IMAGE | 1999 MLS Cup

‘Something you never forget’: An oral history of D.C. United’s magical 1999 season

Twenty years ago, on Nov. 21, 1999, D.C. United captured its third MLS Cup in four seasons to cement its legacy as the first true dynasty in league history, a claim that would be strengthened when the Black-and-Red captured another title five years later. And on that balmy November afternoon at Foxboro Stadium, before a raucous crowd of nearly 45,000 fans, United bested the LA Galaxy in a 2-0 victory that served as the capstone for a remarkable campaign.

That season, under the direction of first-year coach Thomas Rongen, United posted the best record in MLS (23-9), scored the most goals in MLS (65) and finished with the best defensive performance in franchise history (43 goals conceded). Defender Jeff Agoos, midfielder Marco Etcheverry and forward Jaime Moreno were all named to the MLS Best XI, tied with the Galaxy for the most players from a single team.

Over the last few weeks, we have recreated the ’99 season through the memories of those who lived it, the people who exorcised their demons from a crushing defeat in the 1998 MLS Cup to hoist a trophy and parade it through the streets of Washington, D.C., rewarding those faithful fans who stuffed RFK Stadium game in and game out.

And now, exactly 20 years to the day since the 1999 MLS Cup, we’ve assembled an oral history of a season Black-and-Red faithful will never forget, one of the finest in franchise history. This is what the ’99 looked like, felt like and sounded like as United laid claim to the league’s first dynastic crown.

The voices:

Jeff Agoos, defender — Agoos had been with United from the league’s inaugural season in ’96 and solidified his spot as a defensive mainstay for the team’s first head coach, Bruce Arena, and also its second, Rongen. Agoos started 29 games during the ’99 season and chipped in 2 goals and 2 assists in 2,610 minutes. He made more than 240 appearances in his MLS career and earned 134 caps for the U.S. National Team.

Roy Lassiter, forward — Already a proven goal scorer in MLS with the Tampa Bay Mutiny, for whom he netted 27 goals in 30 games in ’96, Lassiter joined United for two seasons from 1998-99. He scored 18 goals his first season with the club and matched that feat the next year to lead the Black-and-Red as the club’s primary talisman. Lassiter played more minutes than anyone in ’99 and finished with 18 goals and 11 assists. He also made 30 appearances for the U.S. National Team.

Carlos Llamosa, defender — Llamosa joined United through the 1997 MLS Supplemental Draft after two seasons with the New York Centaurs. He quickly established himself as one of the best defenders in MLS and would later be named to the league’s Best XI. Llamosa won two MLS Cup titles with United and made 29 appearances for the U.S. National Team. He finished the year with 1 goal and 1 assist.

John Maessner, midfielder — Maessner joined United for two years in ’96 and ’97 before the Miami Fusion drafted him in the 1997 MLS Expansion Draft ahead of the 1998 season. Maessner spent a year and a half in Miami before returning to the Black-and-Red partway through the ’99 campaign. He reclaimed his starting spot for the end of the regular season and every game of the postseason. He finished with 3 goals and 2 assists in 11 matches.

Jason Moore, midfielder — Moore was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 MLS College Draft and spent one season with United. He worked his way into the starting lineup for parts of the year and finished with 12 starts in 16 total appearances, registering 2 assists along the way. Moore made substitute appearances in three of the six playoff games.

Eddie Pope, defender — Pope was the No. 2 overall selection in the 1996 MLS College Draft and remained with United through 2002, winning three MLS Cup titles. Pope was twice named to the league’s Best XI with United and finished his career with more than 250 MLS appearances. He also made 82 appearances for the U.S. National Team and appeared in three World Cups. Pope finished the ’99 season with 1 goal to his name.

Tom Presthus, goalkeeper — Presthus joined United as a second-round pick in the 1997 MLS College Draft. He played sparingly during his first two seasons before taking over the starting role during the ’98 playoff run. He started 26 games during the 1999 regular season and allowed 1.37 goals per game in 2,227 minutes. Most impressively, Presthus posted four shutouts in six games during the playoffs.

