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If These Walls Could Talk... MNT Returns to RFK

When thinking about the perfect soccer venue, many fans think of historic stadiums with a lot of memories… natural grass that’s practically perfect and plays a true touch … and stands that literally shake under the supporters sections. More often than not, soccer fans think that this type of stadium can only be found in Europe, but this weekend the U.S. Men’s National Team will host a game in one, right in our Nation’s Capitol.

No venue has hosted more U.S. Men’s National Team throughout its history than Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, D.C., and this weekend will mark the team’s first appearance there since 2004.

The U.S. has played five World Cup qualifiers in the venue, holding a 4-1-0 all-time record. Needless to say, with an average attendance of 41,536 in qualifiers, RFK has been a home-field advantage for the MNT

“It’s a savvy, knowledgeable crowd,” said U.S. forward Landon Donovan. “When you drive up there are always so many people around the stadium with big flags, tailgating, a lot of atmosphere.”

The former home of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins (1961-1996) and the Washington Nationals of Major League Baseball (2005-2007), the historic stadium’s only current full-time tenant is Major League Soccer’s D.C. United.

“My main memory is just that it always feels like a real soccer facility,” said U.S. head coach Bob Bradley, who was an assistant with D.C. United from 1996-97. “There is always an excellent crowd, there is passion in the stadium.”

It’s fitting that even with the history and memories of other sports at RFK, soccer now reigns supreme in the 55,672-seat venue. Dating back to the 1980 Soccer Bowl, where the New York Cosmos defeated the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, RFK has been selling out soccer events throughout the past 28 years, even serving as a venue during the 1994 FIFA World Cup. A total of five games were played there during the tournament, including a Round of 16 showdown between Spain and Switzerland.

Two years later, the nation’s capital served as a satellite venue for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, and RFK once again hosted four games, including the final group game for the American squad.

RFK has historically favored its home teams, whether that be D.C. United or the USA. D.C. won the 1996 and 2008 U.S. Open Cups, the 1997 MLS Cup and the 1998 CONCACAF Champions Cup in front of their home fans. Meanwhile, the U.S. Men’s National Team holds an all-time record of 10-3-4 ahead of Saturday evening’s affair. Beyond the shear number of events hosted there, RFK has also set the scene for some of U.S. Soccer’s most memorable moments.

In 1992, the U.S. hosted Ireland in a rematch from a game in Dublin just a month earlier that the Americans lost 1-4. In front of a raucous crowd of 35,696, the match was scoreless at halftime. Ireland seemed to have taken control with a goal in the 53rd minute, but the skillful U.S. side struck back less than a minute later when Marcelo Balboa found the back of the net. Ireland, considered one of the top teams in the world at that time, was no match for the U.S. on that day as Tab Ramos and John Harkes added second-half goals to lift the U.S. to a 3-1 victory. The game, one of the USA’s first wins over a European side, was a major step in the country’s climb to worldwide soccer relevance.

Three years later, as the U.S. was just beginning to find its identity as a soccer nation, the Men’s National Team put up a historic result against arch-rival Mexico, who at that time was hailed as the best in the region. A 22-year-old Claudio Reyna led an attack that was firing on all cylinders, scoring a goal and adding two assists in a 4-0 U.S. victory. Thomas Dooley, John Harkes and Roy Wegerle also tallied that day in what is still the most lopsided U.S. victory ever against Mexico.

On June 13, 1999, the U.S. was set to battle powerhouse Argentina for just the fifth time in history. The only prior victory for the Americans in the match up came four years earlier when the U.S. handed the South American side a 3-0 defeat at the 1995 Copa America. This time, it took a Herculean effort from goalkeeper Kasey Keller that included a penalty-kick save to keep the game scoreless until the 88th minute. It was then that Joe-Max Moore scored his 19th career goal on an assist from Earnie Stewart, giving the U.S. a 1-0 win. The U.S. hasn’t defeated the Argentineans since.

Interestingly enough, the U.S. has a chance on Saturday to repeat a feat they accomplished on the hallowed grounds. In October of 2004, the U.S. secured advancement out of their semifinal group with a comprehensive 6-0 victory against Panama. Four years later, they can be assured of advancement past the semifinal round once again with a win against Cuba.

And RFK Stadium can add another note to an already proud soccer legacy.