Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: #17 Bull Rush
|D.C. United 3||Kansas City 2|
Zotinca (OG) 26'
|Did You Know?|
|In 2004, Kansas City's MLS Cup starting goalkeeper Bo Oshoniyi made nine starts in the regular season, with Tony Meola going the other 21 matches through August 18 of that season. Oshoniyi, who today is an assistant at Penn State, took over from there for the rest of the way.|
#17. Bull Rush (2004)
Sometimes all it takes is one goal.
That was the story for D.C. United in the 2004 MLS Cup final against the Kansas City Wizards. They found themselves down 1-0 inside of six minutes to the league’s best defensive team, the US Open Cup champions and a side that made a living by not letting you back into the game once they took the lead.
Then Alecko Eskandarian struck, and the dam burst, and seemingly everything that could go wrong for the Wizards did. In the span of seven minutes, United turned that 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead, eventually going on to win 3-2 and taking their record fourth MLS Cup title.
“The first goal, from Brian Carroll to Eskandarian, that was one of the best plays that I remember from any team I coached or played with,” said then-United head coach Peter Nowak. “They used not much space without much moving, but the whole space opened up and we had to use it in the best way. That was one of the best offensive plays I ever saw, and the finish from Alecko was tremendous. That goal changed the edge of the game, Kansas CIty knew they could not win the game 1-0. It was going to be a battle.”
It eventually did become a battle – KC went up a man and pulled a goal back in the second half, and to this day, players like Jimmy Conrad swear that if they’d had another 10 minutes, they’d have equalized – but in the wake of Eskandarian’s first-half blast, the Wizards lost their way.
“We didn’t respond well, and it felt like it was slipping away from us,” Conrad said of that day. “We’d gotten there on our defense, and when they got that first goal, I think maybe it shook us a little bit. And then when they got that second one, it really started to get away.”
While Eskandarian’s equalizer was one for the highlight reel, his second is still steeped in controversy. The Wizards still say it was a hand ball, but everyone associated with United on the day thinks ref Michael Kennedy made the right non-call.
Everyone except RSL ‘keeper Nick Rimando, who was in the net that day for D.C.
“I remember the [second] one was the hand ball by Alecko, right?” Rimando said. “And then it just got crazy from there.”
The craziness culminated in the form of an own goal off the leg of Wizards defender Alex Zotinca, capping the rally that saw United go from 1-0 down in the 19th minute to 3-1 up by the 26th. It left the Wizards stunned, and forced them into a fast-paced, high-pressure game that they weren’t used to.
“We didn’t react well to adversity and we got a bad call,” former KC coach Bob Gansler said. “That was the [second] goal – the hand ball. I think they got a little discombobulated because of it. Then our central defenders Conrad and Nick Garcia had bad things happen to them there. Nick got turned on the other goal. For a bit there, our nerves got frayed and it’s unfortunate.”
It’s telling that almost everyone who was asked remembers the “hand ball goal” coming first, when the reality is, it was Eskandarian’s second on the day. Getting the call had that much of a psychological impact on both teams.
Also having a psychological impact was the goalkeeper controversy for KC heading into that game. Gansler gave the start to Bo Oshonyi, who’d manned the nets well through the team’s second-half surge, over long-time starter Tony Meola, who’d suffered through a series of injuries that season but was in the running for selection that weekend.
“Bo stepped in and did a good job," Gansler said. "I thought it’s always good when your goalkeeper has been a part of the defense and they feel comfortable with each other. That was the determining factor.”
In the end, for whatever the reason, KC didn't do enough. United’s seven-minute onslaught ended up deciding the game, and Eskandarian carved his place in MLS Cup lore.
“It was the best team I have ever been a part of with the perfect balance of veteran leaders and hungry young players wanting to prove themselves,” Eskandarian explained recently. “I give all the credit in the world to Peter Nowak for assembling that team and having faith in me to produce. All year long I was on a mission to prove people wrong who had doubted me after my rookie season, so it was a perfect ending to a season and team I will forever cherish.”