Soccer participation, attendance and popularity continue to grow in the United States, as more Americans are discovering the beauty of the only true global sport. With the birth of Major League Soccer in 1996, the U.S. once again had a top-flight league, allowing soccer-hungry fans across the country to watch the world's most popular sport in their own backyard.
As a charter member of MLS, D.C. United first stepped onto the pitch in 1996, and the team from the Nation's Capital quickly set the standard for excellence in the league, on the field and in the stands. In its short, nine-year history, D.C. United has earned more domestic and international honors than any other American side, done battle against some of the world's most famous clubs and built a fiercely loyal and dedicated fan base that understands and appreciates world-class soccer.
The club's inaugural season in 1996 proved to be a fruitful one for the "Black-and-Red." After a slow start in league play, United found the right balance and went into the postseason as the team to beat. They proved, however, to be the team that no one could beat, defeating the Los Angeles Galaxy 3-2 on a golden goal header by defender Eddie Pope in overtime to capture the first MLS Cup title on October 20. One title wasn't enough for the Black-and-Red that fall, as three days later United shut out the Rochester Raging Rhinos of the A-League 3-0 to win the U.S. Open Cup, the country's oldest soccer tournament. The Black-and-Red became the first club to capture America's version of the "double."
1997 was another banner year for the Black-and-Red in MLS, as the team rolled through the regular season with a league-best record of 21-11. United went a perfect 5-0 in the MLS Cup playoffs, which culminated in a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids in MLS Cup '97 in front of a record, and rabid, home crowd of 57,431 at RFK Stadium.
The following year United failed to capture domestic honors for the first time in their short history, losing to the Chicago Fire 2-0 in MLS Cup '98. Though United would be disappointed on the home front, their previous success gave them the opportunity to seek honors on a larger stage. After reaching the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions Cup in 1997, the Black-and-Red made it one step further to the finals in 1998, where they faced Mexican 'supercampeon' Toluca. A dramatic 1-0 victory at RFK Stadium not only gave the Black-and-Red their first international trophy, but also a chance for a second by earning a berth in the 1998 Interamerican Cup. Legendary Brazilian side Vasco da Gama would be South America's representative, and they proved to be a formidable side after taking leg one of the championship at RFK Stadium by a 1-0 score. However, United shocked the Brazilian team, and much of the soccer world, by winning the away leg at Lockhart Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale by a 2-1 margin. Thanks to the pair of road goals, United broke the aggregate goals draw and came away with the Interamerican Cup trophy and the title "Champion of the Americas."
That contest proved to be a fitting farewell for head coach Bruce Arena, who left the District to conquer further international battles as the head coach of the United States Men's National Team. Arena left behind a legacy that would prove to be hard to follow, as he guided the Black-and-Red to an impressive 87-37-1 mark (.700) in all competitions in his three years at the helm.
The 1999 season would feature a new coach, as former Tampa Bay and New England head coach Thomas Rongen took over on the United sideline. The club still produced the same successful results its supporters now demanded, as the squad earned their second Supporters Shield for the league's best regular season record (23-9) and once again represented the Eastern Conference in MLS Cup. Just as in 1996, MLS Cup '99 would feature the Black-and-Red and the Galaxy in Foxboro, but this time dramatics were not necessary as a pair of first half goals gave United a 2-0 victory and their third Alan I. Rothenberg Trophy in four seasons.
As the 1990's passed, so too did the groundbreaking success that United enjoyed in their first four MLS seasons. The 2000 and 2001 seasons provided a few bright moments, mostly through the play of a pair of teenaged stars-in-the-making: midfielder Bobby Convey and forward Santino Quaranta. In 2000, the then 16-year-old Convey became the youngest player to suit up for an MLS side when he took the pitch in the season opener against Los Angeles on March 25. That record would stand for little more than a year, when a younger 16-year-old Quaranta not only became the youngest player in MLS history, but was also named the youngest All-Star selection and Player of the Week in league history.
After two disappointing seasons, the Black-and-Red got an early start to the 2002 campaign by naming former Miami Fusion F.C. head man Ray Hudson as the club's third head coach on January 8. Hudson saw his new club's push for the postseason last until the final match of the schedule, but the Black-and-Red missed out on the MLS Cup playoffs for the third straight season. However, 2002 did have some bright spots with a trio of club and league firsts. Domestically, United hosted the 2002 MLS All-Star Game at RFK Stadium for the first time and also won the inaugural Atlantic Cup trophy in what is to become an annual competition with their chief rival, the MetroStars. Internationally, the Black-and-Red became the first MLS side to travel to England when they defeated Tottenham Hotspur, 1-0, in a tribute match at the famed White Hart Lane in October.
