One of the unique qualities of Major League Soccer is that, unlike many European leagues, there are no teams that continue to dominate year after year.
At the beginning of each season, it’s almost impossible to predict who will be in the play-offs, let alone who might eventually be crowned champions.
The financial structure of the league (in particular the salary cap) helps to promote this parity, avoiding situations like the English Premier League’s ‘top four’ or the Old Firm’s iron grip on the SPL.
However, if there is one team in MLS that has enjoyed the most success it would have to be the one found in the nation’s capital: DC United
One of the original ten founding members of the league, DC won the first two MLS Cups back-to-back (in 1996/97) and also claimed back-to-back Supporters’ Shields in 2006/07.
They have also enjoyed success in the CONCACAF Champions Cup – becoming the first ever American winners of the trophy – and have won a record four MLS titles.
Last year, DC added the US Open Cup (the US equivalent of the FA Cup, known as the Lamar Hunt trophy) to their trophy cabinet, and while they have started the 2009 season slowly, head coach Tom Soehn’s new signings are still adapting to their new surroundings.
The black and reds currently play their home games at the 56,000 capacity RFK stadium, with plans for a soccer-specific stadium still underway.
When I visited the RFK, DC United defender Devon McTavish described the match-day atmosphere there:
“It’s great”, the 2007 Cosmo Bachelor of the Year entrant told me. “I think we have one of the best followings in the league….the best in fact.
“It’s tough to beat this atmosphere, and we get good attendances. I love playing at this stadium - playing elsewhere around the league remind you it’s tough to beat this atmosphere.”
Devon’s route in to professional soccer is fairly typical of an American player in the league. He grew up playing soccer with his older brother recreationally, but got more seriously interested in the sport during the USA ‘94 World Cup.
Two years later, when Major League Soccer and DC United came along, Devon realised there might be an opportunity to make a career out of the sport.
“It (MLS) came along at a good time for me age-wise, as I was 12 and starting to think a little bit about things. I started coming to home games here and realised that I would want to do this one day”.
Now 24, Devon plays a key role in the DC United defence and has big ambitions for his career. And while his feet remain firmly planted on the ground, he is aware that his generation are playing a part in shaping the future of Major League Soccer.
“The players here right now are helping to create history, and developing soccer in this nation” he said. “Some guys have to do other things to make a little more money, but that was how the NFL started too”.
Perhaps as a by-product of their college education, many of the American players in the league seem acutely aware that a career in soccer can be a short and fragile one. In MLS, it can also be a relatively low-paid one.
Devon realises this, adding: “We’re doing this right now because we love the sport, and a lot of the time it’s because we don’t want to enter the real world and get a real job!”
After visiting DC United, the final leg of my journey will see me visit New York, where I will watch the Red Bulls in action against Real Salt Lake.