Although nothing else in MLS can compare to the atmosphere at a D.C. United home game, some of my favorite moments in United's history have taken place away from RFK Stadium. Here are a few of them in another installment of 'The Lightning Round.'
May 22, 1999: Miami Fusion 1, D.C. United 3
The brief history of the Miami Fusion has many links to D.C. United. Their first and last regular-season games were against United. In 1998 and 1999, United eliminated them from the playoffs, and the Fusion knocked United out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2000. The Fusion enjoyed their best season in 2001, when their defense was considerably strengthened thanks to a trade for United defender Carlos Llamosa. When the Fusion were contracted a year later, United hired their former coach, the loquacious Ray Hudson, and picked up several Fusion players in the Dispersal Draft, including current goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Games against the Fusion were always exciting, with plenty of offense from both sides. In Diego Serna, the Fusion had one of the League's best 'villains.' On this afternoon, United took a 2-0 lead late in the game through two goals from Roy Lassiter. In the 80th minute, former United midfielder John Maessner sent in a bicycle kick from the top of the penalty area. It bounced in front of Serna, who had his back to goal. He cleverly back-headed the ball and redirected it into the net to make it a 2-1 game.
With time running out, Miami pushed for the equalizer, but in the 90th minute, United would counter. Diego Soñora found Marco Etcheverry at midfield. Catching Fusion goalkeeper Jeff Cassar off his line, Etcheverry launched a beautiful 55-yard strike that landed in the back of the net to end the game. For that effort, Etcheverry would win the 1999 Goal Of The Year award.
June 16, 2001: Kansas City 0, D.C. United 3
Strange things tend to happen when United play the Wizards. In 1998, thunderstorms in Kansas City resulted in a rare postponement. In 2000, they were scoreless at halftime, although United had played superbly. The teams came out for the second half, but the lights at RFK Stadium had failed to come on, and the game was called a draw. In 2002, United hadn't scored in over 500 minutes when they were awarded a penalty kick with two minutes remaining in a scoreless game. Etcheverry converted the kick, but the referee ruled that several United players had entered the area before the kick was taken, and ordered that the kick be re-taken. The second kick was saved, and the game ended in a draw.
The night before this game, there were once again thunderstorms in the Midwest, and United's flight out was cancelled. They would not arrive in Missouri until shortly before kickoff and they would have to skip the pregame warm-up. Yet the delay would have little impact on United.
After a scoreless first half, United excelled in the second half. Abdul Thompson Conteh headed home a Chris Albright cross in the 53rd minute. Two minutes later, Bryan Namoff, in only his second MLS game, made a great run to the goal line and cut the ball back inside the six-yard box, where 16-year old Santino Quaranta was waiting to put the ball past Bo Oshonyi. The teenager would strike again in the 63rd minute, running into the box from 30-yards out and beating Oshonyi at the near post.
March 20, 1999: Tampa Bay Mutiny 2, D.C. United 5
Unlike the Fusion, I don't have as many memories of MLS' other defunct team, the Tampa Bay Mutiny, even though United were very successful against them. United swept them in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals to reach the inaugural MLS Cup, and the game played on July 12 in hurricane-like conditions that year is considered to be the turning point of that championship season.
This was Thomas Rongen's first game as United's head coach. The Mutiny contained United in the first half, but the floodgates opened up shortly after the restart. Llamosa scored his first-ever MLS goal from an Etcheverry corner in the 50th minute, and Jaime Moreno would soon double the lead. In the 62nd minute, Mutiny goalkeeper Scott Garlick, who had been United's starting goalkeeper from 1997-98, took down Lassiter on a breakaway and was sent off. Lassiter would score four minutes later to make it 3-0. Though Jefferson Gottardi would score two goals for the Mutiny, they were matched by goals by Richie Williams and Lassiter.
July 2, 2003: Dallas 1, D.C. United 3
Earlier in the season, Dallas midfielder Ronnie O'Brien suffered a broken leg in a challenge with United's Dema Kovalenko, and now he was going to play in front of a hostile crowd in Dallas. While all eyes were on Kovalenko, it was Ryan Nelsen, in his first game as United captain, that would strike first. In the 29th minute, Ali Curtis used his speed to get past Ryan Suarez. His cross bounced underneath goalkeeper D.J. Countess, and Nelsen ran onto it at the far post and put it in.
Dallas would tie the game in the 74th minute on a Jason Kreis penalty. After calling the penalty, referee Jair Maruffo showed Brandon Prideaux the yellow card, which would have been his second, but Maruffo had written in his book that Bryan Namoff had received the first card, thus allowing Prideaux to stay on the field.
Four minutes later, Curtis sprang Olsen free down the left. He crossed at the touchline and cut the ball back to the center, where Kovalenko left-footed it past Countess at the near post.
With only two minutes remaining, United had a free kick 38-yards out. Hristo Stoitchkov, as he had done three years earlier against us, ran up and struck a left-footer that curled into the top corner of the net to ensure the victory for United.
David Lifton is a contributor to dcunited.com. He is a member of the Screaming Eagles and longtime supporter of D.C. United.