Remember these? The 7 most important goals in the history of RFK Stadium
Before the onset of glistening soccer-specific stadiums rendered RFK Stadium a punchline, the concrete oval in Washington, D.C., was American soccer’s accidental jewel.
While other venues could only offer a groundshare with American football teams and less-than-ideal pitch dimensions, soccer has been RFK’s main tenant for all but three years since Washington’s NFL team departed for the Maryland suburbs in 1997. And while its original multipurpose design put NFL fans in the first 10 rows a long way from the sideline, RFK’s layout was ideal for the extra width of soccer.
As a result, RFK has staged many of American soccer’s most important moments, including games in the 1994 World Cup, the 1996 Olympics and 2003 Women’s World Cup; three MLS Cup finals; three U.S. Open Cup finals; one Founders Cup final; and one NASL Soccer Bowl.
So, while D.C. United should celebrate its much-needed move to Audi Field next year, it’s important to understand the history left behind.
Let's look back at the seven most important goals scored at the old lady by the Anacostia River.
7. Marta, Brazil — Women’s World Cup, Group B: Sept. 21, 2003
Many of the 34,144 fans who passed through the RFK turnstiles on the second day of the 2003 Women’s World Cup departed before Brazil took the field, after watching the U.S. women’s national team dispatch Sweden, 3-1, in its group opener.
The wise ones who remained to see Brazil dismantle South Korea, 3-0, saw Marta begin the greatest goal-scoring career in Women’s World Cup history.
Given a starting spot and the No. 10 shirt because of an injury to veteran playmaker Sissi, Marta received an immediate vote of confidence when manager Paulo Goncalves selected her to take an early penalty.
Marta converted and bossed the remainder of the proceedings, earning player of the match honors. She scored twice more during Brazil’s run to the 2003 quarterfinals, the first steps to becoming the Women’s World Cup’s all-time leading scorer with 15 goals in 17 matches.
In the process, she gave global credibility to the women’s game, which had often struggled for it in soccer-rich nations that considered the sport a pursuit for men only.
6. Tony Sanneh, D.C. United — MLS Cup Final: Oct. 26, 1997
For all the greatness the “Magic Triangle” of Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno and Raul Diaz Arce produced during D.C. United’s first two championship seasons, no one played bigger in the big moments than Tony Sanneh.
After scoring the first goal in D.C’s dramatic comeback in MLS Cup 1996, Sanneh solidified D.C.’s place as the first titans of MLS with an assist and the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids before a sold-out RFK in MLS Cup 1997.
“I always looked at these type of games as where I could really set my mark,” Sanneh says. “Normally, it was just get the job done and we win. For some reason, the bigger games, I always had a little more in me to actually go for it.”
Sanneh’s header on an inswinging cross from John Harkes gave United a 2-0 lead in the 68th minute and effectively sealed the title, despite a response from Colorado’s Adrian Paz in the 75th.
And although Sanneh remained with D.C. for another season, that performance in the October rain bolstered the case for his eventual European move.
“For me personally, it reinforced to me that it was time to go,” said Sanneh. “There was a glass ceiling there for me. And it was like, is it ever going to be bigger than this? Because I’d done pretty much all I could do in my position.”
Sanneh eventually departed for Germany, where he played for Hertha Berlin and then FC Nuremburg from 1999 to 2004. Still, the sight of more than 57,000 filling RFK to the rafters was one of the most memorable of his career.
“Seeing it sold out was completely different,” Sanneh recalls. “It reminds me of Camp Nou or something. Not quite as big, but how it has the big rings and everyone is looking down.”
5. Deon Burton, Jamaica — CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, Oct. 3, 1997
On an early October night 20 years ago, RFK Stadium may as well have been Kingston North.
More than half of the 51,528 who filled the stadium had traveled from all up and down the I-95 corridor to support the Reggae Boyz in their bid for Jamaica’s first World Cup berth. And their travels were rewarded when 20-year-old Deon Burton pounced on defensive mistake to lift the island nation to a 1-1 draw against the United States.
“We couldn’t believe it when we come out,” recalls Burton. “We heard rumors that there was going to be a big following. But it wasn’t until we went out for the warmup and the start of the game when we thought, ‘You know what, there’s actually more Jamaica fans in there than we thought.’ It was like we were the home team.”
The goal stemmed from the miscue by a U.S. side that looked uncomfortable in its surroundings, despite taking the lead through Eric Wynalda’s dubiously awarded penalty moments earlier. After the restart, Jamaica’s Paul Hall pressured U.S. defender Jeff Agoos into an ill-advised pass across his penalty area. Burton intercepted it and hammered an equalizer past Kasey Keller that sent RFK into a deafening roar.
“I can’t remember the noise — I just remember just going mad,” Burton says. “It was all a relief that we were back in the game. We were hard done by the penalty, so it was more of a relief that we were back where we should be.”
It was an immense point and an equally valuable confidence boost that helped the Reggae Boyz earn draws in their final two matches. And it was a crowning moment for Burton, who burst on the scene to score in each of his first four qualifiers after making his Jamaica debut midway through the campaign.