D.C. United and fans celebrate topping-off new stadium

D.C. United fans on Friday sign the topping-off beam at the Audi Field construction site. (Juan Herrera/Capital News Service)

Juan Herrera, correspondent

WASHINGTON — Fans of D.C. United gathered in front of the construction site of the team’s new soccer stadium, Audi Field, Friday afternoon to commemorate the placement of the final steel beam in the team’s new home at Buzzard Point.

Before the ceremony, fans were given the opportunity to sign the steel beam with a marker. By 1:45 p.m., the beam was covered from end-to-end with different signatures, messages and team chants from fans wearing the team’s traditional black-and-red gear.

Even with the chilly weather, fans of all ages continued to pour into the construction site before the ceremony.

Thomas Gardiner, a University of Maryland graduate student and long-time D.C. United supporter, was excited to see the soccer stadium come to life.

“It’s been a long ride with a lot of bumps on the road,” Gardiner said. “From Poplar Point 10 years ago, to finally seeing this rising up from the ground, it’s a good day.”

Juan Lopez, a northern Virginia native and season ticket holder, said he was also happy to see Audi Field move along in the construction process. However, he also mentioned he was a bit sad to see RFK Stadium go.

“That’s been like a second home for me for the last 10 years, but it’s also exciting to be in a new place,” Lopez said.

At 2:00 p.m., the beam signing came to an end. According to Lindsay Simpson, D.C. United’s director of media and communications, season ticket holders were allowed to sign the beam throughout the week. She estimated that more than 2,000 people had signed the beam by the end of Friday’s ceremony.

“It’s wonderful, exciting and encouraging for us to see the fan base and the community continue to rally around us for every stage of this process,” Simpson said.

After the signing, Simpson and Tom Hunt, D.C. United’s president of business operations, spoke to those in attendance and thanked the construction team that worked on the stadium, as well as the team’s sponsors. They also thanked the fans and season ticket holders for their continued support.

At the end of the ceremony, workers on the site hooked the steel beam to a large crane that had been in the background of the construction site. Simpson ordered the crane to carry the final piece of steel to the top of the stadium as fans cheered and took photos.

With another phase of construction at Audi Field completed, Simpson said that there would be no delays and that D.C. United’s new home would be open on time for the team’s inaugural home match against the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 14.

“One hundred and sixty-nine days to go,” Simpson said. “We’ve got the countdown clock going on our Audi Field D.C. website and we are charging forward for 7:00 p.m. on July 14. So we are very excited for that day.”

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