Thomas Rongen, head coach — Rongen had already coached the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution when United tabbed him as their second coach in franchise history, following in the footsteps of Arena. He would spend three seasons with the club, but none were as successful as his first: a 23-9 record during the regular season, a 5-1 record in the postseason and a decisive victory over the LA Galaxy in MLS Cup.

Mark Simpson, goalkeeper — Simpson was in goal for United’s first MLS Cup title in ’96 after alternating with fellow keeper Jeff Causey for much of the regular season. A serious knee injury in ’97 sidelined him for nearly two years and shifted Simpson to a backup role by 1999. Simpson played nine games in support of Presthus and remained with the club through 2001.

Carey Talley, defender — Talley was the No. 14 overall pick in the 1998 MLS College Draft and spent the first four seasons of his career with United. He appeared in 29 games and made 16 starts during the ’99 season, including every game of the playoff run. Talley finished the year with 4 goals and 4 assists. 

Richie Williams, midfielder — Williams was another member of United’s inaugural team in ’96 and won three MLS Cup titles in his five seasons with the club. He started all 23 games he played in ’99 and chipped in 2 goals and 6 assists as the team’s primary holding midfielder. Williams also made 20 appearances for the U.S. National Team.

(Note: Several primary contributors from the ’99 team could not be reached or declined to participate in this project.)

The story:

The Black-and-Red entered the 1999 season hunting for redemption following a 2-0 defeat to the Chicago Fire in MLS Cup the year prior. Players and coaches alike believed United were the best team in the league during the ’98 campaign, but victories in the Interamerican Cup and the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup did little to quell the frustrations of missing out on the ultimate prize. Arena departed to take control of the U.S. National Team, and Rongen was selected as his replacement. Regardless, the expectation remained the same: United needed to win the 1999 MLS Cup.

Llamosa: We were looking for, let’s say, revenge because we had a great season in 1998. We won the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup beating Toluca that year. And then we reached MLS Cup final and then we lost to Chicago 2-0. So coming into ’99 we were trying to get back to the Cup and win it this time. So from day one, that was the team mentality.

Pope: For the first time, you know, we weren’t champions anymore. And so we felt like we wanted to get that back, that it just belonged to us. We won in ’96, we won in ’97 and I think in ’98 the reason that heartbreak was so tough for us was that we thought — and we still probably think to this day — that we were by far the best team in the league. We just happened to lose on that day.

Agoos: I’d say ’98 and ’99 were essentially one season for us because of how ’98 ended. So ’99 was really just the extension of trying to sort of undo what happened in the final and get back to MLS Cup and prove and show and provide an example for why we thought we were the best team in the league.

Rongen: Bruce had recommended me to (general manager) Kevin Payne and said, ‘Based on what I’ve seen from other teams around the league, Thomas Rongen’s team comes the closest to what we’re trying to achieve in terms of playing style.’ So that was a huge compliment when Kevin reached out to me and said he was aligned with Bruce and thought that I was the best guy for the job.

At the end of the day, the attraction to me was the way that the club philosophically — off but more so on the field — fit well with my own way of thinking for how the game should be played. Bruce was very proactive, Bruce was attacking-minded, Bruce played a good brand of football, and that’s something that, you know, is in my genes as a Dutch-born player.

Talley: I think Thomas tried to come in and I think he recognized what Bruce had built. He didn’t want to change things a whole lot. He had this team that had quite a few of them together for the past three years and so he was very wise to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to keep things going.’

Agoos: Thomas is a different type of manager than Bruce. I give Thomas a lot of credit. What Thomas did really well was sort of — he just got out of the way, and the team really was the one that pushed everything forward. I think a lot of coaches come in and want to put their mark on the team and bring in different players and different styles and a different system, but I think Thomas was really smart enough to understand and see what he inherited and understand that, essentially, he just had to continue paddling the boat forward.

Lassiter: Thomas didn’t reinvent the wheel, you know? He kind of kept it nearly the same. Obviously they have their details that are a little bit different and their personalities and little small things they like to do different, but no, I think Thomas Rongen came in already knowing the team, keeping it like it’s going. I think he was kind of on the same page as the players. He respected tremendously the players.

