As we countdown the days until the MLS season begins, we will be looking at 25 players from greater Philadelphia who have made an impact on the league 25 years after the first ball was kicked. Read the rest of the series at brotherlygame.com/philly-mls-25.
The story of MLS begins with D.C. United, winners of the league and U.S. Open Cup in the inaugural season of 1996. We remember Bruce Arena, his four straight College Cups from 1991-1994; John Harkes, the first American player to play in the Premier League; and Marco Etcheverry, or El Diablo, considered one of the greatest Bolivian players of all time.
For many of us in Philly, we remember the early years of MLS trying to decide if we wanted to root for New York or D.C., instead settling for Tampa Bay because we were enamored with El Pibe. But few remember D.C.’s 1-6 start to the MLS season or the veteran striker from West Deptford, New Jersey, who helped turn its season around and write history.
Steve Rammel grew up idolizing the Philadelphia Fury as a young kid and watched the 1996 season opener from a bar in Amherst, Massachusetts, as a grad assistant with the men’s soccer team, years removed from the disappointment of failing to make the U.S. World Cup squad in 1994.
A former national team player and Hermann trophy runner up after his All-American senior year at Rutgers, Rammel became an MLS legend when he signed three games into the 1996 season and scored in the team’s win against the Dallas Burn.
Rammel rattled off eight goals in his first nine games, including the first-ever MLS hat trick in a 5-2 win over the Columbus Crew three weeks after joining the team.
“The league came when I was at the end,” Rammel said in an interview last year while we spoke about his time playing with local amateur club United German Hungarians against the U.S. men’s national team in 1990.
Rammel’s contributions continued throughout the season, even when limited to a reserve role with the arrival of Jaime Moreno after which Arena told him, “You put your mom and dad in the stands, he [Raul Diaz Arce] puts 5,000 people in the stands.”
Rammel finished second in scoring behind Diaz Arce with 14 goals and 3 assists in the regular season, and he led the MLS with 6 game winning goals. In the Open Cup quarterfinals, his second-half brace against the Carolina Dynamo rallied D.C. to a 2-0 victory, and in the MLS playoffs, he scored the game winner in the deciding game of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against New York/New Jersey. A week later, he scored the opener in a 4-1 win over top-seed Tampa Bay before D.C. raised the first MLS Cup.
Rammel played over 1,800 minutes his first season with D.C. and was limited to a reserve role in 1997 with the emergence of Moreno. Mid-season, he was traded to the Colorado Rapids and played another 15 games in the regular season and playoffs, helping the Rapids advance to the MLS Cup finals where they fell to D.C. Rammel retired at the end of the season and began a lengthy career in coaching in both the college and pro level.
Logging over 3,000 minutes in the MLS regular season and playoffs, Rammel unfortunately fell victim to the instability of the pro leagues following the NASL collapse and the delayed start of MLS during his prime playing years.
After graduating from Rutgers, he spent a partial season with the Penn-Jersey Sprit and played two seasons in Germany with SC Norderstedt and Tus Celle FC in what was then the German second division. He scored 9 goals in two seasons during a time when few American players were venturing overseas. But he’ll always be remembered for a remarkable season with D.C. United, almost fairytale-like in the way it materialized as he stamped his place in the history of MLS.