Of the 16 MLS franchises, there are arguably no two teams with a more interesting and unique connection than the San Jose Earthquakes and D.C. United.
The connection? D.C. and San Jose played the inaugural game of Major League Soccer on April 6, 1996.
Current Earthquakes general manager John Doyle was the captain of the San Jose club – then known as the Clash – that day and he vividly remembers the incredible atmosphere and emotions of that game. A packed crowd of 31,683 filled Spartan Stadium to see the Clash defeat D.C. United 1-0 on a goal by Eric Wynalda in the 88th minute.
“I think for all of the American players that were playing with our national team or playing for the local small leagues – the Y League, the W (league), the Western Soccer League – it was kind of realizing a dream that Major League Soccer had come to San Jose,” Doyle said. “Being able to play in that first game was great. A sellout crowd and then to win the game 1-0 - it was like a storybook day.”
Current Earthquakes defender Ramiro Corrales was also on the squad that season, but did not face D.C. United in that inaugural game.
Since that day, the league has come a long way. As with anything, Doyle said that the beginning of the league was a little rough. However, as the level of talent in the league has risen and as people involved with the league have seen what works and what doesn’t, the MLS has improved tremendously.
“Now you have a group of people that have been around the league for a long time and I think they keep fine-tuning it and making it better,” Doyle said.
Another huge indication that the MLS has developed since that first game is the number of soccer-specific stadiums throughout the league. By Doyle’s count, there were zero soccer-specific stadiums in the league then; now there nine (Crew Stadium, The Home Depot Center, Pizza Hut Park, Toyota Park, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, BMO Field, Rio Tinto Stadium, Red Bull Arena and PPL Park).
“That’s huge for our league, to have places to play that are for soccer that aren’t converted football stadiums,” Doyle said.
While the Earthquakes are on the verge of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since returning to MLS in 2008, D.C. United currently sits at the bottom of the league, an unusual place for the four-time MLS Cup Champions.
“They were a model franchise at the start of the MLS, winning four championships, winning Open Cups, and having some great U.S. national team players, some great international players come through there,” Doyle said. “I think they did a great job. They’ve kind of hit hard times over the last three years but you still go to RFK Stadium and that stadium has a good feel for soccer.”