December 4, 2013
By Michael Lewis
If there is one thing that I have learned in my 18 years of covering Major League Soccer, if it's MLS Cup, there's a good chance it will be in southern California.
Six MLS Cups have been held in and around the Los Angeles area -- in 1998, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2011 and 2012.
Given the forecast for Saturday's MLS Cup in Kansas City, Kansas, I wish No. 18 would be back in southern California. Temperatures are expected to be as high as 26 degrees and should bottom out at 19 degrees, not exactly the optimal conditions for the beautiful game (but that's what you get for pushing the championship game into December.
And yeah, that's right. This will be my 18th MLS Cup. Along with Washington Post soccer writer Steven Goff and Soccer America senior editor Ridge Mahoney, I have attended every MLS championship game.
That first game in 1996, played in a monsoon at old Foxboro Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. and D.C. United's amazing comeback and Eddie Pope, who was commuting to school at the University of North Carolina, heading home the dramatic game-winner in extratime for a stunning Golden Goal in a confrontation that set the standard for future championship games. I'm just glad there was an indoor press box or everyone's computers would have been water logged.
That second game at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. in 1997, which was played in the rain as United won its second consecutive crown at home at RFK Stadium.
That third game at the Rose Bowl in 1998, when Chris Armas shut down Marco Etcheverry and the Chicago Fire shut down a weary United team (it played its semifinal second leg on Wednesday in a horrible schedule snafu), 2-0, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. At the official MLS dinner the night before the game, MLS gave out mini-umbrellas as a joke about rain (it never rains in Southern California, right?).
That fourth game in Foxborough in 1999, when the Galaxy gifted a couple of goals to United in a 2-0 win.
That fifth game back at RFK in 2000, when former U.S. international Tony Meola and company completed an almost worst to first scenario for the Kansas City Wizards, who upended the Fire, 1-0.
That sixth game in the first soccer-specific stadium in Columbus in 2001, a 1-0 extratime win for the San Jose Earthquakes over the Galaxy. This guy named Dwayne De Rosario scored the game-winner. Hmmm. Whatever happened to him?
The seventh game back in Foxborough at new Gillette Stadium in 2002, when the Galaxy and Sigi Schmid finally took home the silverware with a 1-0 win over the New England Revolution in front of a record 61,316 spectators. What I really remember about that day was that Bob Bradley had accepted an offer by the MetroStars to become their coach.
The eighth game in at the new HDC in 2003, when the Earthquakes and this young player named Landon Donovan got past the Fire, 4-2.
The ninth game in at the HDC in 2004, Alecko Eskandarian struck for a brace in a 3-2 San Jose win over the Wizards. Quakes captain Jeff Agoos had earned his fifth championship ring.
The 10th game at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas in 2005, some unknown for the Galaxy scored in extratime to lift the Galaxy over the Revolution, 1-0. Still don't remember his name. And who knew this would begin a hat-trick of frustrating losses for New England.
The 11th game at Pizza Hut Park in 2006, the Revs played the Dynamo even during regulation and extratime, but the Dynamo prevailed in penalty kicks.
The 12th game at RFK in 2007, the Dynamo prevailed over the Red again, 2-1, becoming the second team to win back-to-back titles.
The 13th game at the HDC in 2008, the Columbus Crew and the absolutely brilliant Guillermo Barros Schelotto bested the team that I have covered since Day One of the league, the New York Red Bulls, 3-1. Schmid, incidentally, became the first coach to win titles with two teams.
The 14th game in a rainy Seattle in 2009, when Real Salt Lake bested the Galaxy in penalty kicks. I felt happy for players I knew on RSL -- Clint Mathis and Chris Wingert, and club president Bill Manning, but sad for players I knew on the Galaxy, including Todd Dunivant, Dema Kovalenko and Mike Magee, among others.
In the 15th game in cold Toronto in 2010 (not a smart venue for anything outside in late November), the winning goal was an own goal and the player who placed it on net, former Red Bulls midfielder-forward Mac Kandji, wrecked his knee on the play in a 2-1 win for the Colorado Rapids over FC Dallas and did not return to action for the 2011 season.
In the 16th game in Carson, Calif. in 2011, the Galaxy edged the Dynamo, as LA's two stars did what they do best. David Beckham set up Donovan for the game-winning goal in a 1-0 win.
And in the 17th game in Carson, Calif. last year, the Galaxy allowed a 44th-minute goal, but rallied for three second-half goals en route to a 3-1 triumph over the Dynamo.
I recently decided to count the number of soccer championship games I have covered during my career. The criteria would be national or international titles. That included World Cups, Olympic gold-medal matches, FIFA Confederation Cup, English F.A. Cup, the old European Cup Winners Cup, American professional leagues (North American Soccer League, MLS, U.S. Interregional Soccer League, the original Major Indoor Soccer League), college (Division I), Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup, Women's United Soccer Association and National Women's Soccer League) I counted some 76 championship games that I had attended, covered and written about prior to Saturday's encounter. But then again, I might have forgotten about a couple.
My first championship game was a doozy -- the 1977 Soccer Bowl that pit the New York Cosmos against the Seattle Sounders in Portland, Ore., which was Pele's final competitive match. Due to the huge media overflow, I wound up sitting up one of the goals. At first, I wasn't happy about it at all. But as a young sportswriter I learned something very important that day: Don't complain about where you're sitting because you might get a pleasant surprise.
And I did. One of the most memorable (or forgettable goals in U.S. soccer history was scored right in front of me. I remember when Sounders goalkeeper Tony Chursky made a save on the right side of the penalty area. He turned and started to dribble away. In came the Cosmos' Steve Hunt, who stole the ball and knocked it into the goal for the first goal of a 2-1 Cosmos triumph. And I had a fantastic seat to watch it.
But I am not going to be too sentimental or ponder about the past. If I do that, it will be another time.
On Saturday, there will be several jobs at hand -- covering Sporting Kansas City and RSL in the MLS Cup, watch the league crown yet another champion and find a way to keep warm.