talked about the mentality we want to have,” goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. “And we wanted to take RFK back — that was one of the main things. We’ve done a good job so far, so we want to keep it up.”
After going 3-11-1 at home in 2010, the worst season in club history, United actually won more games on the road last year (five) than they did at RFK (four). When the team ended the season with a playoff berth on the line during a three-game home stand, D.C. went 0-2-1 to seal its fate.
“We have been struggling in the past at home,” center back Dejan Jakovic said. “This year is totally different. And it’s a totally different team, too. We’ve just been focused, playing our game, keeping the ball and finishing all of our chances, and we definitely want to make sure that when other teams come to RFK that they know it’s going to be a tough place to play.”
Although several hundred fans have followed the squad for its recent road trips to face the Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls, United’s average home attendance of 13,668 is down from the 15,181 the club averaged last season and the 20,067 the organization drew in 2007 — the last time it made the playoffs. (The current league average is 18,655.)
The most obvious way to get more people in the seats is for the team to just keep winning. Considering Saturday’s match is United’s first home game since May 26, and D.C. won’t play another league match at RFK until Aug. 4, the D.C. players comprehend the importance of this chance to claim three points on their home turf.
“It’s crucial, especially for us to get the fans what they want,” Hamid said. “They’re not going to have the opportunity to come and see us for a while, so we’ll want to perform well and get a result.”
Added right back Robbie Russell: “This is a chance for us to come home and reassert, ‘This is our home and this is how we play and you’re coming into a hostile environment.’ And it should reflect that on the field.”
NOTE: United on Wednesday announced they will play French power Paris Saint-Germain in a friendly July 28 at RFK Stadium. The 7:30 p.m. match replaces a previously announced game against Juventus FC that the Italian side canceled last week. Tickets to the Juventus match will be valid for the game against Paris Saint-Germain.