Pope: I think Thomas was brilliant. He got it right from the beginning. And I think there are a lot of coaches that would have come in and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this thing my way and we’re going to change it. We’re going to try this, we’re going to try that.’ And Thomas is a super, super intelligent guy. Extremely smart. Borderline genius. And he just comes in and the first thing he says is, ‘I’m not reinventing the wheel here. All I’m going to do is continue to steer the ship in the right direction.’

Rongen: Well, to be real honest with you, I said to myself, ‘Less is more. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ I tweaked some things and made it mine, so to speak. Smaller tactical tweaks that made us even better, I think. But as I said again, don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. Thank you Bruce Arena.

United began the season on a tear, winning 11 of the first 14 games and outscoring opponents 34-20. The average crowd at RFK Stadium during the first three months of the season was 19,668 fans. Rongen’s crew were soaring thanks to a strike partnership of Lassiter and Jaime Moreno, a midfield anchored by Etcheverry, Ben Olsen and Richie Williams and a back line among the most talented in MLS, with Agoos, Pope, Llamosa, Geoff Aunger and newcomer Diego Soñora shielding the goalkeeper Presthus from danger.

Pope: Once we started winning game after game after game to start, I think for everybody it was a sigh of relief, and probably for Thomas as well. Then we just felt like we were rolling. You start looking at the beginning of the season, our expectations at that point are 100% to be in the finals.

Agoos: One of the strongest parts, I think, of our group was being able to stand shoulder to shoulder on the field and really ensure that you had the other guy’s back, and a lot of that came from the off-field stuff. A lot of teams would just come in from 8 or 9 o’clock (in the morning) and leave at 11, 12, 1, 2 p.m. — whatever it was — but we had very good relationships with each other’s families, we had barbeques, we had events for family.

Family was a very strong word at our club. Whether you had a family or not, D.C. was the extended family. I think both Kevin and Bruce established that early on. Kevin continued that. But it was a very important part of our ethos in terms of what we were as a team.

Llamosa: What I recall, Thomas, he became really close to Jaime Moreno that year. He was really close with Jaime. He was always talking to him. He was like the link between the Spanish-speaking players and the Americans. The coaching staff was fully English speakers. Jaime Moreno was the link between the two cultures we had on the team in that moment.

Presthus: It was a group that really enjoyed being around each other. We competed in games together, but training was ultra-competitive as well. Ping pong matches in the locker room were ultra-competitive. We had a unique advantage early on in MLS that we were one of the only clubs with that training facility. And the camaraderie that was built by having a clubhouse to be in and spending time together was huge in forming a relationship where we could really trust each other on the field.

Williams: I remember training sessions, pushing ourselves in training, being so competitive in training that we had to calm it down at times. And then sometimes the games were easier than the training, as we used to say.

Rongen: Those were unbelievable 5v5 games. They might have been better than some of the games in MLS. Jaime Moreno up against Eddie Pope. Marco Etcheverry up against Richie Williams. Roy Lassiter up against Carlos Llamosa. Ben Olsen up against Jeff Agoos. Those were battles in practice that I still savor.

Pope: Those 5v5 games, the drills, the possession games. One team has the ball and you almost have to stop the possession game, grab the ball and give it to the other team because it was almost impossible to win it back. I mean, the possession games were that good.

Lassiter: Every day was feisty. Every day was a battle. Every day was, ‘I want to win.’ Every day was like that. Every day was a challenge. Every day was a competition.

A brief lull toward the middle of the season gave way to a breathtaking winning streak in August and September: 11 games and 11 victories. The offense roared to life during that stretch behind 6 goals and 9 assists from Moreno, 3 goals and 6 assists from Etcheverry and 2 goals and 4 assists from Lassiter. The back line proved stout by allowing more than 1 goal in a game just twice from Aug. 8 through Sept. 29.

Maessner: People ask me all the time, you know, who is the best player you ever played with. I played with a lot of great players, with and against a lot of great players. But Marco was just unbelievable. He could not even be looking at me, you know? I’d make a 30-, 40-, 50-yard run and he wouldn’t even be looking at me and it would just be right there on my foot on the wing. He was just incredible. He could put the ball wherever he wanted to.

