Best MLS Teams of the First 25 Years: #18 DC United
As the first champions of the league, the inaugural DC United squad holds a special place in MLS history. They won eleven of their final fourteen matches in the regular season and playoffs in regulation to storm to the title. They also did the double in their first year, winning the U.S. Open Cup over Rochester at their home base of RFK Stadium. They did not look like champions in the beginning, losing five of their first six matches and Bruce Arena conducted a roster overhaul on the fly. Steve Rammel and Tony Sanneh were added from the lower divisions early on, and Bolivian international Jaime Moreno joined in the summer. Raul Diaz Arce led the team with 23 goals in the season (second in MLS), Marco Etcheverry was the league leader with 19 assists.
This team made its mark on history in the postseason, first with an epic series against their quickly-building rivals the MetroStars. The first match at Giants Stadium went to a shootout that saw an injured Peter Vermes win for NY/NJ in the eleventh round. DC narrowly won the next match at RFK to force a Game 3, and needed an 89th minute penalty from Diaz Arce to move through to the conference finals. The Supporters' Shield holders Tampa Bay Mutiny capitulated 4-1 in the opener at RFK, and DC advanced to MLS Cup after winning 2-1 at Houlihan's Stadium in the second match. The 1996 MLS Cup is one of the craziest championship-deciding matches you will ever see in any league. An epic comeback, a Golden Goal, all played on a water-logged field in a downpour of mammoth proportions. See for yourself:
They went to Dallas one week later to defeat the Burn 2-0 in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal before returning to RFK to put a perfect exclamation point on an incredible conclusion to the return of major professional soccer in the U.S. with a 3-0 win over the Rochester Raging Rhinos in the Open Cup final. If not for the poor start, this team would rank much higher on the list of great MLS teams. They started the foundation that the team went on to add to in 1997, 1998, and 1999.