Celebrating the first MLS match at RFK

IMAGE: Diaz Arce 1996

This Saturday, D.C. United celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first MLS game played at RFK Stadium. On April 20th, 1996, D.C. United hosted the Los Angeles Galaxy in front of a crowd 35,000-strong. Previously home to the Washington Senators and the Washington Redskins, RFK had hosted top-level soccer before--including games in the 1994 World Cup and serving as the home venue for the NASL Washington Diplomats--the match marked the first time RFK hosted a Major League Soccer game.

United started the match strong, taking the lead in the 7th minute off a goal from Raúl Díaz Arce. The El Salvador international ran onto a deflected bouncing ball over the top and finished with a dipping right-footed volley from just outside the box that caught LA goalkeeper Jorge Campos off guard.  Díaz Arce’s goal was the first in Black-and-Red history, and marked the first MLS scored in RFK Stadium.

The Galaxy managed to pull even in the 21st minute when Cobi Jones was fouled in the penalty area, and Mauricio Cienfuegos buried the ensuing penalty. Jorge Salcedo then made it 2-1 midway through the second half to give the visitors the win.

Nevertheless, United looked the better team for much of the match, and it was only a matter of time before the display of talent they had on hand began to click. The Black-and-Red managed to turn what had begun as a shaky start to the inaugural season around midway through the year, finishing second in the Eastern Conference regular season standings. Led by experienced internationals in Díaz Arce, John Harkes and Marco Etcheverry, United cruised through the playoffs, defeating the New York/New Jersey MetroStars and the Tampa Bay Mutiny en route to a rematch with the Galaxy in the MLS Cup final.

On October 20, 1996, United and the Galaxy faced off in pouring rain in front of 34,000 fans in Foxborough, Massachusetts for the title. The Black-and-Red emerged 3-2 winners thanks to a 94th-minute goal from Eddie Pope. The win marked the beginning of United’s golden run of success in the first years of the league, as the Black-and-Red established themselves early on as one of the league’s storied clubs.  United went on to win the U.S. Open Cup in the same year, and have subsequently added 11 more trophies to their name, including MLS Cups in 1997, 1999, and 2004 as well as the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup in 1998; and the U.S. Open Cup in 1996, 2008, and 2013.

Celebrating the first MLS match at RFK -
Celebrating the first MLS match at RFK -