|Date||October 26, 1997|
|Venue||RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C., US|
|Man of the Match||Jaime Moreno (D.C. United)|
|Weather||Rain, 46 °F (8 °C)|
MLS Cup 1997 was the second edition of the MLS Cup, the post-season championship match of Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States. It was played on October 26, 1997, between defending champion and hosts D.C. United and the Colorado Rapids to determine the champion of the 1997 season. The match was played in front of 57,431 spectators at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington, D.C..
During a rainstorm that mirrored the previous final, D.C. repeated as MLS Cup champions, winning the match 2–1 on goals by Jaime Moreno in the 37th minute and Tony Sanneh in the 68th minute. Substitute Adrián Paz scored a consolation goal for Colorado in the 75th minute, but the team were unable to draw level. The 1997 final was the first MLS Cup to be decided in regular time and the first to be won by the host team. To date, this is the first and only championship game held in D.C. to be won by a D.C.-based professional team. The crowd of 57,431 was the second-largest soccer audience in the history of RFK Stadium. It was also the MLS Cup to feature two brothers on the same roster, as Chris Henderson and Sean Henderson both started the match for Colorado.
As finalists, D.C. United and the Colorado Rapids both earned a berth to play in the 1998 CONCACAF Champions' Cup.
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington, D.C., the home of defending champions D.C. United, was selected as the host of the second MLS Cup on December 17, 1996. The stadium was opened in 1961 and was primarily used for American football and baseball, but previously hosted the 1980 Soccer Bowl and the 1996 U.S. Open Cup Final. It also hosted several matches during the 1994 FIFA World Cup and 1996 Olympics men's soccer tournament.
The league sold 32,000 tickets for the final in mid-October after D.C. United advanced to the Conference Finals. After the team clinched an appearance in the final, the 56,000 seats released for the match were sold out and an additional 1,000 bleacher seats were added.
Road to the final
The MLS Cup is the post-season championship of Major League Soccer (MLS), a professional club soccer league based in the United States that began play in 1996. The league's second season was contested by ten teams organized into two conferences, each playing 32 matches during the regular season from April to September. Teams faced opponents from the same conference four times during the regular season and from outside their conference three or four times. MLS continued to use the modified version of the sport's rules that it adopted for the 1996 season, including a 35-yard (32 m) shootout to decide tied matches (for which the winners earned one point) and a countdown clock to keep time.
The top four teams from each conference qualified for the playoffs, which were organized into three rounds and played in October. The first two rounds, named the Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals, were home-and-away series organized into a best-of-three format with a hosting advantage for the higher seed. The winners of the Conference Finals advanced to the single-match MLS Cup final, which would be held at a predetermined neutral venue.
MLS Cup 1997 was contested by defending champions and hosts D.C. United, who finished first in the regular season standings, and the Colorado Rapids, who finished fourth in the Western Conference. The two finalists swept through the playoffs by winning the Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals in two legs. During three regular season meetings between the two teams, D.C. won 5–2 in April and 5–0 in June, while Colorado won in a shootout following a 2–2 draw in August. The Rapids reached the final through a "Cinderella run" in the playoffs and were considered underdogs to defending champions D.C. United.
Inaugural season champions D.C. United retained most of their players and made few changes during the offseason, trading midfielder Shawn Medved to the San Jose Clash and acquiring defender Carlos Llamosa in the supplemental draft. The team were without nine of their starting players several times during the season due to national team callups for World Cup qualifying, giving reserve players an opportunity to earn a starting spot. D.C. went on a preseason tour that included matches in Japan and Hong Kong, earning a 6–2 record, and returned to open the season against MLS Cup opponents Los Angeles Galaxy with a shootout win.
D.C. began the season atop the Eastern Conference with one shootout win and three wins in regulation time, highlighted by the performance of rookie goalkeeper Scott Garlick, who replaced starer Mark Simpson during his stint with an indoor team. From late April to May, the team drew four times and lost three of the shootouts, briefly losing first place in the East before retaking it by the end of the month. Despite losing Bolivian attackers Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno to the national team for six weeks, D.C. won its next five matches but lost 6–1 to the Kansas City Wizards on June 21, ending its 22-match unbeaten streak in regulation time. D.C. United also had six players in the starting lineup for the All-Star Game, which was won 5–4 by the East.