Following a third unsuccessful campaign, the club used the time before the start of the 2003 season to make drastic changes to the squad. U.S. National Team star Earnie Stewart was allocated to the club, bringing the veteran home from Holland, where he enjoyed unparalleled success for an American expatriate. Richie Williams, Eddie Pope and Jaime Moreno all headed north to join the MetroStars, while defender Mike Petke made the reverse journey to join the Black-and-Red. Former Indiana University standout and MLS All-Star Dema Kovalenko was also brought in to shake things up in the midfield, while his Fire teammate and Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoitchkov was added as a player/coach.
Though United struggled early in the season to pick up points, the off-season moves did pay off, as the club posted a regular season record of 10-11-9, sending the club back to the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since winning it all in 1999. However, a fourth MLS Cup was not in the cards and United fell to the Chicago Fire in the first round of the postseason.
The beginning of 2004 saw an exciting time for the Black-and-Red, as Head Coach Peter Nowak and teen phenom Freddy Adu both joined the club in January. Coach Nowak became the fourth United coach in team history, while Freddy was the first overall selection in the MLS SuperDraft. After a 5-5-5 start during the first part of the MLS regular season, United began to buy into Coach Nowak's hardworking, aggressive and team-oriented strategy and finished the regular season with an 11-10-9 record. In the final game of the regular season, the team notched a thrilling 3-2 victory over the MetroStars that vaulted them past NY/NJ and into second place in the Eastern Conference standings. United carried their hot streak into the playoffs and dispatched of the MetroStars in the first round and the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference semifinals on the way to their fifth MLS Cup Championship game. Led by MLS Cup MVP Alecko Eskandarian, United went on to defeat the Kansas City Revolution 3-2 and capture their fourth MLS Championship. In all, United finished the season with nine victories in their last ten games in achieving their "Return to Glory."
In 2005, after a middling beginning to the season, United rebounded and finished second in the Eastern Conference with a record of 16-10-6. The 16 wins were the most since 1999, when the team won 23 games. Moreno again led the Black-and-Red charge notching 16 goals, tied for his career best. The year was also highlighted by appearances in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, Copa Nissan Sudamericana and an international friendly versus the reigning English Premier League Champion Chelsea FC.
Throughout its 10 years, the Black-and-Red have earned the right to square off against some of the world's most recognizable clubs in both international competition and friendly contests. Since 1997, D.C. United has traveled across the globe and done battle against 25 clubs from 13 countries. The list of clubs is an impressive one, including Germany's Bayer Leverkusen, Mexico's Club America and Toluca, Vasco da Gama of Brazil, Argentina's Boca Juniors and Leeds United, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premiership. The 2003 season expanded United's international experience to include full national squads as D.C. defeated the El Salvador National Team by a 3-1 score at RFK Stadium on August 30.
Just as impressive as the roll call of international competition D.C. United has faced over the years is the roster of talented players that have donned the Black-and-Red jersey. The list of world-class players that have called RFK Stadium home over the years includes a legacy of great defenders that have represented the United States in the 1998 and 2002 World Cup finals: Eddie Pope (1996-2002), Jeff Agoos (1996-2000) and Carlos Llamosa (1997-2000). The United midfield has been anchored from the start by Bolivian legend and 1998 MLS MVP Marco Etcheverry (1996-present). U.S. internationals John Harkes (1996-98), Tony Sanneh (1996-98) and Ben Olsen (1998-present) also contributed to the club's success during the dynasty years. The front line has featured a trio of players that find themselves in the top four of the MLS all-time goals scored list: Roy Lassiter (1998-99, 2002), Raul Diaz Arce (1996-97, 2000-01) and United's all-time leading scorer Jaime Moreno (1996-2002). Add to that a two-time former FIFA Footballer of the Year runner-up (Stoitchkov; 1992, 1994) and it is easy to see why United has been the most successful team in U.S. soccer history.
MLS Cup Champions: 1996, 1997, 1999, 2004
U.S. Open Cup Champions: 1996
Supporter's Shield: 1997, 1999
CONCACAF Champions Cup Winners: 1998
Interamerican Cup Winners: 1999
Robert F. Kennedy Stadium
2400 E. Capitol Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
Primary: All black with three white stripes
Alternate: All white with three black stripes