MLS Cup Moments

Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: #20 Honoring the Heroes

NYPD and FDNY at the 2001 MLS Cup

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

LA Galaxy 1
 
San Jose 2
 

Hernández 21'

Donovan 43', De Rosario 96'
Did You Know?
Dwayne De Rosario's 96th-minute golden goal was only the second golden goal to win an MLS Cup, and the first since Eddie Pope's winner for D.C. United in 1996. It also marked the first time in MLS history that two sides from the same Conference met in the final.
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#20. Honoring the Heroes (2001)

Perhaps no other MLS Cup in history created the emotional atmosphere that encapsulated the 2001 final between the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy in Columbus.

On a bright fall day in Ohio, the teams lined up for the final with many special guests present. Members of the FDNY and NYPD were on hand to perform the coin toss and be honored for their bravery during and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“I can remember the events of 9/11 like they were yesterday,” recalls MLS Commissioner Garber. “We all knew what we needed to do, to bring this league back to properly honor and show our gratitude to those people who were heroes and those who lost their lives.”

For the San Jose and LA players, it was an occasion of extreme mixed emotions. For many, this was the pinnacle of their career, the highest echelon possible in domestic American soccer. The fact that San Jose ran out 2-1 victors thanks to an overtime winner from Dwayne De Rosario was almost forgotten. The day brought perspective as even though the players had worked hard to reach their goal of being in the MLS Cup final, it was only a game and the people there before kickoff had lost family and close friends in the attacks.

“What happened in 2001 magnified the emotion and passion surrounding it,” says Alexi Lalas, former LA Galaxy defender who played in the final. “It also provided perspective in that it was just a game. And I was on the losing end in 2001. But if you put it up against the loses that occurred off the soccer field, you can’t even fathom it.”

Lalas’ Galaxy teammate, Sasha Victorine, said it was a moment worth holding dear — even enshrouded, as it was, in tragedy.

“Whenever you put a jersey on and you step out in front of 20,000 people and sing the national anthem, it’s something as a player that you cherish,” Victorine says. “But that time was certainly more powerful and more emotional than any other that you’ll ever have.”

It was powerful back in New York as well. The MetroStars were desperate to win the MLS Cup, to try and give their community a championship. Current Red Bulls assistant coach Mike Petke played for the MetroStars in the 2001 season and recalled how sport was a symbol of unity and healing for the City’s residents.

“Obviously being from New York and being so attached to what happened there, in my back yard, it was a depressing feeling that the fairy tale that we wanted didn’t happen,” Petke said. “We wanted to win the MLS Cup — just like the Yankees, Mets, Giants and Jets wanted to win their championships that year.”

Despite not being able to bring the Cup back to New York — Petke’s side lost to LA in the quarterfinals — the defender acknowledged the exceptional effort made by the league to honor the FDNY and NYPD. 

“It really was a wonderful thing that MLS did,” Petke said. “For an extended moment after that happened, everybody was a New Yorker around the world. All the years later now, with all the commemorations we had on 9/11, it brings it back. And really, I look and I think that MLS did a wonderful job there.”

Recently retired defender Jimmy Conrad, who was on the winning side that day for San Jose, recalls that even though he enjoyed lifting the Cup, the symbolic nature of having FDNY and NYPD present was the most important thing.

“I actually thought that having the reminder of 9/11 there, having the fire department there, having the logos on our jerseys, it kept things in perspective,” Conrad said. “It took a little bit of pressure off, so that we could go out and enjoy ourselves and remember that we’re just out there playing a kid’s game. The ramifications of the game changed because 9/11 reminded you — as it should — of what really matters and what doesn’t.”

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