Since winning the 1996 U.S. Open Cup in the club's inaugural campaign, the domestic cup competition has held a special place in D.C. United lore. There is perhaps no greater evidence of this than the rivalry that has sprung up between Charleston Battery and United fans revolving around an incident that took place over than a decade ago.
On their way to beating Los Angeles to earn D.C.'s third MLS Cup, the Black-and-Red had their hopes firmly set on claiming a domestic double in 1999. The path through America's oldest tournament took United to Charleston for an early August, round of 16 matchup against the second-division Battery.
What should have been a fairly straightforward match for the Thomas Rongen-led side was made much more difficult far before the opening whistle. Richie Williams, Jeff Agoos, Ben Olsen and Carlos Llamosa were all with the U.S. national team at the Confederations Cup in Mexico, leaving United's starting eleven depleted. Still, with a strike pair that included Roy Lassiter and Jaime Moreno, D.C. entered the match as a prohibitive favorite.Once the match started, it didn't take long to realize that United was in for a fight. Charleston jumped out to a two-goal advantage by the 24th minute, before D.C. tallied the contest's next three scores, taking a 3-2 lead on A.J. Wood's 84th minute goal. Charleston equalized three minutes later and - in sudden-death extra time - claimed victory on Ivailo Ilarionov's 100th minute winner.
The shock of losing in such dramatic fashion, and to a second-tier opponent, didn't sit well in the D.C. dressing room. As legend - and various reports - have it, United's players broke a pair of coffee pots and shower heads in the visiting locker room. D.C. legend Eddie Pope was one of the men present in the locker room, and recalled some of his emotions during a recent interview.
"No one wants to lose to a second or third division team," Pope admitted while in Charleston this week for MLS Players Union meetings. "That team was raring and ready to go and they had a lot of good players, so it wasn't a cakewalk. For them it was their World Cup. For us it was another step on the way to the final."
From the upset was born one of the more unique traditions in American soccer. Starting in 2004, supporters from both sides created the Coffee Pot Cup in honor of Charleston's historic victory and the reaction it drew from D.C.'s players. As tradition has it, supporters of the losing side fill the cup with beer for the victors' fans. Since the CPC was born, the Battery have yet to beat United.
Charleston gets its next chance tonight, on the second eveningof action at the 2012 Carolina Challenge Cup. Watch a live stream of the United-Battery match on dcunited.com.