D.C. United was one of Major League Soccer’s ten founding franchises when it began play in 1996. The Black-and-Red became the dominant force during the league’s first decade with four MLS championships, one domestic cup and one continental crown ending up in the trophy cabinet at Washington’s historic RFK Stadium.
United’s first season ended in double glory under the leadership of head coach Bruce Arena and captain John Harkes. D.C. landed the inaugural MLS Cup in October 1996 with a golden goal victory over Los Angeles Galaxy before adding the US Open Cup ten days later with a 3-0 defeat of Rochester Raging Rhinos.
The MLS Cup was retained in 1997 after D.C. United had topped the regular season table. Arena steered his men to continental glory the following year with a win over Mexico’s Deportivo Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions Cup Final.
Arena was lured away to coach the United States national team after the Yanks suffered a disappointing showing at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. His departure twinned with changes to MLS salary rules saw D.C. United’s success begin to fade despite adding two more MLS Cups in 1999 and 2004.
Bolivian playmakers Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno were two of United’s most productive stars during their early years. Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoichkov ended his playing career in a D.C. jersey in 2003. United also gave much-hyped American prodigy Freddy Adu his professional debut as a 14 year old during the 2004 season.
Fan favorite Ben Olsen was appointed as D.C. United’s head coach at the age of 33 after a dismal 2010 season for the team. The former U.S. midfielder has largely kept the capital side in the playoff zone during his tenure except for a calamitous 2013 campaign that saw D.C. United winning three of 34 league games.
Conference semifinalists in 2014 and 2015, D.C. United fell both times to New York Red Bulls despite heroic saves from Abdul ‘Bill’ Hamid, the first player to come through to the first team from D. C. United’s academy.
Olsen remains as head coach for 2016 though a preseason injury to Hamid doesn’t bode well. D.C. United’s intrepid Screaming Eagles supporters’ group can take heart from the signing from Pittsburgh Riverhounds of Liverpool-born midfielder Rob Vincent, third highest scorer in USL Pro history in 2015.
RFK Stadium was originally named the District of Columbia Stadium upon its completion in 1961. It sits on the eastern end of an axis linking the U.S. Capitol building, the National Mall, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
A circular design was adopted to facilitate occupancy of the stadium by both the Washington Redskins football team and Senators baseball team despite those sports being played on vastly different field shapes.
The venue was one of nine used by the United States during the 1994 FIFA World Cup. RFK began to lose its luster when Redskins moved to a new home in 1997, leaving D. C. United as its main tenant.
D.C. United has spent much of the past decade attempting to acquire land for its own purpose-built stadium in the DC metropolitan area. That search ended in 2014 when councilors approved construction at Buzzard Point near the confluence of Washington’s Potomac and Anacostia rivers. The new venue is scheduled to open in 2018.
RFK Stadium is easily reached using Washington’s Metro system. Hop on the Blue, Silver or Orange lines from the city center and head to Stadium-Armory. RFK is a five-minute walk from the station.
SmarTrip cards can be purchased at each Metro station. One-day passes are available for $14.50. Single rides from downtown stations cost $2.30 during peak hours and $1.85 off-peak.
Capital Bikeshare offers four locations within a short walk of RFK Stadium. A 24-hour pass costs $8 and offers unlimited 30-minute trips.
By car, the stadium is off DC 295 via the Benning Rd, East Capitol St or Pennsylvania Ave exits. 2400 East Capitol St. SE, Washington DC 20003 is the destination address.
There is plenty of parking at the stadium, $20 in all lots, first come, first served. Parking lots open four hours before kickoff.
Tickets are distributed online and on the day, from the box office and will call windows at the stadium up to seven hours before kickoff.
Prices are $35 for Sideline seats above the season-ticket holders in the first row of the Supporters Side, $45 for Midfield seats in the Bench Side opposite. Most of the second row of the Supporters Side also sells out.
For a panoramic view, a Mezzanine seat is $55.
Visiting team supporters are allocated section 318, behind the opposite goal from the Hospitality Tent, and next to the cheapest seats in the house, the $20 Endline and $30 Corner.
D.C. United’s team store at RFK Stadium is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and from three hours before kickoff and half an hour after the match.
Lot 8 Tailgate opens at the same time as the other parking lots four hours before kickoff. The Screaming Eagles, La Barra Brava and other D.C. United supporters’ groups gather, with food, drink and merchandise sales.
