Top Atlantic Cup moments: Tony Meola recalls the moment the New York-DC United rivalry began

Though Rivalry Week is full of great moments between rival clubs, no matchup has history that dates back to the inaugural year of Major League Soccer the way the Atlantic Cup rivalry does.

And so, in honor of Saturday’s 72nd all-time meeting between the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United (12:30 pm ET, NBC, live chat on, we look back on the greatest moments in the history of the rivalry ... told by the people who remember it best.

Today, we go way back in time to one of the earliest moments in the rivalry. On Oct. 2, 1996, the New York/New Jersey MetroStars suffered a demoralizing defeat to D.C. United in the decisive third game of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Tied at 1-1 in the series and playing the winner-take-all third leg at RFK Stadium, United jumped out in front in the second half through a goal from Steve Rammel. The MetroStars managed to muster up a response, with Antony de Ávila delivering the equalizer in the 86th minute.

The Metro celebration was short-lived, however. Three mintues after de Avila’s goal, Rob Johnson committed a rash challenge on Marco Etcheverry that ended up giving United a penalty kick. Raul Díaz Arce stepped up and beat goalkeeper Tony Meola from the spot, assuring United would advance and giving the MetroStars the first real heartbreak in the history between the teams.

Here’s how the game went according to Meola…

I remember the game was a pretty good game. The atmosphere was incredible. I remember D.C. fans – when we came out for the warm-ups, they had the stadium jumping. The Barra Brava were on fire.

I can remember slowly, and I imagine it was because the buses were pulling in for New York, the MetroStars fans filling in that top tier [of RFK]. It made for a great atmosphere and all I could think was we’re at the beginning stages of what could be a pretty good rivalry.

In the second half, I thought we were dominating the game a little bit and it came down to a Richie Williams hand ball that wasn’t called on the line to save a goal. It turned the game around for me and then, of course, the PK.

I can remember when Rob Johnson went down for the slide tackle, I was screaming in my head “No!” and that was the end of the season. But a great start to two teams really growing some hatred for each other right from the start.