Llamosa: I think (Etcheverry) was the best player at that moment (during) the first couple years of MLS. If he wasn’t the best player in MLS, he was in the top three. He was fantastic and being on the field every single day with Marco was special for me. ... He was a natural. It was like sometimes he wasn’t even trying and he was the best all the time.

Moore: Marco was my roommate on quite a few trips. That was great when I could understand what he was saying. (Laughs) To have his wisdom on the game and his experience and everything, that’s irreplaceable.

Simpson: Hands down, the most dangerous player that I’ve ever played with — but obviously against in training — was Marco, you know? He could pick up his head and just when you lean toward an option that you thought he was going to play, he would send the ball the other way with his no-look (passing). He kept you honest.

Williams: Obviously we had Marco, who was the most talented out of the group and obviously one of the best players MLS has ever had. For me, my job was to get the ball from defenders and get it to the attackers, and Marco was my No. 1 guy I would try to get the ball to. So he obviously led us. And again, Marco was a very competitive guy and I think we all respected Marco for what he could do. He maybe wouldn’t play as much defense as the (other midfielders), but we didn’t mind because we knew he’d produce at the other end of the field.

Pope: To me, the best thing was having Roy and Jaime. It was as if — I shouldn’t say as if — I felt like they were competing. One scores and then the next one feels like he has to score. One has a fantastic game, and the next game the other one is super amped up to have a good game. I could just sit in the back and just watch and almost just smile and watch the other defenders struggle against them because I knew what it was like in training.

Agoos: Roy gave us incredible depth in terms of being able to stretch defenses with his speed. And then we were able to play balls over the top that we weren’t (previously playing), so it stretched the other teams’ defenses. ... Look, in the end he was one of the best finishers in MLS and held a (scoring) record up until just a few years ago, which I think says a lot about what he was able to accomplish.

Williams: Roy had the speed, had the ability to run in behind. Super quick, super fast and running in behind to get chances. Not that Jaime was slow, but Jaime was — and not that Roy wasn’t technical — but Jaime was more technical than Roy. Jaime could come underneath more and combine with Marco a little bit, and now also combine with Roy to set Roy up for goals. But Jaime could do both: set up goals and score. And Jaime at times could run in behind, too. Jaime just had a really good feel for the game and an understanding of when he could come to the ball and get the ball at his feet versus running in behind. So again, I think it was just a really good combination of two players that they weren’t exactly the same and it was hard for defenses.

Lassiter: My job was just to get open, get in those spots and put the ball in the back of the net, and that’s what I did the best. I didn’t try to come back in the midfield all that much and dribble (past) guys — no. We had plenty of guys that could do that. I was just focusing on my role in putting the ball in the net because I loved doing it. I loved doing it all costs.

Llamosa: Those guys made our job easier, you know, because we only had to worry about defending. We defend, take the ball away from the other team and then just give it to one of those guys in the middle: to Marco, to Richie or the guys up front like Roy and Jaime, you know? And they did the special things they used to do, the magic that we called it.

Pope: Probably one of the biggest reasons we did well was Carlos Llamosa was sort of this unsung, no one really paid a ton of attention to (him), one of those guys who just kind of flew under the radar — but was 100% one of the best defenders I’ve ever played beside: 1v1, not a fast guy, got every angle right, timing was impeccable. To this day, easily one of the best defenders I’ve ever played with.

Presthus: I think back on a lot of situations where it was my job just not to give the goal away, you know? ... One of the things that I do remember is situations where Eddie Pope, you know, would remind me, ‘Just stay back in goal. Give me time to recover. Don’t give anything away.’ And I think looking at Eddie Pope, he’s clearly one of the best defenders that this league has ever seen. And in combination with Jeff and Carlos and Carey and Richie, what a combination back there. It made my job very easy.

