Legendary D.C. United midfielder John Harkes stepped onto the pitch at RFK Stadium for the first time on April 20, 1996, against the LA Galaxy facing a lot of uncertainties. After leaving his career in England for a new upstart league, he wasn’t sure what the future would hold.
That feeling of uncertainty quickly disappeared, though, when he sent a ball forward that took a deflection and found a rushing Raul Diaz Arce, who fired it home for United’s first-ever goal seven minutes into their first-ever match at RFK.
The 35,000-strong crowd erupted, and Harkes knew they had found a home.
“The first game. I think the realization that this league is going to go forward and that we have a stadium to play in,” Harkes said of his favorite memory on East Capitol Street.
Though the Black-and-Red ultimately lost the game 2-1 and lose their subsequent match as well, they found their footing by the end of the season and raised their first of four MLS Cups.
Harkes would win a second MLS Cup in 1997, cementing his mark on a historic first few seasons for United.
Since then he has seen the club, and the league itself, grow in a way he could never image. Now, he gets to see his son, Ian, take the pitch as a member of the very team he starred for back in the 1990s.
Through it all, the older Harkes noted that it was the building’s connection to community that truly gave it its life.
“I guess it has that gritty, urban, connected-to-the-community feeling,” Harkes said of the historic stadium's value.