D.C. United president Kevin Payne won't be present when his team plays the first game against the Houston Dynamo at their new home, BBVA Compass Stadium, the latest purpose-built gem for Major League Soccer.
He has a family commitment, and it will spare him the difficulty and embarrassment of watching yet another MLS franchise inaugurate its own building. But Payne appears ready for the first discernible hint of progress in ages toward finding a replacement for D.C. United's aging confines at RFK Stadium.
Long stalled under San Francisco-based Will Chang, an absentee owner with little interest and even less success in exerting political or financial muscle in the District, United appears to be closing in on investors expected to breathe new life into the franchise and deepen its pockets.
|D.C. United at Dynamo|
|When » Saturday, 4:30 p.m.|
|Where » BBVA Compass|
|TV » NBCSN|
"What I've expressed to the [D.C.] Council is that we're pretty focused on trying to resolve the prospect of new partners in ownership," Payne said. "It makes more sense for us to sit down and have a serious conversation after that has been sorted out. I hope that will be relatively soon and that we'll be able to sit down before we get really into summer and talk with the District."
In the meantime, United (5-3-3) will face the Dynamo (2-3-2) for the second time in 15 days, this time in a $95 million, 22,000-seat stadium only blocks from downtown Houston. Robertson Stadium, on the campus of the University of Houston, had been the team's home since it moved from San Jose in 2006.
"It's got a lot of credibility and is very professional, as it should be because it's a good organization," United midfielder Danny Cruz said. "They deserve it."
Cruz spent his first three seasons with the Dynamo. But D.C. United playmaker Dwayne De Rosario and assistant coach Pat Onstad won a pair of championships in Houston and have pillars in their honor at the new stadium, which appears to be lacking ventilation.
"There is no wind in the new stadium, none," Dynamo defender Geoff Cameron told the Houston Chronicle. "It's an oven, so it kind of sucks for the other team coming in because they're going to die."
Onstad said he would have tried to attend the first match at the venue even if D.C. United wasn't on the schedule. Among those also expected to attend are Indianapolis Colts rookie Andrew Luck, whose father Oliver was the Dynamo's first president.
"He used to sit behind the goal," Onstad said. "I'd like to think the only reason he's any good is because he used to watch me direct traffic in front."
The jokes will end as soon as United takes the field. Visiting teams are 1-5-2 in the last three years against expansion teams in their first home games or in the first game at a new stadium.
But D.C. United's ongoing stadium envy isn't funny at all.
"Congratulations to Houston," Payne said. "It's a good time for our league, and we hope that we can add to that before too much more time passes by."