Pope: I always say for teams that win championships, you almost always need a surprise, something that you didn’t expect to happen and it went really well. I always say with some of our other seasons, one of them was Jaime. We didn’t start with him in ’96 and he shows up and you’re like, ‘Oh my god. How did we luck out and get him?’ And then another one was Tony Sanneh. And I think Diego Soñora was one who came from Argentina and people just didn’t realize the magnitude of the games he had played in. I mean, he played in Boca Juniors-River Plate games that were, you know, 90,000 people. I mean, just incredible amounts of pressure in Argentina and then came here, so this wasn’t that big of a deal to him. ... The professionalism that he had and the quality of player that he was (as a defender), it was just one of those surprises that we got.

The Black-and-Red finished the regular season with a record of 23-9 to secure the Supporters’ Shield by 3 points over the LA Galaxy. The points gap in the Eastern Conference between United and the second-place Columbus Crew stood at 12 — a massive disparity. United breezed through the first round of the playoffs with consecutive shutout victories over the Miami Fusion to sweep the series, 2-0. That set the stage for an enthralling Eastern Conference Finals with the Crew, one of United’s primary rivals at the time. Game 1, at RFK Stadium, was a 2-1 victory for United. Game 2, at Columbus Crew Stadium, was a 5-1 romp in favor of Columbus. The teams returned to RFK Stadium for Game 3 on Nov. 13, 1999, before a huge crowd of 25,451.

Presthus: One thing that I do remember from that series is (Columbus Crew forward) Stern John juggling when it was probably 5-1. And I think it was that moment where after the game it was such a, you know, who the (heck) does he think he is? They’ve got another game to come and play. And I think at that point there was no chance that Columbus had a chance to win the next game.

Rongen: I remember this so vividly. Eddie Pope is a quiet guy, but Eddie Pope walked in the locker room after (Game 2) and basically went, ‘Over my dead body are these bunch of (jerks) going to take this. Let’s go back home.’

Pope: My language was probably worse than that.

Simpson: I do remember coming back to RFK, and we had heard rumors that Columbus printed out Eastern Conference Championship shirts and had champagne in the locker room for afterwards, thinking that they were going to come into our building and take the series. And you talk about locker room talk and newspaper talk or whatever, what motivates you, and I just think everybody dug deep.

Pope: I can’t remember exactly what was said, but I know that I did some radio show or some media, maybe it was just post-practice media, and I was like, ‘We’re expecting everybody to be there (for Game 3). This has to be a big-time home game for us, and we want everybody there. Loud. Proud.’ And we felt like we needed it to beat Columbus.

Talley: I mean, the Screaming Eagles and La Barra Brava just, you know, bouncing up and down. You felt that walking into the stadium and it was just like, this is cool.

Maessner: Maybe you haven’t experienced it, but that whole level would rock. It was probably dangerous. But the whole thing would shake and rock like two feet, that whole lower section. The only other stadium that I know that moves like that is La Bombonera in Argentina. Way up top it sways a little bit. I’ve been up there, too, with Marco Etcheverry. We went when I was the director of youth development (at D.C. United). We went over to Argentina and we sat way up top, way up top.

Lassiter: We probably had the best crowds in all of Major League Soccer. I mean the chants and everything about it was just super good. It was just super good. It was so great to play at RFK. It was so good. I felt at home all the time. I felt like I was going to score all the time at RFK.

Williams: There wasn’t a better venue at that time. There probably still wouldn’t be if the place was full. It just kept the noise in.

Moore: You just gave me the chills just thinking about it.

Simpson: It was unmatched.

Pope: We were in the locker room and everybody is hanging out (before Game 3) and we’re 15 or 20 minutes from going out. And Kevin Payne put together a highlight reel from ’96 on, and everyone just sat there and watched it. And that’s what we watched right before we went out on the field.

It was such a perfect sort of like — I don’t want to say mind game — but just mentally, he was smart in doing that to sort of remind us of how successful we had been, where we had been, the things we had done, and it gave us that invincible feeling again. That got everybody super pumped. Everyone is screaming and yelling as we went in the tunnel, and the performances that day were amazing from the back all the way up.

