On the about page for the blog I describe my slash and burn strategy to websites (since websites existed). My first web “presence” was a GEOCITIES site where the HTML was lovingly handcrafted and CSS was a foreign language I’d yet to mangle. We spoke TABLES back then and we sounded pretty good for the times. I think I tried out the various “free” web-hosting options during the late middle part of the 1990s including Tripod where I think a one Jon “Goats” Rosenberg spent some time. All of that was swept away in the debris of the Web 1.0 bubble bursting and dribbling away. Really — remember PETS.COM!!??
There was a very small number of people posting comics online at that point and hard to find each other. There were some GEOCITIES communities but I can’t remember the names. I wish I remembered any of that more clearly. There were a lot of “haters” too — not really a lot, but I guess any number of people who were interested in telling you how much you sucked and how much comics on the web were really really bad compared to the newspaper felt like a lot. There was one guy in particular — wish I remembered his screenname — who seemed to find everyone posting work online to tell us how much we sucked. The silver lining with him though was how easy he was to wind up and set him off. Kind of funny actually.
In 1996, DC UNITED and MLS started.
I had played soccer as a child and it was really the only sport I was any good at. I played some little league baseball and we all played pick-up basketball and football in the park and street hockey in the cul-de-sac. But soccer I stuck with and played through JV in highschool (I just missed the cut for Varsity which is another story) and on a Coast club (I think we were called the Golden Lions?). I didn’t keep it up in college really even for recreation but in law school we went to see the U.S play Brasil at Stanford in the round of 16 match. It was amazing. I had already gotten excited watching the group stage games on television but seeing the game live with that atmosphere was mind-blowing. The Brazilians were amazing people and even though the Americans really didn’t have a soccer supporter culture I sensed there was a lot of excitement around the stadium for the game. It was truly a memorable life experience.
The whole thing — the organic atmosphere of fans singing and chanting on their own initiative, the incredible tension and passion of watching soccer at a very high level (say what you want about the U.S. — we were in the Round of 16 in 1994) — it was something I had never fully grokked as a child since we just didn’t have this in the U.S. The few professional NASL games I had gone too were poorly played and boring thanks to the absolute lack of fan passion. We just didn’t get soccer on television — it was simply impossible to watch overseas leagues back then. I was hooked.
When MLS started in 1996 it did a few wacky “American” things to the game — the clock counted down and more dramatically, tie games were decided by a “shoot-out” (which I think they borrowed from the NASL). Even worse — it seemed like every other franchise except for DC UNITED had a goofy uniform design, odd team name and a canned, pop music driven stadium experience. In DC we were really lucky. DC UNITED had a traditional name and uniform design. More critically the club welcomed a nascent supporter culture begun by the Screaming Eagles and the Barra Brava which began to create some of that organic feel to watching games at RFK.
I went to every home game — pretty sure I did so I’m sticking with that — and I can remember that first year pretty well. The coach Bruce Arena had been hired from tremendous success coaching at the University of Virginia. But he was also the coach of the U.S. Olympic team which meant for the early part of the MLS season he was probably preoccupied with that as well. That’s my recollection anyhow and it helped ease concerns with DC United which started the season fairly poorly before adding some additional pieces and turning the corner as mid-season approach.
DC like most teams that year made the play-offs. The first series against the NY/NJ Metrostars was tense and I don’t think any of us knew for sure whether or not we would get through. Remarkably, not only did NY lose that series but couldn’t beat DC in the playoffs until 2014. The second playoff series for DC was against the Tampa Bay Mutiny where it felt completely different. DC was always going to win this series and did so decisively. That left the championship against the Los Angeles Galaxy — a team you just knew MLS HQ would have loved to see win the first championship. Plus LA had been decent all season whereas DC had started slow. The game was up in Boston — the captain of my then co-ed soccer team had gotten a number of tickets and given them to us so all we had to do was get there. I flew in to Providence and drove to a law school friend’s house the night before. The day of it was a horrible rainstorm — I had one of those plastic ponchos but it was really coming down. The rain did mean there was a lot of room down near the front near the fifty yard line. The group of us that went up to see it had great seats for what turned out to be one of the most dramatics sporting events I’ve ever seen. DC went down two goals before clawing two back to send it into overtime. That year there was a “golden goal” rule for overtime — as soon as anyone scored the game was over. Eddie Pope headed in the game winner for DC and it was an amazing finish to the game and to the season.