Stories of the Year, No. 8: MLS wins in Mexico
As the Best of 2011 series continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 11 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. We'll take a look at one story per day from Dec. 21 until Dec. 31, when we unveil what our editors voted as the Story of the Year in MLS in 2011.
The countdown continues with No. 8, as managing editor Jonah Freedman looks recalls a historic moment in Mexico for FC Dallas and for MLS.
Twenty-four times, MLS teams went down to Mexico seeking victory. Twenty-four times, they failed.
Then, on a rainy midsummer night in Mexico City, FC Dallas finally broke the hex that loomed over MLS clubs since the league’s inception 16 years ago. Schellas Hyndman’s squad marched right into the belly of the beast and took down Pumas UNAM 1-0 in the opening match of Group C play in the CONCACAF Champions League.
by Brian Dunseth
The Passing of Bobby Rhine
I was making breakfast for my son, and I still think about it every time I’m doing it. I was making eggs and standing over the stove, and I got a call … and we had been laughing during that week before because he actually had a full weekend off and he was taking his wife and kids on vacation. There was just no way it could happen. I was numb.
I still find myself looking at the stove when I’m making breakfast and I always think of him, it takes me right back every day. It took me a month to talk about him on camera, because I knew I would just have lost it.
You’d be incredibly hard-pressed to find one person, a teammate or an opponent, who had a bad word to say about him. He was an incredible human being and an incredible talent who was getting better and better every time he stepped in front of the microphone. I don’t think people realize how far he came in such a short amount of time. It was a tremendous loss for soccer in this country.
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Moment of the Year on Jan. 1
The writing may have been on the wall a few days prior when Pumas head coach Guillermo Vázquez suggested he’d rest some of his regulars while looking ahead to a crucial league match with Santos Laguna the following weekend.
Sure enough, the lineup Vázquez trotted out onto the Estadio Olímpico Universitario pitch was full of baby felines: Three were teenagers and two were only 20 years old.
Still, the gatitos gave Dallas an early scare. Juan Carlos Cacho – one of the few regulars in the lineup – found himself in alone on Kevin Hartman in just the third minute. But the FCD veteran came up with a huge stop that set the tone for the rest of the match.
Dallas absorbed pressure for 20 minutes and the tide shifted even more when Cacho was forced out just before halftime with a hamstring injury. And the visitors, realizing the chance to make history was never better, started smelling blood.
They began pushing relentlessly, shifting the momentum of the game and pinning Pumas deep inside their own third for the majority of the second frame.
Soon after the hour mark, Dallas got the breakthrough they needed. Left back Jair Benítez launched an ambitious effort on goal that ricocheted off the right post to a waiting Marvin Chávez. The Honduran didn’t waste any time, chipping the ball cleanly over Pumas ‘keeper Odin Patiño for a 1-0 lead the visitors didn’t relinquish.
Chávez then proceeded to dance down the pitch in celebration with his teammates following. They had believed in themselves all week long. And when the final whistle sounded, they had made history.
All of a sudden, all those failure of the past decade-and-a-half were redeemed. The greatest mental barrier still confronting MLS sides had been broken. All those painful losses, from Colorado bowing to Club León way back in 1998, to Real Salt Lake’s gut-wrenching late loss to Cruz Azul in a typhoon in 2010 – erased from the books.
Hyndman, never one to shy away from employing a colorful analogy, summed up the moment perfectly.
“I’ll tell you that the first man who broke the four-minute mile was a man named Roger Bannister,” he said. “The next week, another six people broke the four-minute mile because they believed in it.”
Literally a week later, the Seattle Sounders went down to Monterrey and stunned the defending CONCACAF champions with a 1-0 victory of their own. Thanks to FC Dallas, the impossible dream is now possible.