Rongen: Then the first play of the game is a ball to Robert Warzycha (of the Crew), and Marco comes out of nowhere like a freight train and tackles him literally almost into La Barra Brava. So I looked at my assistant coaches and went, ‘OK, game on.’ And we did beat them (4-0) to reach the finals.

Talley: We set the tone quick.

LLamosa: As a team when we needed to perform, when we needed to step on the field and get things done, that’s what we did in that Game 3. I believe it was 4-0 in Game 3 at home. Marco Etcheverry was fantastic in that game and Roy Lassiter. I believe Roy Lassiter scored a bicycle kick in that game.

Lassiter: I’m not thinking about how I’m going to do it or anything like that. A forward is instinctual. His instinct is like, ‘If I see it, I’m going to do it. I’m not going to think about anything else.’ And that’s what I did. I just saw it, turned, spiked it and it went in the back of the net.

Llamosa: And Marco scored a fantastic free kick.

Talley: Marco had me stand over the ball with him. And yeah, I could strike a good dead ball and it was in a good range for me. But I think every person in that stadium knew who was hitting it, even me.

Llamosa: That was a perfect performance. I was glad. I was happy because that was my first game after like a month and a half that I was out with the MCL injury. I recall I played with a knee brace. I was worried during the game that if I get into a hard tackle I would be injured again and then miss the MLS Cup final. But I played the entire game.

A resounding 4-0 victory over Columbus pushed the Black-and-Red to the brink of achieving a season-long goal. They advanced to MLS Cup to face the LA Galaxy, an early league rival with whom they split two games during the ’99 regular season. The Galaxy were led by the likes of Cobi Jones (8 goals, 8 assists), Carlos Hermosillo (8 goals, 3 assists), Mauricio Cienfuegos (3 goals, 17 assists, MLS Best XI), Kevin Hartman (MLS goalkeeper of the Year, Best XI), Robin Fraser (MLS Defender of the Year, Best XI) and Sigi Schmid (MLS Coach of the Year). The championship game was scheduled for Nov. 21, 1999, at Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts. It was unseasonably warm with temperatures in the low 60s. The playing surface, torn apart by the New England Patriots, was sloppy.

Agoos: I think we were more giddy than anything. We wanted to get to the Cup quickly. We felt like we were playing well. There was a lot of anticipation in terms of trying to rectify what happened in 1998. I just think that we were, you know, really looking forward to having the referee blow the whistle and getting into the game.

Williams: We respected (the Galaxy). We knew they were a good team, a competitive team and we knew it was going to be a tough game. But again, we never went in thinking, ‘Oh my god, these guys are so good.’ We didn’t have any doubt. We had already been to three finals winning two championships, so we knew that we could do it again.

Lassiter: I just didn’t think they had enough to keep us in check. They had good pieces, and I remember that. They could break us down if they were in their best moment. They could break us down and they could handle us. But if we got going as a group, it was over. And I think Thomas Rongen’s first thing was we’re going to get all over them from minute one.

Rongen: Tremendous amount of confidence. And not cocky because the players were very good under direction to police themselves, so to speak, both in practice and in the locker room. There was a level of discipline that they adhered to. They played hard within the game. And when we were on, which we were on quite often, we knew that nobody could stop us. We would go places, look at each other in the tunnel against a hostile crowd and a pretty tough opponent and went like, ‘OK, bring it on. Bring it on baby.’

Presthus: I’m sure I was nervous and anxious. As a player, I was always really superstitious so I would go through a routine. Whether it was the pregame music that I listened to, the way that I would put my uniform on — the socks, shin guards, the sequence. One of the big things for me was I didn’t want any opposing players drinking water from around our goal, so I’d get rid of all the water bottles that were lined up around the field and I’d just have my one water bottle.

And it was funny because it wasn’t like I was playing great to get those superstitions. But in my head I was always like, ‘You know, you could play so much worse if you didn’t do it.’

Llamosa: Personally, my only concern was the knee injury. I was still playing with a knee brace, training with a knee brace the whole week before the game. That was my only concern. I wanted to get to the final as healthy as I can be. Fortunately for me, I made it to that game and I lasted like (74) minutes.