Award-winning Centerplate oversees food and beverage at the stadium, with Salvadorian, vegetarian and gluten-free offerings among the regular snacks.
Fadó in Chinatown is an established choice among soccer watchers that pulls big crowds for top European and U.S. national team games. The bar opens at 8 a.m. on weekends and serves a full brunch including an Irish breakfast until 2 p.m. Fadó is also conveniently located close to the Blue, Silver and Orange Metro lines running to RFK Stadium.
Another central option is Lucky Bar in Dupont Circle. Three big screens and 22 televisions ensure that fans don’t miss any of the action from the English, German and Spanish leagues on weekend mornings.
Irish-owned Molly Malone’s in Capitol Hill provides a closer option to RFK Stadium and hence serves as a popular pregame destination for D.C. United’s Barra Brava supporters’ group. There are over 50 beers on tap from about $5-$8 including Harp and Smithwick’s from Ireland and various American craft brews. President Barack Obama is also known to drop by for the occasional lunch.
1967 Scottish side Aberdeen competes under the guise of Washington Whips during the inaugural United Soccer Association tournament with manager Eddie Turnbull invited to the White House on the eve of the league’s kickoff to meet then President Lyndon B. Johnson. Whips wins the USA’s Eastern Division before losing an amazing championship decider by 6-5 in sudden-death overtime to Los Angeles Wolves, represented by England’s Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Washington also enters an expansion team, Washington Darts, in the American Soccer League season kicking off in September 1967. Scottish head coach Norman Sutherland had formed the club four years earlier as an amateur team called Washington Britannica.
1968 Whips’ new home-based squad joins the newly created North American Soccer League for one season before disbanding.
Norman Sutherland earns the ASL’s Coach of the Year award after leading Washington Darts to a successful debut season. The ASL transitions to a summer schedule with an additional 12-game season, Darts winning the championship.
1969 Darts beats Syracuse Scorpions in the ASL playoff final to win a second successive championship. Norman Sutherland retains his Coach of the Year award.
1970 Darts tops the NASL’s Southern Division after paying a $10,000 franchise fee to switch leagues. Rochester Lancers thwart the capital side from winning a third straight championship with a comprehensive win in the playoff final.
1971 Financial problems force the sale of the Darts franchise. The team relocates to Florida after a disappointing season and becomes the Miami Gatos.
1972 D.C. briefly gains ASL representation again as Virginia Capitol Cavaliers changes its name to Washington Cavaliers. The team picks up one point from its ten games before folding at the end of the season.
1974 Washington Diplomats is one of eight teams added to the NASL as the league expands to 15 cities across the U.S. and Canada. Fewer than 5,000 fans show up on average for the team’s home games.
1975 Pelé’s arrival at New York Cosmos triggers a sharp rise in crowds across North America. The Dips sets an NASL record when 35,620 fans attend RFK Stadium to watch the Brazilian legend.
1977 Former Whips owner Earl Foreman announces plans to commence the Major Indoor Soccer League over the winter of 1978-79. The NASL’s growing popularity sees the Dips’ average attendance exceed 13,000.
1980 Diplomats makes a splash in the transfer market by signing Dutch legend Johan Cruyff and his former Netherlands teammate Wim Jansen. Cruyff scores ten goals and provides 20 assists in what proves to be the franchise’s final season.
1981 Washington soccer fans earn a reprieve when Detroit Express relocates to the U.S. capital and assumes the Diplomats’ name. The new Dips is one of seven franchises to fold at the end of the year as the struggling NASL contracts to 14 teams.
1983 Team America is created in a bid to regenerate interest in the NASL and to provide regular, competitive games for the United States national team in advance of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. RFK Stadium is chosen as the team’s home venue. The Americans lose 15 of their last 17 games to finish bottom of the league and the team is withdrawn at the end of the season.
1988 A new American Soccer League starts up after the demise of the NASL four years earlier. A reborn Washington Diplomats is one of the ten entrants. The D.C. metropolitan area gains a second ASL team with Fairfax, Virginia-based Washington Stars also serving as a charter member. Diplomats wins the inaugural championship after a two-legged playoff final victory over Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
1990 The East Coast-centered ASL merges with the Western Soccer Alliance to form a new national American Professional Soccer League. Diplomats finishes bottom of the APSL’s Eastern Conference before being terminated by the league at the end of the year for significant financial difficulties. Stars merges with league-winning Maryland Bays and moves to the suburbs of Baltimore.
1996 D.C. United begins play in Major League Soccer.