| Sunday, October 20, 2002 20:22 EST
Relief in the Galaxy
By Jeff Bradley
[ESPN The Magazine]
FOXBORO, Mass. -- It took the Los Angeles Galaxy four trips to MLS Cup final to finally walk off the field with the Alan I. Rothenberg Trophy. By the end of L.A.'s 1-0, overtime victory over the New England Revolution Sunday, it probably felt like eight.
The Galaxy deserve to be MLS champions and they went after the game like a team that was not going to be denied that honor. However, standing in L.A.'s way was a Revolution team so sold on its defensive tactics, the Cup wasn't going West without an epic struggle.
The Revs proclaimed before the match that their plan was to make this a difficult match for the Galaxy, and they succeeded. There probably weren't five passes strung together the entire afternoon by either team, which was just fine with the Revs.
At one point, late in the second half when another attempted buildup by the Galaxy ended up with a Revolution player putting the ball 10 rows deep in the seats, L.A. midfielder Simon Elliott threw his hands in the air and started jumping up and down like an infant who was told he could not have a piece of candy.
"We were getting frustrated," said the Galaxy's Tyrone Marshall. "The Revolution were doing a great job of channeling us through the center where they could break up the plays. But we knew we had to keep at it. We knew one play was going to decide it."
Marshall would end up playing a critical role in that one play, delivering a perfectly-timed feed to Carlos Ruiz in the 113th minute, for the Golden Goal. And an audible exhale from anyone dressed in teal and gold.
Indeed, as they made their way into the locker room, the yelps and screams from Galaxy players seemed as much like sighs of relief as a shouts for joy.
A long, long road to their first league championship for the Galaxy had taken them on this pothole-ridden detour through Foxboro -- and the Revolution -- and their relieved faces said it all.
If they had lost, you got the feeling every Los Angeles player would have taken this one to his grave."It's been a long road with all the past and the Galaxy not having success in the final," said L.A. coach Sigi Schmid. "Whether you admit it or not, those losses still hang over your head. This surely gets those ghosts out of the closet."
This match was probably not a good one for the soccer-viewing novices among the MLS Cup-record 61,316 in attendance. What it was, in reality, was a pretty typical cup final from any league in the world.
The Galaxy, while a superior attacking team to New England, are not exactly a run-and-gun outfit. They held numbers back as well, not wanting to make the mistake that led to a Revolution goal.
L.A. knew the formula that had worked so well for New England these past few weeks. Stay organized, proceed into attack with caution, hope to capitalize on a free kick, a corner kick or a defensive blunder by the opposition.
And, if the Revs were able to put a ball in the net, they liked their chances to protect a lead. In their six-game run up to the final, the Revolution had taken a 1-0 lead five times inside of 20 minutes, each time putting their first shot on goal into the back of the net.
Clearly, the Galaxy did not want to be victimized in this manner, so the game became a battle of wills. Given the pent up frustration of three MLS Cup final failures in six years, you had to like L.A.'s will to win. You just wondered if the game would ever open up enough for a goal to be scored on the run of play.
In the first 90 minutes, you basically had a handful of half-chances, but nothing clear cut on either end. Los Angeles forced New England keeper Adin Brown to make four saves, but none were real testers. The Revolution's lone shot on goal in 113 minutes -- a shot from the top of the box by Alex Pineda Chacon -- came in the 90th minute.
In the first 15-minute overtime session, you could see the field open up a bit. Cobi Jones fired wide right from a difficult angle. Ruiz tried a bicycle kick off a cross from Chris Albright that Brown -- for some reason -- saved with his head.
The Galaxy's will to end the game before penalties created drama that had been lacking for much of the match. Ruiz was denied from 12 yards by a diving Brown at 110 minutes.
New England nearly got a miraculous game-winner in the 112th minute when Winston Griffiths' shot from outside the box spun off two Galaxy players and hit the cross bar.
It was that near miss by the Revs that triggered the decisive Galaxy counter-attack. Albright gathered the ball near the center circle and sprayed a pretty ball down the right flank to Marshall, who played a quick ball in behind the Revolution defense. "I knew," said Marshall, "that Carlos would be there. Carlos is always there."
True enough, this season, Ruiz has always been there for the Galaxy, especially late in games. Sunday's goal was El Pescadito's ninth game-winner after 75 minutes this season. So, it was fitting that he was able to steer Marshall's feed into the right side of the net, that he was able to celebrate one more time.
And it was a fitting way for the Galaxy to be crowned MLS champions.
The L.A. Galaxy finally won their first MLS Cup title in their fourth attempt.