Pope: I always felt so, so lucky and fortunate to be in those championship games. It could have been an MLS Cup, a U.S. Open Cup championship, a CONCACAF championship, Interamerican Cup championship — any of those — I felt like these are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. These rarely come along. My mentality was always that there’s no way I’m losing this game.

Moore: I remember Christina Aguilera sang the national anthem. That was kind of cool because her and Britney Spears, they were kind of the pop singers at the time. So it was kind of cool to see that celebrity status there.

Presthus: That’s where she got her start, in MLS Cup singing the national anthem. (Laughs)

The game began inauspiciously for the Galaxy, who lost Fraser to a shoulder injury in the 7th minute. Fraser, now the coach of the Colorado Rapids, was considered by many to be the best defender in the league and a fulcrum of the Galaxy’s back line. Shortly after his departure, United took the lead in the 19th minute when Moreno poked a loose ball into the back of the net from close range. It was D.C. United 1, LA Galaxy 0.

Talley: Jaime is always a sneaky forward around the goal. But I think just that goal in general, it was almost like yes, finally, it’s gonna go our way. And I remember him running and jumping over the sign boards there, running to our supporters’ group there. I remember climbing in with the fans and paper and stuff going everywhere. I remember that moment quite well. I think I almost fell on my face on the little concrete path that was just off the grass there.

Maessner: Of course you’re excited, about as excited as you can get in your career. But also we knew, we kind of just believed that we were going to win that game. We were good enough and we were the better team. LA was very, very good. But, you know, when you have a group of guys like that and you have confidence and you’re playing well, you’re not really thinking about the other team and how good they are.

Llamosa: I felt that things were bouncing our way this time because the year before, in 1998 when we lost 2-0, we got like two unlucky goals, let’s call it. One was a deflection, the other was offside that wasn’t called. And then we had like 20 shots on goal but we couldn’t score against Chicago. This time, at that moment, in the 19th minute, Jaime had the opportunity to score and it was like, ‘OK now, this year things are bouncing our way.’

Pope: At that point, Jaime and Roy would often say, ‘All right, lock it down in the back.’ Whether they said it (that day) or I had it in my head, I was just thinking, ‘We will ride this thing out. We’ve got more than what we need to win. We have a goal. And now it’s our job to lock it down in the back.’

Lassiter: It was a moment where I felt if we got the first goal, the game was over. We’re going to finish this game. And I wasn’t going out of there without winning. That was my whole thing the whole time: I’m not leaving this place without this trophy.

Another bounce went United’s way during stoppage time near the end of the first half as Hartman, the Galaxy’s goalkeeper, whiffed on an attempted pass out of the back and slipped while trying to play the ball a second time. The final miskick went directly to Olsen at his right midfield position, and he popped it into an empty net with a one-time finish from approximately 25 yards. Just like that, United entered the locker room with a 2-0 lead.

Agoos: I feel bad for Kevin because he’s such a good goalkeeper and really one of the top goalkeepers of that sort of era, so I felt bad for him. But Benny is really a garbage man-type of player, and I think if you’re looking at goals Benny scores, those are the types of goals he scores for us, and they’re important goals. And it was a really important goal at the time.

Llamosa: Ben was always in the right spot. He was always looking for second balls. He was a young player who recognized who he was playing with. He fit really well with Marco, with Roy, with Jaime. All those guys that we had around him, he fit perfectly coming out of college at a young age. He fit in really well. He was one of the most important players for us that year.

Maessner: That’s just the way things went for Ben. He was just in the right spot, just a great player and such a hard worker, so that was great for him to get that.

Pope: There’s just no chance they’re coming back from that. No chance. ... Even if I had to kill somebody, they’re not scoring two goals. That’s not happening.

The Black-and-Red saw the game out rather comfortably in the second half. Their back line of Talley, Pope, Llamosa and Agoos clamped down on Jones and Hermosillo, while Williams, the holding midfielder, harassed Cienfuegos for 90 minutes to disrupt any semblance of flow the Galaxy hoped to establish. So good was the defending that Presthus made but a single save the entire afternoon. When the final whistle sounded, United were crowned champions for the third time in four years. D.C. United 2, LA Galaxy 0.

