One more game to go at RFK Stadium. (Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
OK, I’m an outsider, a Noo-yawker who has flown down to the national’s capital to cover the beautiful game from time to time.
I have not counted how many times I have sat in the RFK Stadium press box, but I have many memories of what has transpired on the field in front of me.
With Sunday being the final 90 minutes of soccer at RFK, here’s one writer’s baker’s dozen of remembrances.
- The first time (July 27, 1980)
The Rochester Lancers slowly, but surely, saw their playoff chances evaporate with a 4-2 defeat to the Washington Diplomats before a crowd of 25,307 that Sunday. If you wanted to get technical, they actually improved on a 6-2 loss at the Houston Hurricane two days prior. Tony Crescitelli, a 1979 Lancers draft pick who could not come to terms with former Rochester head coach Don Popovic, scored the Dips’ first two goals goal. “I hope that Popovic was watching,” a smiling Crescitelli said.
- A super cup time (Aug. 21, 1993)
Italian soccer officials decided to test out the U.S. market and hold its Super Cup – Supercoppa Italiana – at RFK. It pit Serie A champions A.C. Milan and Coppa Italia winners Torino. Milan won on a Marco Simeone goal before 25,268. Can’t remember too much about the game, but I do recall that Bora Milutinovic, then the U.S. national team coach, used a video camera at a Milan training session.
- Changing of the guard (June 18, 1995)
Late in the U.S.’s surprising 4-0 triumph over Mexico in the U.S. Cup, Claudio Reyna was replaced by one of his heroes, Tab Ramos, to a rousing ovation at RFK Stadium, including a standing one by U.S. Soccer president Alan Rothenberg. And why not? Reyna, considered the future of American soccer at the time, certainly earned it with a sterling performance.
A midfielder playing a withdrawn striker role in that game, Reyna helped break open a shaky Mexican defense with his runs and superb passing. he created the first two goals with a pair of delicate touches and scored the fourth before Steve Sampson, then the interim coach, replaced him late in the match.
“Claudio has been the future of American soccer for too long,” forward Eric Wynalda said at the time. “Now he’s kind of jumped into the responsibility of what he is, and he has shown America and the world that he is the player he is supposed to be.”
- Not quite an Olympian effort (July 24, 1996)
Needing a victory against Portugal in the final Olympic group stage, the Americans came up short before 58,012, the largest crowd for a sporting event at the venue. They wound up tying the Portuguese, who tallied first on Paulo Alves’ 33rd-minute goal before Brian Maisonneuve equalized in the 75th minute. The U.S. threw just about everything at Portugal, playing what I call “panic soccer” over the final 15 minutes. By that I mean they were moving the ball around so quickly that it seemed they needed five goals, and not one. Oh yeah, the U.S. coach? Bruce Arena, who was directed the team in his home stadium.
- Oops (Oct. 3, 1997)
With the U.S. leading Jamaica, 1-1, in a World Cup qualifier, defender Jeff Agoos placed an ill-advised pass across the backline. The ball hit the shin of Jamaican forward Paul Hall, then went to Deon Burton, who beat goalkeeper Kasey Keller from eight yards in the 51st minute. “I knew he was pressuring me, but I thought I had a clear pass,” Agoos said. “It’s a speed bump on the way to France.”
- The first MLS mini-dynasty (Oct. 26, 1997)
D.C. United became the first MLS team to win two titles — in the league’s second season – behind a 2-1 home triumph over the Colorado Rapids on a miserable, 46-degree, rainy afternoon with 57,431 in attendance. Jaime (37th minute) and Tony Sanneh (68th minute) tallied for D.C., Adrian Paz for the visitors in the 75th minute.
- Brian’s song (Sept. 3, 2000)
Just imagine had Brian McBride not tallied the game-winner against Guatemala, a goal scored against all odds because the Americans played a man down after Eddie Lewis was red-carded. The U.S. might have only tied and earned one point instead of three, which would have put their chances of reaching the final qualifying round of the 2002 World Cup in serious jeopardy. But McBride scored a spectacular goal in the 72nd minute for a 1-0 victory. Jovan Kirovski launched a long ball down the right side to Cobi Jones. Jones brought it to the top right corner of the penalty area and lofted a diagonal pass to McBride on the left side. McBride, who had forged a reputation as a superior header, slid and slotted the ball home with his left foot past keeper Edgar Estrada from four yards. “We had to bear down,” McBride said. “We didn’t have time to worry . . . We caught them out of position a little bit. Cobi played a very ball in for me to line it up well.”
