Looking Back: The sweetest rain

forgive me -- dampen their spirits, and why should it? United, the defending champion with the best regular season record, playing at home, were the overwhelming favorite. Those were the days of the "Magic Triangle," the unstoppable three-pronged attack of Marco Etcheverry, Raul Diaz Arce and Jaime Moreno. Eddie Pope was the country's best defender, and was paired in the center with hard-tackling new addition Carlos Llamosa. National team stalwarts Jeff Agoos and captain John Harkes provided additional leadership, and leading it all was Bruce Arena, the league's Coach of the Year.

The Colorado Rapids, for their part, were the Cinderella story of the league. After missing the playoffs in 1996, they finished fourth in the West and swept Kansas City and Dallas to get to this game. Led by new coach Glenn "Mooch" Myrenick, they built their team from the back, with goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann excelling throughout the season and veteran defenders Peter Vermes and captain Steve Trittschuh providing stability. Mexican playmaker David Patiño and two other national team veterans, Chris Henderson and Marcelo Balboa, led the midfield. At forward, leading scorer Paul Bravo's hard shot could cause problems in these conditions.

United went on the attack immediately, with midfielder Tony Sanneh shooting high from an Etcheverry cross in the first minute. By the 10th minute, United had already won four corner kicks. Then, Henderson and Patiño tested United goalkeeper Scott Garlick with shots from outside the box. Neither team seemed to be affected too much by the rain.

By the 30th minute, United had begun to find space behind Colorado's defense, with only some poor touches by United or good tackles by Rapids defender Chris Martinez keeping game scoreless. Eight minutes before halftime, Llamosa headed out a cross to right back David Vaudreuil, who sprung the speedy Sanneh down the right. At the 18, Sanneh crossed towards Diaz Arce, who stepped over the ball. Moreno, the bottle-blonde who led MLS in goals, came back to receive the ball, then created some space for himself and shot it into the net.

Insanity followed. I forgot about the rain and the cold, my wet hands, and the fact that I hadn't eaten all day. Confetti flew everywhere, attaching itself to my drenched hair and clothes. I didn't care one bit. The drums, whose volume I had finally grown accustomed to, got even louder and faster, banging out the "D.C. United" rhythm as if their lives depended on it, and now we were all joining in the singing, continuing all the way to halftime, with United leading 1-0.

United came out for the second half looking to put the game out of reach, and Colorado didn't give an inch. In the 59th minute, Martinez left with a sprained ankle and was replaced by Uruguayan striker Adrian Paz, who made his presence felt instantly by creating two good chances within his first four minutes on the field.

But in the 67th minute, United struck again. An Etcheverry corner was cleared to Richie Williams outside the box. He passed it to Harkes, who shielded Wolde Harris with his back to goal. Harkes looked up, turned and curled a cross to the back post, where an unmarked Tony Sanneh, whose goal in MLS Cup 1996 began United's comeback, headed the ball into the open net.

If the celebration for the first goal was insane, this was complete chaos. United were now up 2-0, and were not going to fall apart like Los Angeles had done the year before. Not today, not in front of this crowd.

But Colorado stormed back, and Garlick made two clutch saves in the next three minutes, including a remarkable bicycle kick attempt by Balboa. Then, Paz found Patiño 12 yards out. He made a clever flick and the ball went back to Paz, who rifled it past Garlick. With 15 minutes remaining, Colorado had put the game back within reach.

Colorado threw everything they could at the goal, but couldn't break D.C. down again, and United's strong counter kept them honest. Although United didn't score, they did have a penalty appeal turned down after Trittschuh took down Moreno in the box in the 81st minute. And when Garlick came out to catch a Paz cross with two minutes to go, Colorado were spent. They had fought valiantly, but United were simply the better team that year.

So this is where my D.C. United experience begins. Over the next few days, as "Olé" echoed in my ears and I continued to pick confetti out of my coat, I knew that I had seen something special that day, and I wanted to be a part of it from then on.

D.C. United 2, Colorado Rapids 1 (D.C. United wins MLS Cup '97)

Goals: Moreno (Sanneh, Vaudreuil) 37, Sanneh (Harkes, Williams) 68, Paz (Patiño, Kmosko) 75

Man of the Match: Jaime Moreno

D.C. United -- Garlick, Vaudreuil, Pope, Llamosa, Agoos, Williams, Sanneh, Harkes, Etcheverry, Moreno, Diaz Arce

Colorado -- Hahnemann, Martinez (Paz 59), Trittschuh, Vermes, Henderson (Paule 81), Balboa, Kmosko, Patiño, Henderson, Bravo (Harris 27), Rammel

Yellow cards: D.C. -- Garlick 20; Colorado -- Balboa 86

Referee: Brian Hall
Attendance: 57,431

David Lifton is a contributor to dcunited.com. He is a member of the Screaming Eagles and longtime supporter of D.C. United.


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