EDITOR'S NOTE: On Wednesday the D.C. United-New England Revolution 2004 Eastern Conference Final will be shown as part of MLS Classics: Remix at 4 pm ET. Former D.C. United player Alecko Eskandarian, former Revolution player Taylor Twellman, Matt Doyle and Andrew Wiebe will provide alternative commentary via KISWE’s innovative live streaming technology.
Whether you were a jubilant D.C. United fan or a heartbroken New England Revolution supporter, if you were lucky enough to count yourself among the 21,000-plus at RFK Stadium on a magical November evening for the 2004 Eastern Conference Championship, you left knowing these two things:
- You had just witnessed one of the best matches in MLS history.
- You were absolutely exhausted.
After six goals, 120 minutes and seven rounds of penalties, D.C. emerged victorious in one of the league’s all-time greatest games, a match that perhaps even overshadowed their eventual MLS Cup victory over the Kansas City Wizards.
Some 16 years – and 16 teams later – MLS looks drastically different from when D.C. last won the title. Yet, that 3-3 draw (4-3 on penalty kicks) remains one of the most important encounters in league history. Here’s why.
The Last great RFK triumph
D.C. United called RFK Stadium home for 21 years before finally moving to Audi Field midway through the 2018 season. But in reality, their stay on East Capitol Street could be separated into two eras.
During the first, from 1996 to 2004, the Black-and-Red were the league’s first dynasty and also ruled the D.C. summer sports scene. Postseason soccer at RFK was a genuine event, too. The raucous crowd from Nov. 6, 2004 that lived by every kick foreshadowed the intensity we’d see as expansion sides in Toronto, Seattle, Portland and Atlanta entered the fold.
In the years that followed, however, they were almost trapped by their former success. D.C. won the Supporters’ Shield in 2006 and 2007, but failed to replicate the postseason success of 2004, and MLS’ original power struggled to keep pace as newer clubs with deeper pockets entered the fold. It took their long-awaited move to Audi Field in 2018, coupled with the signing of Wayne Rooney, to truly recapture the city’s imagination.
Nick Rimando’s legend is born
Rimando was already known as an exceptional player when former Miami Fusion coach Ray Hudson became D.C.’s third coach and brought along the goalkeeper from his previous club. But Rimando’s reputation as arguably the league’s best-ever penalty stopper hadn’t truly settled in.
In fact, as the match went to penalties, it was reasonable to suggest that New England was better equipped for the task. Matt Reis had already stopped two penalties during their two-leg conference semifinal victory over the Columbus Crew SC. Reis even aided his cause, stepping to the spot in the second round of penalties to score on Rimando. But Rimando had the last laugh, guessing correctly to deny Clint Dempsey and seal the conference title for D.C.
Ben Olsen on The Rumble at RFK
Five years later, Rimando was again a hero in a penalty tiebreak, this time as Real Salt Lake shocked the LA Galaxy to win their first and only MLS Cup. He finished his MLS career having conceded goals on only 59 of 92 penalties against (64%) in the regular season.
Greatness all over the pitch
Few MLS matches have included so many iconic figures in league and US men’s national team history on one field. The who’s who has endured the test of time, too.
The 2004 Eastern Conference Championship featured ...
- Two of the top 10 goal scorers in MLS history: Jaime Moreno (133 goals, 4th), Taylor Twellman (101 goals, 10th)
- Two of the top 10 assist men in MLS history: Steve Ralston (135 assists, 2nd), Jaime Moreno (102 assists, 6th)
- Two of the top 10 save and shutout leaders in MLS history: Nick Rimando (1,705 saves, 154 shutouts; both 1st), Matt Reis (1,114 saves, 6th; 75 shutouts, 7th)
- Two Landon Donovan MLS MVP winners: Taylor Twellman (2005), Christian Gomez (2006)
- Two of 15 most-capped players in USMNT history: Clint Dempsey (141 appearances, 4th), Earnie Stewart (101 appearances, 15th).
- Four MLS Rookie of the Year winners: Steve Ralston (1996), Ben Olsen (1998), Jay Heaps (1999), Clint Dempsey (2004)
- The youngest player in MLS history: Freddy Adu