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A look back at D.C. United’s last decade

Your friends at B&RU are feeling nostalgic

Caitlin Buckley

Black and Red United has been writing stories about D.C. United for ten whole years now, and it’s been a strange trip. We’ve seen this team flirt with greatness, but we’ve also gone through full seasons of catastrophically bad soccer, and just about everything in between. With only a few hours left in 2019, we thought it’d be appropriate to take a look back at United’s decade and highlight some of our favorite moments. Hope you enjoy!


by: Jason Anderson

D.C. United had missed the postseason in four straight seasons, and lost Dwayne De Rosario to an MCL sprain on international duty just as the stretch run was starting up in 2012. Facing a Columbus Crew side that was in a similar battle for one of the last available playoff spots, United had the backing of a packed RFK Stadium...but they couldn’t take charge. Eddie Gaven put the visitors up early, only for Nick DeLeon to equalize before halftime. However, Columbus took the lead back just 3 minutes later (via future D.C. striker Jairo Arrieta), and United’s chance to clinch their spot looked like it would slip away.

However, hard work from Brandon McDonald turned a deep cross from Andy Najar into a shooting chance for Marcelo Saragosa, who equalized from 23 yards. Both teams desperately pursued a winner, but stoppage time came with a 2-2 scoreline. And then...well, let’s let Dave Johnson talk you through it:

Is that a penalty for the Crew? comment. What I’ve always loved about this play is that it starts with “luxury player” Hamdi Salihi pressuring Danny O’Rourke into a mistake from a clearance, and involves one of my all-time favorite passes by a United player: Branko Boskovic, an even more luxurious player, in a stadium full of screaming fans, still somehow knew that Lewis Neal was making a wide open run up the middle, and picked him out with a no-look pass.

Neal calmly tucked his first touch past Andy Gruenebaum, United clinched their first playoff appearance since 2007, and that’s how Lewis Neal became LEWIS NEAL around these parts.

They can’t hold us back!

by: Donald Wine II

Want a best moment of the decade? Try November 8, 2012. D.C. United over the hated New York Red Bulls in the conference semifinals. It starts with the legs being switched because of Superstorm Sandy. They draw the first leg, which sets up a 2nd leg in Jersey. The first attempt was canceled because of snow from a nor’easter, so the next night the two teams go at it.

In the 69th minute, Bill Hamid gives a penalty and gets a red card in the process. Joe Willis comes on to and saves the 2nd attempt at a penalty (the first being called off due to encroachment from Thierry Henry). “COME ON! COME OOOOON! YOU CAN’T HOLD US BACK!” An ecstatic Bill Hamid screams in the tunnel. Rafa Marquez got a red card soon thereafter, and in the 88th minute, it’s Nick DeLeon with the game winner, the series clincher. United advances in dramatic fashion, and the 300 fans that were there break out in euphoria. It’s easily one of the greatest moments in team history.

2013 US Open Cup

by: Ryan Keefer

United has had some rough campaigns in their existence, and the 2013 one ranks up there with the worst of them, chalking up the fewest wins and second-highest total of losses (24) in MLS history. That included defeat in 10 of 13 at one point, effectively sinking their playoff chances by the end of spring. New signings left just as quickly as they came, with three international signings in the 2013 winter window being let go by the club by mid-June.

DC United v Real Salt Lake - 2013 U.S. Open Cup Final Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

So at some point the goal of focusing on the U.S. Open Cup became a priority and the team rallied around the cause, and a team that only won 3 MLS regular season games total and none on the road won 4 Open Cup games over MLS opposition, including victories in the semifinal and final over a formidable Real Salt Lake side. With a goal from LEWIS NEAL and some sound defensive work and goalkeeping from Bill Hamid, they did the improbable in a 1-0 win.

When looking back on the fifth anniversary last year, I noted that the relief Ben Olsen showed after the win was conspicuous, that a weight was lifted off his and the organization’s shoulders. It served to jump-start the franchise from a roster building perspective and serves as a fond memory for those who followed the team that year and a reminder of the power of possibility.

Audi Field groundbreaking

by: Ben Bromley

“I won’t believe it until there are shovels in the ground.”

This common refrain protected D.C. United fans for over a decade. Even when the team was founded, we all knew that RFK Stadium could not be the permanent home of the team. In 2003, there were proposals for a $75M stadium, which morphed in 2005, 2006, and 2007 into the Poplar Point proposal. 2009 saw the potential stadium moved to Prince George’s County in Maryland, and 2014 saw the proposed land swap with the Reeves Center as the centerpiece of a United stadium deal. Baltimore was mentioned a number of times, and Terry McAuliffe tried to through Loudoun County in as an option at the last minute. But eventually, through thick and through thin, an industrial site in the District’s smallest quadrant was chosen.

After almost 20 years, a bunch of city officials and team leaders moved some dirt, and a small bulldozer helped take down a shack. The shovels were in the ground, and we started to believe.

Last Call at RFK

by: Jason Anderson

Caitlin Buckley

As the sun came up on October 22, 2017, I tried my best to sum up how I felt about leaving RFK: “I’m not ready to hear United chants echo off of different walls.” The truth is, I’m not over it. I’m not sure I’m ever going to be over it. RFK Stadium was the first venue that mattered in MLS, and the true home of US Soccer on top of that. Somehow, a multi-use stadium that didn’t truly make sense for any of the games it hosted ended up being the perfect venue for soccer: simple, stripped-down, and loud.

