by Steve De Rose
October 31, 2002 - Major League Soccer (MLS)
Could it happen? Could the Los Angeles GALAXY be the first side to win the triple: the Supporters' Shield, MLS Cup and the Lamar Hunt U. S. Open Cup in the same year? Could they be the first club to win back-to-back Open Cups since the New York Pancyprian-Freedoms in 1982 & 1983?
Thursday, October 24 was a cool evening in Columbus, Ohio. A good temperature (47°) for the players, but not a superb one for spectators. It was much warmer, however, than when the U.S.A. v. Mexico World Cup Qualifier was contested in the Ohio city in February 2001. Considering the difference in attendance for this game, with the home side in the Final, and the 1999 Final also here, on a Tuesday night, which was 90 percent consisting of Rochester Rhinos supporters in its crowd of 4,455, home teams should be able to account for more than an additional 1,599 people. It has to be considered a disappointing draw by Crew supporters.
Why was the game on a Thursday night? After all, this is Crew Stadium. It is logical to believe they have first choice of dates in the facility. Guess again. Somehow, stadium management had sold Saturday, October 26 to a high school gridiron promoter. This drew post-game criticism from Los Angeles Galaxy Head Coach Sigi Schmid, because it put the his team on for a second match in just five days. The Crew had not played since 13 October 13.
The game kicked off, and the Galaxy had the balance of play. In the eighth minute, a high cross into the Crew box saw the L.A.'s Carlos Ruiz challenging Crew GK Jon Busch for the ball. Busch got to it and was undercut by Ruiz who was assessed the foul. But after some Crew players complained to referee Brian Hall, Ruiz was shown the yellow card. Television replays seemed to disclose an elbow swing by Ruiz as he went up for the ball, but Hall did not have access to any video. Nonetheless, without this benefit, the tardy yellow card looked like an acquiescence to some whining by the Crew.
The best chance for the Galaxy was in the 26th minute, when a one-touch passing play put Chris Albright into the box. His low shot was saved by Busch. The rebound went into a cluster, where the Galaxy's Simon Elliott got off a shot that was stuffed at its origin. It caromed back to Albright, and his effort was blocked by the Columbus's Eric Denton.
The Crew goal came courtesy of a harmless-looking play. On the half hour, Brian West's cross from the right wing was struck by Galaxy GK Matt Reis directly into the legs of Crew midfielder Freddy Garcia. He managed to straighten his right leg sufficiently to strike the ball at a medium height over a sprawled Reis. On only their second shot of the match, the Crew had a goal.
Throughout the balance of the first half, the Galaxy resumed their control of the play, but they couldn't often put the ball on the frame, and when they did, it was ingested by Busch.
Los Angeles resumed its assault in the second half. Its impetus left them open to a swift counterattack. In the 67th minute, the Crew's Jeff Cunningham was let in on a breakaway. Reis saved Cunningham's low shot out for a corner kick. In the ensuing play back the other way, the Galaxy's Alejandro Moreño got close enough to blaze a 12-yard rocket that was saved by Busch.
L.A. would get a good possibility to level the score when, in the 83rd minute after a foul had been given against them, the Columbus's Chad McCarty pursued the ball long after the whistle had blown, and knocked down Moreño. He was shown the yellow card for the second time in the half, and was exiled.
The culmination of the Galaxy's attacking was in the 89th minute. Some nice triangular passing pushed Moreño into the Crew box. Columbus defenders were drawn to him, and his shot from ten yards out was deflected at the source. The ball spilled toward the center of goal, which was partially open due to Busch's reaction to Moreño's incursion. The Galaxy's Sasha Victorine got to the ball and struck it first time. This shot was also deflected by a couple of Crew players. Then it went over to where the L.A.'s Danny Califf had a half-open left side of the net, if he could contort his body to face the frame. He whirled clockwise enough to push a shot toward the empty net, but by then, the Crew's Daniel Torres was able to sweep away the slow-rolling ball. The ultimate chance for the Galaxy would go to Ruiz in the second minute of stoppage time, but his flick-on header was saved by Busch.
The victory was the first domestic championship in Columbus's seven-year history. The closest they had come was losing in the 1998 Cup Final, in golden-goal overtime, to the Chicago Fire. They also earned the final U.S. Soccer berth for the 2003 CONCACAF Champions Cup. The win also gave the Crew 13 total victories in Open Cup competition since 1996, the most since the inception of MLS.
Coincidentally, the last time a side was shutout in the Open Cup Final was the 1999 Cup Final, also in Columbus, when the Colorado Rapids were blanked 0-2 by the A-League's Rochester Rhinos.
I think luck was on our side tonight, said Columbus Head Coach Greg Andrulis. It was a great way to end our year, and I have to give credit to all our guys for all their work. It feels real good to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and it is an honor for us to have it now as the first Championship in our trophy case.
While G. Andrulis was enthusiastic and humble, his opposite number, Sigi Schmid, was looking for an excuse. After exonerating his players, he said, MLS Cup was much more important to us. I know U.S. Soccer doesn't want to hear that, but it is. We don't know why we had to play here only four days after playing MLS Cup. We offered to host on the 26th, and our offer was rejected. You have to ask U.S. Soccer.
I think those words will resonate in the halls of U.S. Soccer House. It was only this year that Los Angeles played its first-ever Open Cup match outside the state of California. Next year, it would not surprise me if the Galaxy are sent everywhere outside of California, perhaps even beginning with a third-round match at the A-League Champion Milwaukee Rampage.
Columbus CREW 1 0 = 1 Los Angeles GALAXY 0 0 = 0 CLB - Freddy Garcia (Brian West) 30' Weather: 47°F: Clear, Cool. Attendance: 6,054
CREW [adidas: dark gray]: 1-Jon Busch; 3-Mike Clark, 5-Chad McCarty, 8-Duncan Oughton, 13-Brian Dunseth; 10-Brian Maisonneuve (Cpt.) (19-Robert Warzycha 89'), 15-Freddy Garcia (4-Daniel Torres 81'), 16-Eric Denton, 17-Brian West (21-Kyle Martino 65'); 11-Jeff Cunningham (9-Dante Washington 89'), 20-Brian McBride.
GALAXY [Nike: white] 1-Matt Reis; 17-Ezra Hendrickson, 23-Danny Califf, 30-Alexi Lalas (10-Mauricio Cienfuegos 76'); 8-Peter Vagenas (9-Brian Mullan 86'), 11-Sasha Victorine, 12-Simon Elliott, 13-Cobi Jones (Cpt.), 14-Tyrone Marshall; 5-Chris Albright (15-Alejandro Moreño 59'), 20-Carlos Ruiz.
Discipline: GALAXY - Ruiz (caution | GK interference) 8' CREW - Clark (caution | persistent fouling) 43' CREW - McCarty (caution | pushing & holding) 48' CREW - McCarty (caution | reckless foul) 83' CREW - McCarty (ejection | 2nd caution) 83'
Officials: Referee: Brian Hall (Gilroy, CA.) Referee Assistant #1: Craig Lowry (New Holland, PA.) Referee Assistant #2: Steve Davidson (Schaumburg, IL.) Fourth Official: Ricardo Salazar (Elgin, IL.)
CREW GALAXY Total Shots 4+6 = 10 9+10 = 19 Shots on goal 3+2 = 5 3+2 = 5 Saves 2+2 = 4 2+2 = 4 Corner Kicks 2+2 = 4 1+3 = 4 Fouls 11+10 = 21 7+6 = 13 Offside 0+1 = 1 1+0 = 1
I thank Mr. Steven Torres of the United States Soccer Federation for his cooperation and assistance this year.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central.