- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2006

Mother Nature decided to gate-crash Major League Soccer’s first championship game Oct. 20, 1996, at Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts.

But the nor’easter that hit only made the dramatic game with the Hollywood ending even more unforgettable. A famous rowing event in the area — the Head of the Charles Regatta — was canceled for the first time in 32 years. But the soccer game went on.

In the muddy conditions, United fought back from a two-goal deficit to beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 3-2 in sudden-death overtime to claim the first of its four titles. It will always be remembered as one of the league’s greatest games. Before United’s game against the visiting New York Red Bulls tonight at RFK Stadium, the club will honor the players from that game while celebrating its 10th anniversary.

“[After] going down 2-0 after about 50 minutes, I remember thinking back then that hopefully we could get a goal back and just get out of there because it was just so cold and the field at that point was unplayable,” recalled former United goalie Mark Simpson, now an assistant coach with the club.

Before the game, 42,386 tickets were sold. But only 34,643 — including many devoted fans of United’s El Salvadoran star, Raul Diaz Arce, who made the long journey from the D.C. area — braved the weather.

The Galaxy took a two-goal lead on a header from Eduardo Hurtado five minutes in and a score from Chris Armas’ dribbling effort early in the second half.

Then United coach Bruce Arena made two substitutions, replacing John Maessner with Tony Sanneh and Mario Gori with Shawn Medved. United abandoned its possession game and began lofting balls directly into the Galaxy’s box.

The change of strategy paid off. United got back in the game in the 73rd minute when Sanneh headed in Marco Etcheverry’s free kick. Etcheverry threatened again with just nine minutes left, but Galaxy goalie Jorge Campos made a save on his free kick. Medved connected with the clearance. Campos blocked the first shot, but Medved buried the rebound.

“My most vivid memory has to be the feeling of scoring the tying goal in the last minutes of the game, running and sliding in the mud with the whole team sliding in to celebrate,” said Medved, who now sells real estate and coaches soccer in Los Gatos, Calif.

Eddie Pope got United’s game-winner four minutes into sudden-death overtime, when he headed home Etcheverry’s corner.

“What stands out to me was the electric atmosphere created by the fans on a miserable day, and the eruption that ensued after Eddie Pope scored our game-winner in overtime to give us the first-ever MLS Cup,” said former United defender Clint Peay, now an assistant coach at Davidson College (N.C.).

Etcheverry, who was involved in all of United’s goals and was named the game’s MVP, will be inducted into the club’s Wall of Excellence at halftime.

“It is impossible to talk about D.C. United and not mention Marco Etcheverry’s name,” United president Kevin Payne said. “In many people’s minds, Marco and D.C. United are inseparable.”

Etcheverry’s Bolivian teammate, forward Jaime Moreno, who joined the club halfway through the season, was responsible for winning all of the deadball situations United eventually scored from.

“I remember saying to myself, ‘If we score here in overtime, I’m just going to drop to my knees and burst out crying.’ And that’s what happened,” Simpson said. “I was 30 years old, and it capped my career even though it was the first year of the league.”

United midfielder Ben Olsen, who played under Arena at the University of Virginia, said the college team was invited to watch the game in Arena’s house in Charlottesville.

“It was a very wild game … but that game in particular set a foundation for this team,” Olsen said.

Etcheverry, Moreno, Pope and Jeff Agoos, who all played in the game were named last year to the MLS All-Time XI.

A United victory tonight would complete the celebration. United has gone 2-3-5 in its last 10 league games.

Where are they now?

D.C. United’s roster from 1996, when the team won the inaugural MLS Cup, with an update on each.

Mark Simpson, goalie — Simpson is a United assistant coach. When his playing days ended in 2001, he worked with the USL Virginia Beach Mariners before returning to United’s front office in 2004.

Clint Peay, defender — Peay spent four seasons with United (1996-99). He later did TV color work for United games and now is the assistant soccer coach at Davidson.

Eddie Pope, defender — Pope, now starting for Real Salt Lake, went on to play in three World Cups with the U.S. national team and spent seven seasons with United and two with the MetroStars.

Jeff Agoos, defender — After winning three MLS titles with United, Agoos won two more titles in four years with San Jose. During the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany he worked as an analyst for XM Radio.

Mario Gori, defender — After three seasons with United, Gori spent time with the Miami Fusion, New England Revolution and Columbus Crew. He was cut from the minor league Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2003. He now lives in his native Argentina.

Richie Williams, midfielder — Now a New York Red Bulls assistant, Williams spent six seasons with United and two with the MetroStars.

John Maessner, midfielder — Retired when the Tampa Bay Mutiny folded after the 2001 season to become an assistant coach at Virginia. He now lives in the area and helps United’s youth team along with former United player Kris Kelderman.

John Harkes, midfielder — United’s captain in the 1996 title game, Harkes left the team in 1999 to join the New England Revolution and also spent time with the Columbus Crew. He recently became assistant coach of the Red Bulls.

Marco Etcheverry, midfielder — Probably United’s greatest player, Etcheverry was involved in all of United’s goals in the 1996 title game, earning two assists and the MVP award. He lives in Leesburg, Va., and is working on his coaching license.

Jaime Moreno, forward — Apart from an injury-plagued season with the MetroStars, Moreno has spent his entire MLS career with United and this season is tied with Christian Gomez as the leading scorer with 10 goals.

Raul Diaz Arce, forward — Had three stints with United and also played for MLS teams New England, San Jose, Tamp Bay and Colorado. He is an assistant coach with the U.S. Under-17 team and lives in Tampa, Fla.

Bruce Arena, coach — After three seasons and two MLS titles, Arena was named coach of the U.S. men’s team. He led the team to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. After a poor showing in Germany in 2006, Arena’s contract was not renewed. He now coaches the New York Red Bulls.

RESERVES

Tony Sanneh, midfielder — After three seasons with United he left to play in Germany for Hertha Berlin and later FC Nuremberg. Returned to MLS in 2004 with the Columbus Crew and now starts for the Chicago Fire.

Shawn Medved, midfielder — Medved spent the two years after 1996 with San Jose. He is now working in real estate in Los Gatos, Calif., and coaches his daughter’s teams.

Steve Rammel, forward — Plucked from obscurity, Rammel scored an amazing 16 goals in his first stint with United before being traded to the Colorado Rapids. He was an assistant coach at UCLA (1998-2001) and then coached Saint Mary’s College of California (2001-2005). He joined the Los Angeles Galaxy as an assistant coach in December but was fired in June.

David Vaudreuil, defender — After two seasons at United he went on to play for MLS outfits in Colorado, Miami and Chicago. Last year he was named as an assistant coach of the Chicago Storm, an indoor club.

Jeff Causey, goalie — He spent five seasons with the New England Revolution before stints coaching at Maryland and with the Boston Breakers of the WUSA in 2003. He lives in New Hampshire and is working in Boston.

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