During the inaugural MLS season, I and three friends decided to witness history by attending MLS Cup ’96. At the game, too cold to remove our hands from our drenched pockets, we stomped on the Foxboro Stadium bleachers to applaud as rain streamed down our backs and wind created waves in the puddles on the field.
After the match our crew of four—Jamie, Jamie, Jamey and Lee—promised each other “every year”. Lee and one Jamie broke that commitment before the ’98 final. But Jamey Yawn and I have witnessed them all. Our soccer obligation outlasted one marriage, several girlfriends, six jobs, and the Miami Fusion.
Before that first final, Boston took on 5.9 inches of rain in two days, enough for organizers to cancel an annual boat regatta. There was talk of postponing the game, but the league couldn’t afford to give up rare network television coverage. Through drizzle and deluge, L.A. went up 2-0. Then a new storm hit.
United’s Tony Sanneh scored in the 73rd minute, and Shawn Medved equalized in the 81st. In overtime a bad call gave D.C. a corner kick, Eddie Pope heeded it home, and United’s shower of Champaign began.
We stood in the rain again a year later when D.C. won it at home and a reporter asked Commissioner Doug Logan about the weather. He answered, “I can’t keep it from raining.” With that bit of understanding, Logan put the 1998 final in L.A, where Chris Armas shut down Marco Etcheverry while Peter Nowak assisted on the two Chicago goals.
In ’99 we went back to Boston, where D.C. repeated what it had done three years earlier. Instead of the slick turf of 1996, Etcheverry and company had to deal with a hard surface. The Bolivian explained later, “The ball was bouncing around like bunnies.”
In 2000 we went back to D.C., but United were not there. Instead we saw one goal and Tony Meola acting his age as he set up goal kick after goal kick for Kansas City. It’s still the most boring MLS Cup in history and justification to remind K.C. residents that their team was once called The Wiz.
A year later MLS Cup went to Columbus, the first final in a soccer specific stadium. Dwayne De Rosario came on as a sub to win it in overtime for San Jose, giving L.A. its third MLS Cup loss. A year after that, though, L.A.’s Carlos Ruiz finished an overtime break-away to beat the home team Revolution. When teammates mobbed Ruiz, he dove the ground in attempt to earn a PK.
The home Depot Center hosted two of the most exciting finals. In 2003 San Jose arrived in L.A after a playoff run of comebacks. With two goals from Landon Donovan, the Earthquakes beat Chicago 4-2 to give Jeff Agoos his fifth championship ring. In 2004 D.C. won its fourth title with a 3-2 match over Kansas City. Dema Kovalenko became the first player to earn an MLS Cup ejection while teammate Freddie Adu entered in the 65th minute to become the youngest player to win an MLS Cup.
2005 was forgettable other than it being a rematch with a similar script and the first of two finals in Pizza Hut Park. As the Galaxy had done in 2002, it beat New England 1-0 in overtime in 2005.
The next final was the first to go to a shoot-out. Thirty seconds after Taylor Twellman scored for New England in overtime, Brian Ching scored for Houston. Jay Heaps’ PK in the shoot-out was poor by under-eight standards. Goalkeeper Pat Onstad could not have had an easier time if Heaps’ shot had come from Canada. Houston won the cup.
With the impression that RFK was hosting its swan song in 2007, we traveled to D.C. for a third time. There New England lost its third championship in a row by one goal and its fourth overall. De Rosario became the first player to win two MLS Cup MVP awards as Houston/San Jose won its fourth title.
In 2008 we saw Frankie Hejduk put the icing on the cake for Columbus’ 3-1 win over New York. Guillermo Barros Schelotto assisted on all three Columbus goals, earning MVP honors and a DP contract.
Last year Donovan missed his shoot-out PK; the process went to six kickers; and RSL took the trophy in front of 46,000 Sounders fans.
Of the original MLS teams still playing, we never saw Dallas in a final. Nor did we see any World Cup winners or any designated players earn an MLS title. The league no longer pays to have the games televised. And, next year, 18 teams will be trying to take the cup. In 1996 it was only 10.
But the biggest difference between the MLS Cup ’96 and MLS Cup 2010 has to do with that commitment we made to attend every MLS championship match.
In 1996 we had no idea how many matches we would witness. Everybody was skeptical that another national professional soccer league could last more than a few years. We never considered that the “every year” commitment would last this long.
That’s a good thing.
Soon we will see our 15th MLS Cup, and we feel pretty confident that we’ll be going to many, many more.