Looking back: The losses
One of my goals in this column is to try to capture the experience of what it is like to be a fan of D.C. United. As we all know, a large part of being a sports fan is dealing with the losses as well as the wins. So, after 11 pieces describing some of United's greatest wins, I thought I would devote a space to some particularly notable games which United failed to win in the final installment of the Lightning Round.
June 10, 2000: D.C. United 0, Kansas City Wizards 0
This wasn't a loss, but it sure felt like one. Desperate for a win after a poor start to the season, United ran through Kansas City's much-improved defense with relative ease in the first half, only to be thwarted at every opportunity by a brilliant performance from goalkeeper Tony Meola, the MVP-award winner that season.
Bobby Convey came closest in the 34th minute with a low, hard shot to the far post that Meola got a fingertip to. In the stands, we were sure that United's luck would change as the teams came out for the second half, but the game never re-started due to a power outage that killed the lights at RFK. After a delay of nearly 45 minutes, the game was declared a draw.
May 1, 1999: Chicago Fire 3, D.C. United 2
The Screaming Eagles flew out to the Windy City for United's first game against Chicago after the upset in MLS Cup '98. As part of a "referee exchange program," Scottish referee Stuard Dougal was assigned to this game. By halftime, Dougal, nicknamed "Dr. Discipline" in his homeland, had issued three yellow cards and a red card to United defender Brian Kamler for elbowing Jerzy Podbrozny, even though the assistant referee, who was right on top of the play, had initially signaled a foul on Podbrozny.
Despite being a man down, United fought back in the second half and equalized on a 64th minute penalty kick from Jaime Moreno. A minute later, Fire defender Lubos Kubik would pick up his second yellow card, evening the sides at 10. United took the lead on a Roy Lassiter goal shortly thereafter, but D.C. midfielder Carey Talley would also be sent off in the 68th minute. With United reduced to nine men, Chicago re-gained the lead on goals by Chris Armas and Josh Wolff in the 77th and 82nd minutes.
Although the game was no more physical than a usual MLS match, Dougal would issue a then-MLS record 10 yellow cards. At halftime, I remember walking around the Soldier Field concourse and seeing United President Kevin Payne talking to Comcast SportsNet broadcaster Dave Johnson. When we got back to Washington, I found out that Payne was criticizing Dougal's performance, and later that week Payne was fined. Agreeing with his comments, United fans on the old Screaming Eagles e-mail listserv suggested putting out a collection jar at our next tailgate to help Payne pay the fine.
May 23, 2001: D.C. United 3, Bayer Leverkusen 4
On the same day their Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich won the European Champions League, German powerhouse Bayer Leverkusen were in Washington for a friendly. United's young lineup matched up well against a Leverkusen side that featured several German internationals, including rising star Michael Ballack, who, one year later, would score the goal that would knock the United States out of the World Cup.
But it was Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov who would grab the headlines. His goal in the 14th minute, a header off the left post, would be matched 17 minutes later by Bobby Convey, only four days shy of his 18th birthday. In the 35th minute, Thomas Brdaric scored to give Leverkusen a lead, but shortly before halftime, Talley would convert a penalty to pull United level again.
Albright would give United a 3-2 lead when he put in a rebound off a Craig Ziadie shot, but Berbatov would tie the game in the 64th minute and complete the hat trick with the game-winner seven minutes from the end.
September 19, 2002: D.C. United 3, Dallas Burn 4
Going into the last weekend of the season, United needed a victory against Dallas, as well as losses by the MetroStars and Kansas City, to get into the playoffs. But when Dallas took a 1-0 lead against the run of play on a Jorge Rodriguez penalty kick in the 34th minute, D.C.'s chances looked bleak.
But three minutes into the second half Convey tied the game and late-season addition Henry Zambrano chipped Dallas goalkeeper Matt Jordan in the 65th minute for his only goal in a United uniform.
In the stands, we started to taste the playoffs. United's defense had been strong all year and they only needed to hold on for 25 more minutes. But goals by Antonio Martinez and Bobby Rhine in the 74th and 79th minute gave Dallas a 3-2 lead. In stoppage time with nearly all hope lost, Marco Etcheverry sent in a low cross past two defenders and Ali Curtis put it home to send the game into overtime and us into ecstasy.
Unfortunately, shortly after the second overtime period began, Eddie Johnson put a Joselito Vaca cross past Nick Rimando for the winner. Although United had failed to make the playoffs for the third consecutive year, we were still proud of the manner in which they had fought back, winning three of their previous four games, to get to this point, and gave them a five-minute ovation after the game ended.
David Lifton is a contributor to dcunited.com. He is a member of the Screaming Eagles and longtime supporter of D.C. United.