After the All-Star Game in early July, D.C. United went through a series of underwhelming performances, including three regulation losses and one shootout loss in six matches, blamed in part on injuries to Etcheverry and captain John Harkes. The team then entered a stretch of 13 matches in 36 days, forced by their participation in the CONCACAF Champions' Cup (finishing third) and U.S. Open Cup (advancing to the semifinals). D.C. United went 8–4–1 in all competitions through the end of August, including three wins out of four matches in regular season play during a stretch of five matches in twelve days. The team made further changes to their goalkeepers, as Simpson had undergone two knee surgeries and backup Jeff Causey was signed by the New England Revolution; in their place, Scott Garlick and rookie Tom Presthus were rotated between matches as starters. On August 17, Mario Gori and Raúl Díaz Arce were arrested for an alleged rape at a Columbus hotel, but released the following day on bail and allowed to continue playing for the team; the case was later dropped without charges in January 1998 after the alleged victim declined to continue.
D.C. earned their playoff berth with a win against the Kansas City Wizards, their first in franchise history, and clinched first place in the Eastern Conference with a 3–2 shootout win against New England. The team continued to heavily rotate its lineups and rested eight starting players in the second of a home-and-away series against the Tampa Bay Mutiny, winning 5–1 despite losing the first match with most of its starting lineup. D.C. finished the regular season atop the league-wide standings with 55 points and a 21–11 record, but fell short of matching the Mutiny's record 58 points from the 1996 season after losing to the MetroStars in their last match. The team showed its roster depth by using a different lineup for all 39 of its league and cup matches, including 24 different starting players. Bruce Arena was named MLS Coach of the Year and four United players were named to the MLS Best XI, including Defender of the Year Eddie Pope.
D.C. faced New England in the Conference Semifinals and earned a 4–1 victory in the first leg of the series at home. Roy Wegerle, a midseason signing from Colorado, scored to give United a halftime lead and added a second before Jaime Moreno scored two more; New England defender Mike Burns earned a consolation goal with a minute left in the match. In the away leg at Foxboro Stadium, D.C. were held to a 1–1 draw in regulation time, with a goal for Richie Williams canceled out by Joe-Max Moore's penalty kick in the 72nd minute. The two teams played in a seven-round shootout that ended 4–3 in United's favor after a series of saves from goalkeepers Walter Zenga and Tom Presthus that was broken up by defender Carlos Llamosa's conversion.
In the Conference Finals, D.C. played the third-seeded Columbus Crew after they had eliminated the Tampa Bay Mutiny. In the first leg, played without Etcheverry on national team duty, United took a three-goal lead at halftime that was reduced by two for a 3–2 victory after a second half surge in pressure and chances from the Crew. D.C. clinched its second MLS Cup appearance with a 1–0 win at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, with Díaz Arce scoring the lone goal in the 47th minute from within the six-yard (18 ft) box.
The Colorado Rapids finished last overall in MLS during the league's inaugural season, with a 11–21 win–loss record under head coach Bob Houghton, who was replaced in the offseason by Glenn Myernick. Under Myernick and new general manager Dan Counce, the Rapids adopted a possession-oriented style and overhauled their roster with eleven new players, using trades to acquire defender Peter Vermes and midfielders Paul Bravo and Adrián Paz. The team also signed goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann and forward Wolde Harris from the second-division A-League and were allocated Mexican midfielder David Patiño by the league.
After a short preseason tour in Mexico and Florida, Rapids opened the season without forward Jean Harbor and several defenders who were either injured or called up to national team duty, winning only twice in their first seven matches. The team were able to consistently earn wins through the summer, with a 9–10 record by mid-July that put them in second or third in the Western Conference. The Rapids finished fourth in the conference with a losing 14–18 record during the regular season, which ended with a six-match losing streak that was ended in the closing match against San Jose. Their improved finish was credited to leading goalscorers Bravo and Chris Henderson and defender Marcelo Balboa.