Last Call at RFK wasn’t perfect. United lost to the Red Bulls 2-1, after all, with Paul Arriola’s first half goal not enough. But as much as it meant to me at the time to close the place out with a win — and I was absolutely desperate for United to walk off victorious that night — I find myself barely remembering the actual scheduled MLS game that night. What I think back on is one last tailgate in Lot 8, or he pure joy of a DCU Legends game featuring Jaime Moreno, Marco Etcheverry, and dozens of other former Black-and-Red players. One last time making the stands bounce, one last game spent bumping my knees against an orange seat while standing in section 232.

Audi Field is great, and it’s necessary, but I’m always going to miss RFK

Wayne Rooney arrives

by: Jason Anderson

It was hot. Temperatures in the District hit 103 the day United officially introduced Wayne Rooney, D.C. United player to the world. Every normal person was completely drained by the heat, trying their best not to appear to be a sweaty mess. Media members swarmed the supply of complimentary water, commiserating about hauling their gear from the Metro to the Newseum.

And then there was Rooney, in jeans and long sleeves, looking completely at ease. For him, a packed conference room full of media from various countries is the norm. It was a glimpse of United’s new world, one where major English papers were going to send people out to cover the Black-and-Red, as opposed to the typical disinterest in MLS clubs. Press scrums suddenly seemed to double in size every week. Expectations went from “hopefully make the playoffs” to “win something!”

Things change quickly. The Newseum is closed, Wazza’s already back in England, United (pending reinforcements) is back to merely hoping to be in the mix in the postseason. But at the same time, Rooney’s short time with United was densely packed with moments: great goals and assists, yes, but also tales of his generosity to teammates and fans. We might not see something similar around these parts for another decade or more.

Audi Field opens

by: Adam Taylor

I remember sitting at my desk at the FCC as a summer intern in 2007 and reading the news that Adrian Fenty was pulling out of the deal that would have allowed D.C. United to build their already long-overdue new stadium at Poplar Point. It wasn’t a pleasant experience! And we got to repeat it often enough that Steve Goff famously captioned any stadium news with “zzzzzzzzz” and fans’ mantra became “I’ll believe it when I’m watching a game there.”

A decade later, I was at the Wilson Building, testifying in support of a complicated land swap to allow United to build on Buzzard Point. After we were sure every hurdle had been cleared and every obstacle was in the past, an election intervened, and again a mayor, this time Muriel Bowser, was seemingly pulling the rug out from under the team. It was an existential moment for fans of the Black-and-Red, knowing this was the last best chance to keep the team in the District. Bowser undid the land swap but with the D.C. Council found the capital funding to obtain the land under what is now Audi Field.

On July 14, 2018, my sixth wedding anniversary, we watched a game there. I walked into the new building with clouds under my feet. I’ve never seen grass as perfect a shade of green as that. It really was a state of euphoria. I mean...

There was a lot that day that could have — should have — been better. But the fact of that building is a triumph, and I’m grateful for it every time I walk in. It ensures D.C. United’s continued existence, and it’s the single biggest thing to happen in the organization’s last decade. Opening it with the debut of Wayne Rooney in Black-and-Red and a dominant 3-1 win over a pre-$22 million Alphonso Davies and his Vancouver Whitecaps was really only the smallest part of that, but it’s the moment when we finally felt release from two decades of waiting and preemptive mourning.

The Buzzard Beater

by: Jason Anderson

United took the field on August 12, 2018 badly needing a win. The playoffs were still a possibility, but after impressing against the Whitecaps, United had lost at Atlanta, lost at home to the friggin’ Red Bulls, gotten lucky in beating the lowly Rapids, and managed a road draw in Montreal. From a morale perspective, beating Orlando at home was a must not so much because they had to have this specific 3 points, but rather because they couldn’t afford the blow that would have come with a failure against a team mired in a seemingly endless winless run.

To be honest, the game didn’t really go that well. Luciano Acosta capped off a half full of slightly underwhelming play from United with a solo effort to give United a lead deep in first-half stoppage time, but five minutes into the second half the visitors were level through a calamitous own goal. Cristian Higuita was sent off via VAR...and things went crazy. Acosta scored again, 10-man Orlando equalized again, referee Juan Carlos Rivero was called to the VAR monitor seemingly 1,000 times, but with the final moments of stoppage time looming, it was still 2-2. United were staring the idea of squandering the momentum of Audi Field and Rooney right in the face.

In desperation, Ben Olsen urged David Ousted forward, a decision Rooney admitted he was baffled by (though I’ll defend it until I go to the grave). Zoltan Stieber’s out-swinging corner ended up going towards the only man in blue, but Ousted was beaten to the ball by Kofi Opare. Opare picked out the bottom corner, only for Uri Rosell to thump the ball off the line. United’s hopes were dashed...

...except they weren’t:

In one moment, Rooney demolished any talk of him coming to MLS to relax during the twilight years of his career. His tackle summed up all of the blue-collar qualities he’s always been associated with, while his cross-field service to Acosta (allowing the Argentine to seal the most stunning hat trick this club has ever seen) was a clear statement about Rooney being a world-class player.

In a way, this was also the game that made Audi Field start to feel a bit like home. All of the supporters groups were in place, for one, and ultimately a stadium is only as good as the memories and moments it plays host to. The pandemonium that took hold as Acosta’s header (how the hell did a 5’3” guy who never really showed much leaping ability get up there?!) wasn’t just fun; it was cathartic. As a fanbase, we needed this moment.

This article could have easily gotten into 5,000 word territory. Got a special memory that we had to leave out? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.