- Tony’s awards and reward (Oct. 15, 2000)
The Kansas City Wizards defeat the Chicago Fire 1–0 to win their first MLS Cup. Miklos Molnar scored the lone goal in the 11th minute and goalkeeper Tony Meola capped a memorable comeback season by standing on his head by making 10 saves, some of them spectacular. Meola flew back to Kansas City with five awards, some even the good hand’s man finally needed some help holding onto something.
- A start (April 14, 2001)
There was plenty of irony in the inaugural game of the Women’s United Soccer Association as the Bay Area CyberRays met the Washington Freedom. It pit two of the biggest names in women’s soccer — Washington’s Mia Hamm and CyberRays’ Brandi Chastain — before a crowd of 34,148.
And quite appropriately, the game was decided on a play that involved both players. In the 69th minute, Hamm cut back inside the penalty area as Chastain went in for the tackle and a penalty kick was awarded. Brazilian star Pretinha made history by scoring the first WUSA in what turned into a 1-0 Freedom win.
“What a historic day from the national anthem to the last whistle,” Hamm said. “I think the people that were in the stands were so supportive, not only of the sport of soccer, but this new league.”
- A Honduran surprise (Sept. 1, 2001)
On one hand, it was a fun game to watch: lots of goals, much drama and heroes and goats. On the other hand, it was a difficult setback for the U.S. national team, which incurred a 3-2 loss to Honduras at RFK Stadium on Sept. 1, 2001.
The match was to start at the ungodly hour of 10 a.m. in the morning — a Saturday morning. A morning kickoff may sound like gamesmanship to try to get the upper hand. But with ESPN owing the TV contract, it was the only time the game could be televised on the first college football Saturday of the season.
At times the Americans played as though they did not get a wake-up call, sleep walking on defense and missing a key penalty kick as well in a devastating 3-2 loss.
The Hondurans took advantage of poor defense. After Earnie Stewart had given the U.S. the lead in the seventh minute, Milton Nunez struck in the 27th minute. Carlos Pavon lifted the visitors into a 2-1 advantage thanks to a 59th-minute penalty kick before Nunez’s second goal, in the 76th minute gave Honduras some breathing room before Stewart scored again in the 83rd. Several streaks were snapped with the U.S.’s second consecutive loss, the first time it happened since 1980. The Americans also saw their 19-game home qualifying unbeaten streak go down the drain, losing for the first time since 1985. They also allowed three goals in a home match for the first time since 1960.
- A wounded knee (May 12, 2002)
In 2000, perennial all-star midfielder Chris Armas suffered an injury before he was going to become an overage player for the U.S. at the Sydney Olympics. Only weeks prior to the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup, the man regarded as the best U.S. defensive midfielder of his era suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in the Americans’ 2-1 victory over Uruguay.
The injury occurred in the 16th minute, while Armas was tracking down Fabian O’Neill along the right wing. He stepped with his right foot and fell to the ground. Armas wound up playing another eight minutes before he was replaced by Pablo Mastroeni.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Armas said. “More so for my family, parents and friends who had all booked their tickets to the World Cup. It was a very odd play; a movement that I have made a thousand times. I had just planted on my right foot and I felt the knee go. In life these things happen. Right now I don’t think it’s fully sunk in, but I will be focusing on supporting my teammates in the World Cup.”
- Red Bulls’ debut (April 2, 2006)
Less than a month after the sale of the MetroStars became official and the team was changed to the New York Red Bulls, the new-long team made its debut at the season opener in D.C. The game ended up in a 2-2 draw and a new era had begun.
- A double loss for Cuba (Oct. 11, 2008)
The U.S. drubbed Cuba in a World Cup qualifier that day, 6-0, but the Caribbean country suffered a double loss as midfielder Pedro Faife and forward Reynier Alcantara decided to defect in the nation’s capital that day. They disappeared from their hotel before a Friday practice.