Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Party Like It's 1999!

Yes, DC United indeed won an unprecedented 4th MLS Cup on Sunday, by the very scoreline I predicted. In many ways the match was a microcosm of United's season. After falling behind early, DC exploded for 3 goals in an 8 minute span, two by Finals MVP Alecko Eskandarian, and an own goal created by the dangerous work of Earnie Stewart. United then looked to be cruising to victory until the 58th minute, when only a Dema Kovalenko handball prevented Kansas City from scoring off a goalmouth scramble. Kovalenko was justifiably sent off, and KC scored anyway on the ensuing penalty kick. Forced to play a man down, United persevered and weathered the storm for the final half-hour.

DC United has overcome a great deal this year: the hype surrounding Freddy Adu, the struggle to adjust to new coach Peter Nowak and his system, and injuries. The biggest blow came when it was announced in late Summer that our Great National Past-Its-Time will be returning to RFK Stadium next year. United and its fans found ourselves treated as an afterthought, that is when our existence was even acknowledged. For a team that has singlehandedly kept RFK in use since the Redskins' departure, averaging about 17,000 fans a game, this was definitely distressing. Hopefully, this will at least expedite the process of getting United its own stadium by 2007, which will be privately funded and cost far less than what has been proposed for the former Expos.

As I've noted before, this season was eerily similar to the inaugural MLS season of 1996, when United likewise came on late in the season to win MLS Cup. That title run set the stage for DC to win three of the first four MLS Cups, the last coming in 1999 (hence the title of this post). It is quite possible that this win will be the start of a similar run. Most of the team should be back next year. Veteran former US international Stewart is leaving for the Netherlands, and he'll be missed, on and off the field. Up to three players will be lost in this Friday's expansion draft, but the front office should be able to find suitable replacements. The main concern is the captain and anchor on defense, Ryan Nelsen. The New Zealand international is now a free agent, and will be tempted to move to Europe, though United intend to make a strong offer to keep him. If they succeed in retaining Nelsen, there is no reason United can't repeat next year.


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