Following the introduction of the MLS Cup in 1996, D.C. United were one of the most dominant forces in the American game in the first seasons, winning the competition in its inaugural year, and again in 1997 and 1999, whilst they were runners-up in 1998.
Since the turn of the millennium, though, the trophies have dried up somewhat for the US capital outfit, with their most recent MLS Cup arriving a decade ago. That said, they did win the Supporters’ Shield – the trophy given to the side with the best record over the course of the season – in 2006 and 2007.
The current campaign is one of the most exciting in recent years for United fans, with their team currently occupying second spot in the Eastern conference, a point behind Sporting Kansas City but with a game in hand. One man to watch is former Whites forward Eddie Johnson who is now finding some real form following his transfer from Seattle Sounders.
Something of a legend in D.C. having spent his entire MLS career at United, Ben Olsen made a swift transition from player to coach.
Olsen ran out 221 times for the Black-and-Red – a figure which puts him second in their all-time appearance standings, with the former midfielder scoring 29 goals and making 49 assists – the third highest in their history.
During his time on their books he won nine trophies – a combination of team achievements and personal accolades – while his only time away from the club was during a loan spell at Nottingham Forest in 2000/01, during which he faced Fulham at Craven Cottage. A Louis Saha goal proved the difference that day.
A regular with the US Men’s National Team, Olsen won 37 caps and scored six goals, and appeared at the 2006 World Cup.
When appointed Head Coach in November 2010 following a successful interim period, Olsen was the youngest coach in Major League Soccer at the age of just 33.
In his second full season in charge of the club, he led D.C. to the Play-Offs for the first time in five years, before losing to Houston Dynamo in the Conference Finals. However, 2013 was a less prosperous season for the Washington side - but there is a renewed expectation that they can deliver in the current campaign.
Perry Kitchen: Touted as a certainty to make the breakthrough into the USMNT before too long, 22-year-old Perry Kitchen has been a regular in the D.C. team for four years now. A defensive midfielder by trade, he has also provided several goals in 2014 – most recently in the weekend’s 3-1 victory over Play-Off rivals Chivas USA. Last season, Kitchen was the star of the D.C. side which came away with the US Open Cup, playing every game en route to winning the trophy. He was subsequently named the club’s Most Valuable Player at the end of the year.
United’s domestic campaign has really gathered momentum but they take a break from competitive fixtures when they face the Whites on Saturday. It’s a test Head Coach Olsen is looking forward to, telling his club’s website: “I’m looking to get guys minutes.
“We still have a bunch of games coming up and we still have a few guys who aren’t 90 minutes fit because they’ve been on the bench, so this is a game to utilise those guys, and get them up to speed because we’re going to need them in the next month or two. I’ll also use some starters and mix it up.
“It’s good; I always enjoyed these friendlies as a player and I think the guys are excited about it. Our minds are on that but more on Toronto the following Wednesday.”
Action shots courtesy of Tony Quinn/D.C. United