During a rainstorm that mirrored the previous final, D.C. repeated as MLS Cup champions, winning the match 2–1 on goals by Jaime Moreno in the 37th minute and Tony Sanneh in the 68th minute. Substitute Adrián Paz scored a consolation goal for Colorado in the 75th minute, but the team were unable to draw level. The 1997 final was the first MLS Cup to be decided in regular time and the first to be won by the host team. To date, this is the first and only championship game held in D.C. to be won by a D.C.-based professional team. The crowd of 57,431 was the second-largest soccer audience in the history of RFK Stadium. It was also the MLS Cup to feature two brothers on the same roster, as Chris Henderson and Sean Henderson both started the match for Colorado.
The MLS Cup is the post-season championship of Major League Soccer (MLS), a professional club soccer league based in the United States that began play in 1996. The league's second season was contested by ten teams organized into two conferences, each playing 32 matches during the regular season from April to September. Teams faced opponents from the same conference four times during the regular season and from outside their conference three or four times. MLS continued to use the modified version of the sport's rules, including a 35-yard (32 m) shootout to decide tied matches (for which the winners earned one point) and a countdown clock to keep time, that it adopted for the 1996 season.
The top four teams from each conference qualified for the playoffs, which were organized into three rounds and played in October. The first two rounds, named the Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals, were home-and-away series organized into a best-of-three format with a hosting advantage for the higher seed. The winners of the Conference Finals advanced to the single-match MLS Cup final, which would be held at a predetermined neutral venue.
MLS Cup 1997 was contested by defending champions and hosts D.C. United, who finished first in the regular season standings, and the Colorado Rapids, who finished fourth in the Western Conference. The two finalists swept through the playoffs by winning the Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals in two legs. During three regular season meetings between the two teams, D.C. won 5–2 in April and 5–0 in June, while Colorado won in a shootout following a 2–2 draw in August.
D.C. United ended its 22-match unbeaten streak with a loss to the Kansas City Wizards on June 21, 1997. The Colorado Rapids were the first team to advance to the MLS Cup final despite a losing record during the regular season. The Rapids were labeled as the underdogs entering the MLS Cup final, having upset Kansas City and Dallas in the playoffs following a lackluster end to their regular season.