When Redskins-Cowboys wrap up, D.C. United will be rocking RFK

Updated: November 1, 2006, 5:15 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Alecko Eskandarian tried to sound upset when he learned that D.C. United's next playoff game will be going almost head-to-head with the Washington Redskins-Dallas Cowboys rivalry.

"Man, I wanted to go to that game," the United forward said.

Well, he's not going to make it, unless he borrows a helicopter from Redskins owner Daniel Snyder or a fast car from Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens. Dallas-Washington kicks off at FedEx Field at 1 p.m, while United has a 4 p.m. date with the New England Revolution about five miles away in the MLS Eastern Conference final at RFK Stadium.

"I'll make it," Eskandarian said with a smile. "I'll give my buddy T.O. a call."

United and the Redskins have been coexisting in the nation's capital since 1996, each with a rabid fan base but with vastly divergent levels of success. United have become Washington's winning football team -- they have four league titles and are the favorite to win a fifth this month -- while the Redskins are a mediocre 79-81-1 with only two playoff wins over the same time span.

United enjoyed a rare chance to hog the spotlight last weekend. The Redskins had a bye week -- plus the baseball Nationals were done, the NBA Wizards hadn't started yet, and the hockey Capitals were in Canada -- so United's first-round game against the New York Red Bulls got more than the usual coverage from locals who would usually have devoted their time and space to pigskin Xs and Os.

"I felt the attention -- there were a lot more cameras out," midfielder Ben Olsen said. "I think there were trying to fill some time slots, but I think it's great. We need to take advantage of that."

This week, no such luck. Sure, the soccer die-hards will be paying attention to United, and some 20,000 fans will rock RFK, but nearly everyone else in town will focus on the game that's drawing 90,000 down the road.

"Is there envy?" Eskandarian said. "I don't think so. Those guys are getting 90,000, there's a lot more pressure on them, and the TV cameras. Now would I want that? Yes. I think it would be great for our sport and our league."

The two teams have distinct fan bases, so United's attendance usually doesn't suffer when the Redskins are home. In 1997, one of the largest crowds in RFK history -- 57,431 -- watched United win the MLS Cup on the same day the Redskins were hosting the Baltimore Ravens.

There were 21,455 on hand for last weekend's game against the Red Bulls, and the atmosphere was electric when Christian Gomez scored a late goal to ensure that United would advance to the next round. For decades, RFK was the one of the toughest places for a visiting NFL team to play -- now it's without question the toughest place for a visiting MLS team. And, yes, the movable stands still bounce when the crowd gets excited -- just as in the old Redskins days.

There is one advantage to being on a lower popularity rung. As United coach Peter Nowak reminded reporters, if United were a European team, the coach would constantly be under Joe Gibbs-like scrutiny.

"I'd had the experience in Germany where we had 70,000, 80,000 people in the stands, six, seven cameras every single day, and everyone is talking about the coach being fired or all these players coming and going," Nowak said. "It's really big business." ^

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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