Rongen: Somehow Ben Olsen just jumped in my arms and he was crying. So I started crying.

Pope: It was a surreal feeling. It was one that we felt like we deserved, even before the season started. It was ours to lose. I think every team sets out that they’re going to win MLS Cup, and that’s your goal and you set it. Sometimes you believe it and sometimes you don’t. We believed it 100%.

Talley: I remember just the happiness of the whole thing. And for me, the moment that rings forward in my head is that was one of the last games that my dad got to see me play live. So I remember looking up and seeing him and my brother and that being a special moment.

Presthus: The thing that I probably remember most from the championship game is Mark Simpson and our goalkeeper coach, Alan Kelly Jr., being the first ones to come up to me after the game. And Mark just coming up with a huge hug and saying how happy he was for me to get to experience this. That meant so much.

Lassiter: It was a really, really good feeling, man, because I think that was the one thing I hadn’t gotten was an MLS Cup. So I finally got that because I was so pissed off from the previous year that we should have gotten that one.

Talley: I also remember looking at guys like Jaime and Marco and there’s full-on tears coming down and thinking, man, this is something really special. For guys that had been pros for a long time, it takes so much to win something and to complete a season with a group of people and say hey, we did something as a group and we got to this point. It doesn’t come often, and that’s what it made me realize, especially as I kept going on in my career.

Agoos: I think there was a bit of a relief that now we finally accomplished that goal after two long years of working toward it. Not a lot of players can say that, not a lot of teams can say that, not a lot of coaches can say that. So it did feel like there was sort of an ability to finally exhale, finally breath and finally take stock of what the last couple years entailed.

Maessner: One thing that my wife still gives me a hard time about is I threw my MLS Cup medal into the stands, into the crowd. Those fans are so awesome, they deserved it, so I didn’t even think twice. I just gave it to them and I threw it up there. But my wife gives me a hard time because I don’t have one anymore.

Agoos: For those next few days, everything was sweeter, everything smelled better, tasted better. Everything was better.

With trophy in hand, United returned to D.C. for a raucous celebration replete with a parade, a meeting with the mayor and a trip to the White House. For a handful of players, the ’99 season would be their last in a United jersey as salary cap restrictions, free agency and expansion rerouted them across the country. But 20 years later, with the league evolving by the minute, their memories remain equal parts poignant and protected. They’ll cherish that season forever by celebrating the franchise they helped build.

Agoos: I really look back at that time with a lot of fondness, both for what we did on the field but really a lot was about the people that represented the club off the field, all the work that was done behind the scenes. None of us could have been successful without all the work that was done by Kevin and his staff and the front office staff. When we saw those people live and die for our team each and every day, and they were as big of fans as the people who came to RFK and cheered us on, it really meant something.

Maessner: There’s so many people and coaches and even the front office that just puts all their heart and soul into it. It was a great feeling. It’s a special memory for me. All those memories are real special for me. I guard them. You can talk about them with your friends and your family for a lifetime.

Simpson: It’s something that nobody will ever take away. And knowing that you battled each day against each other to battle with each other on a weekend, that just makes it all the more satisfying. It’s a long season. To be in that position to hoist the Cup is something that you never forget.

Rongen: I grew as a man and as a coach each and every game with those guys, because they challenged me. And that was great. It was democracy with a little bit of a Dutch ruler on top of it.

Lassiter: If you were on D.C. United’s team, you felt like you were on the best team in the league, which we were. And everybody wanted to be a part of D.C. United and every player thought it was a privilege to be on D.C. United’s team.

Williams: I think now when you look back at it, you know, it’s an even greater feat to be able to have such a good team over a four-year period of time, to go to four straight finals and win three out of four. You look back at it and go, ‘That’s a pretty big accomplishment.’ I don’t care if it was the beginning of the league or there were fewer teams, this and that — to be able to do that, it’s a pretty big accomplishment.

Llamosa: I think that was the first MLS dynasty, to be honest. Reaching the MLS Cup final four years in a row, that’s a dynasty. I would call it that.

 

Topics: