Twelve trophies gleam from the cover of the D.C. United media guide.
And if there’s any question about what they represent,, club president Kevin Payne puts it plainly: “We are unquestionably the most successful American professional soccer team ever,” he said this week.
United won its first MLS championship in 1996, the league’s inaugural season. And the club has kept on winning. It stands in first place in the Eastern Conference as it makes its first regular-season visit to Seattle tonight, meeting the Sounders in a nationally televised game at Qwest Field.
“In the history of the league certainly you’ve got to look at D.C. United as having (claim to being a dynasty team),” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “New England has had a good run, but New England has no titles to go with it. So you’ve really got the San Jose/Houston in (this decade). In the ’90s it was D.C. United. And D.C. United was able to add (the 2004 MLS Cup) as well. ... Traditionally, people forget they had some swoon years there between 2000-2003 when they didn’t make the playoffs at all. But when you look at the whole package – the whole term – I think D.C. has been as consistent as any team or any franchise in this league.”
Shining from the United trophy case are MLS Cups from 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2004; Supporters Shields (best regular-season record) from 1997, 1999, 2006 and 2007; U.S. Open Cups from 1996 and 2008; the CONCACAF Champions Cup from 1998, and the InterAmerican Cup from 1998.
That success is no accident, said Payne, who has been with the club from its inception.
“Right from the beginning we tried to establish a United way of doing things, both on and off the field,” he said. “The hallmark of that was really authenticity. ... We’ve always been true to the game. We also decided very early on that part of the identity of our team would be the manner in which we played: in that we would always play a skillful aggressive game, an attacking game, we try to play in the other team’s side of the field, we want to press the other team when they have the ball, we want to put numbers into the attack when we have the ball.”
That philosophy is reflected in United’s 3-5-2 formation, which is unique in MLS and rare across the globe. United comes into tonight’s game with the most goals in league. And that attacking style has survived through five coaches – four of whom won championships in D.C.
However, Schmid attributes much of that to one near-constant: forward Jaime Moreno, who is MLS’s all-time goal leader and United’s all-time leader in games played, games started, minutes played, goals, multi-goal games and game-winning goals.
Moreno is not expected to play tonight due to injury.
According to Payne, the “United way of doing things” is bigger than one short-term personnel issue. It spurns the defensive shell. One point is not the goal. The Red and Black attacks.
“That doesn’t mean you go hell for leather every time you’ve got the ball and you’re on the road,” Payne said. “You can still play with a slightly more defensive approach. But it doesn’t need to be as abjectly defensive as a number of teams in our league are now playing on the road. There are teams in our league on the road that are keeping nine players behind the ball virtually the entire time. And it’s unwatchable.”
SOUNDERS FC GAMEDAY
D.C. UNITED (5-2-7; 22 points) AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (5-3-5; 20)
7:30 p.m., Qwest Field.
TV: ESPN2. Radio: 97.3 FM, (in Spanish on 1210 AM).
Head-to-head: This is the first meeting. The Sounders will visit the District of Columbia on Sept. 12.
Team leaders: For D.C. – G 5 Luciano Emilio and Jaime Moreno; A 5 Santino Quaranta; Sh 28 Chris Pontius; SOG 14 Emilio. For Seattle – G 5 Fredy Montero; A 4 Nate Jaqua; Sh 36 Montero; SOG 12 Montero.
Coach Sigi Schmid scouting report: “D.C. historically always been a very good franchise, very good team. Tommy Soehn does a good job coaching – someone I’ve known for a long time. Their teams always come to play. They’re prepared well. They’ve got some good offensive weapons with guys like (Luciano) Emilio, and (Santino) Quaranta is having a good season. You’ve got Fred (the one-named Brazilian midfielder, and Christian) Gomez. ... (Chris) Pontius has had a great rookie season for them. So, it’s a difficult opponent.”
Notes: D.C. leads the MLS Eastern Conference. Seattle is third in the West, seven points behind Houston and Chivas USA. … United leads MLS with an average of 1.57 goals per game. … Moreno, MLS’ all-time goal leader with 127, was not expected to travel due to a hamstring injury. … Sounders’ goalkeeper Kasey Keller is second in MLS with a 0.71 goals-against average. D.C.’s Josh Wicks is tied for fourth at 1.0, but he leads the league in saves percentage (80.6). … Emilio has scored goals in three consecutive games, and has a goal or assist in four straight. Santino Quaranta has recorded an assist in three straight games. … D.C.’s Rodney Harris is second in MLS with 28 fouls committed. Seattle’s Nate Jaqua is third with 24. Jaqua also has four yellow cards. If he picks up another tonight he will be suspended for the next game. Montero is tied for the league lead in fouls suffered (30). … Seattle is 4-2-1 at home, D.C. is 1-2-3 on the road. … The game is sold out.
Next: 4:30 p.m. Saturday, at New York Red Bulls; Giants Stadium; East Rutherford, N.J.; KONG 6/16.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune