If you have not gotten the news by now, the new Audi Field is pretty awesome.
With D.C. United's new digs running at peak performance, and an impressive 12-2-1 start at their new iron trimmed facility, they scrapped their way back to the playoffs. They climbed upward in the Eastern Conference table to host a playoff game. A home match earned by the new 20,000 person stadium in Southeast D.C.
It's not only a stadium made for the district, it's a stadium made for United. A giant football stadium that can bring in 45,000 people and still look small, was no place for an MLS team. This place, a stadium with not a bad seat in the house, where it feels like you can reach out and touch one of the 22 players on the field, is the new house for the team. Not the rented apartment that RFK Stadium was.
But Audi Field is more than just a soccer stadium. It's a fortress. A coliseum where the gladiators compete for 90 minutes in front of their Red and Black clad supporters. Supporters that are gassed just as much as the players on the field.
An hour and a half before opening kick against the Columbus Crew fans were already settling into their seats. A drum and a strong contingent of their supporters had claimed their spot in the trenches on the supporters' end of the stadium.
And unlike most other sporting events in the district, the stands were full when the match started. Mind you, the stands were full on a Thursday night.
Early on the presence of the 20,600 strong was felt by the Crew. Playing for the first time at Audi Field in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs, Columbus got stuck defending on the supporters' end of the pitch.
[Mistake No. 1]
The supporters made them pay. A set piece by Wayne Rooney went wide, got collected by Luciano Acosta who sent it back toward the net.
A routine save attempt for Zack Steffen, until the raucous crowd elevated to their highest decibel level of the match.
The ball slipped right through the Crew goalkeeper's hands. Frederic Brillant was waiting for an easy header.
Sure, a mistake by Steffen. Crowd induced? Well, not one went by him for the next 95 minutes of the match.
Later United relented a goal, but there was no hesitation from the supporters' section.
The supporters went the full 90 minutes. Then full 120 as it was tied after regulation. Whether it was the classic "VAMOS United" cheer, "Bill Hamid, BILL BILL Hamid," "U-NI-TED," they were up, applauding their team. The only pause (slightly) was for an injury to Paul Arriola.
79' AND STILL GOING STRONG 📣🎤📣 pic.twitter.com/ymeYXYmu4M— NBC Sports United (@NBCSDCUnited) November 2, 2018
They led the match the entire time. Not United, not the Crew, but the supporters' section. For most of the match, the Crew and United were in a draw. But at the end, it was a two-on-one.
Then it became 2-1 Columbus early in extra time.
Then there is Rooney. The Englishman who's been an assassin for D.C. since joining the club mid-summer.
Every time the ball found itself at the foot of Rooney, the crowd edged forward in their feet. A fleeting yelp, then a moment of hesitation passed as sporadic cheers rang through the stadium. Cheers not of celebration, but the anticipation of greatness about to bestow them.
Also every time Rooney touched the ball, Columbus had two converged on top of him. Rooney was held to two shots. No magic from the 33-year-old on this night.
Not once though did these fans give up hope. In the 116' they were rewarded. A weak clear was finished by a beautiful strike from Nick DeLeon for his first goal of 2018. It tied it up at 2-2. Penalty kicks were next.
Penalties, of course, were in front of their supporters' end. It was an epic ending, but the Crew escaped with the victory 2-2 (3-2). Not enough shots on net for United and Rooney's first of the match was a missed PK.
It was not United's night in their new stadium, but for their supporters, it was a show of elegant playoff soccer in the district.