In the Conference Semifinals, Colorado played against the conference-leading Kansas City Wizards, who had defeated the Rapids in all four of their regular season fixtures. The first leg at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium finished in a 3–0 upset victory for the Rapids, despite missing Paz and Balboa. The victory was credited to a strong defensive performance, particularly from goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, and attackers who took advantage of mistakes from the Wizards. The Rapids began the second leg at home by conceding a goal to Wizards forward Vitalis Takawira, but equalized within minutes and took a lead after halftime with goals from Paul Bravo. The match ended in a 3–2 win for Colorado, who swept the playoffs series.
The Rapids advanced to play in the Conference Final against the Dallas Burn, who had defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy in another upset from the semifinals. Colorado won 1–0 in the first leg, played in Dallas, with a header in the 42nd minute that was scored by defender Sean Henderson; the Burn had several chances to equalize, including a free kick in the final five seconds that hit the post, but were unable to capitalize. In the second leg, played at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Dallas took an early lead in the fifth minute but were set back by an equalizer from David Patiño in the 23rd minute. The match remained tied until a scissored volley from Chris Henderson in the 87th minute clinched a 2–1 victory to win the conference championship for Colorado.
Summary of results
- Note: In all results below, the score of the finalist is given first (H: home; A: away). Playoffs were in best-of-three format.
|D.C. United||Round||Colorado Rapids|
|1st place in Eastern Conference
|Regular season||4th place in Western Conference|
|Opponent||Results||MLS Cup Playoffs||Opponent||Results|
|New England Revolution (2–0)||4–1 (H), 1–1 (4–3 SO) (A)||Conference Semifinals||Kansas City Wizards (2–0)||3–0 (A), 3–2 (H)|
|Columbus Crew (2–0)||3–2 (H), 1–0 (A)||Conference Finals||Dallas Burn (2–0)||1–0 (A), 2–1 (H)|
The match was broadcast on ABC and watched by an estimated television audience of 2.2 million viewers, setting a record that would stand until 2016. Phil Schoen and Ty Keough reprised their roles from the previous final as play-by-play and color commentator, respectively. The match was also televised in more than 100 foreign markets by ESPN International.
The MLS Cup final kicked off at 3:30 p.m. in the rain, mirroring the weather conditions of the inaugural final, and was attended by 57,431 spectators. The opening minutes of the match were controlled by D.C., but Colorado found chances that forced goalkeeper Scott Garlick to make three saves and a foul that earned him a yellow card. D.C. took a 1–0 lead before halftime with a goal by Jaime Moreno, who finished a cross from Raúl Díaz Arce after beating a Colorado defender. The lead was extended to two goals in the 68th minute, as Tony Sanneh scored on a header from the far post, but Colorado struck back eleven minutes later with a shot by Adrián Paz. The Rapids had several chances to score an equalizing goal in the last 10 minutes of the match, but were unable to beat United's defense, losing 2–1 as D.C. claimed their second title.
|D.C. United||2–1||Colorado Rapids|
MLS Cup Most Valuable Player:
The announced attendance of 57,431 came within 600 spectators of breaking the overall record for largest sporting event at RFK Memorial Stadium, held by the United States–Portugal match during the 1996 Summer Olympics. It was the first day in which there were large sporting events at both of the major stadiums in the D.C. area: RFK Memorial Stadium and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium for an NFL game. A railing in the upper stands at RFK Memorial Stadium collapsed during the celebrations after the match, injuring 50 fans.
Three days after the MLS Cup final, D.C. United played the Dallas Burn in the U.S. Open Cup Final with a chance to earn the league's first "treble". The Burn and United played to a scoreless draw and D.C. lost 5–3 in the ensuing penalty shootout.
D.C. and Colorado qualified as the U.S. representatives for the 1998 CONCACAF Champions' Cup, which was hosted at RFK Memorial Stadium in Washington, D.C. The Rapids were eliminated in the qualifying playoff round, played in a home-and-away series against Club León of Mexico, by a 4���3 aggregate score. D.C. entered the competition in the quarterfinals and eliminated Trinidadian club Joe Public, León, and Mexican champion Toluca on their way to winning the Champions' Cup, becoming the first American team to be crowned as continental champions. United then advanced to the 1998 Copa Interamericana, where they defeated South American champions Vasco da Gama of Brazil over two legs played in the United States.
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