Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: #6 Kung-Fu "Pando"
|LA Galaxy 1||N. England 0|
|Did You Know?|
|Guillermo "Pando" Ramirez is the all-time caps leader for Guatemala, having represented his country 102 times. Defender Gustavo Cabrera is next with 100 appearances, followed by former MLS star Carlos Ruiz with 92 caps.|
#6. Kung-Fu "Pando" (2006)
For all of 2005, Guatemalan goal-scoring sensation Guillermo “Pando” Ramírez had failed to live up to expectations in LA. In fact, he had been – and still is – largely considered a bust.
But all it took was one moment of greatness, a goal that was an absolute work of art, for Ramírez to find a measure of redemption and give the Galaxy their second MLS Cup trophy to date thanks to a 1-0 overtime win against the New England Revolution.
A prolific goal-scorer before coming to MLS, Ramírez was brought in on loan at the beginning of 2005 from Guatemalan side Municipal as the Galaxy’s biggest acquisition in hopes that he would reinvigorate an offense that had gone stagnant in 2004.
“We wanted players with experience at the domestic and international level,” said Steve Sampson, who was head coach of the Galaxy at the time. “Pando was the captain of the Guatemalan national team, was a prolific goal-scorer in the Guatemalan league, and was one of their key players for the national team. … We thought it was a perfect fit.”
Unfortunately for LA, the result was much the opposite.
Despite registering an MLS-high 62 shots on goal that season, Ramírez scored just one goal, a penalty kick against Colorado in the last game of the regular season. And even that tally required quite a bit of luck – something Ramírez clearly didn’t have much of that year.
“It was a situation where you start to feel bad for him,” Galaxy and MLS legend Cobi Jones said. “He was taking shots from anywhere and everywhere because he felt the pressure of expectations on him
“Pando is a great player, but he was just snake-bit and couldn’t score all year,” recalled ex-LA and current Vancouver midfielder Peter Vagenas. “I remember he had a penalty kick … and we gave it to him to break his slump. The goalkeeper went one way and he went the other way, but it hit the bar and rolled [off] the goalkeeper and across the line.
For Sampson, Ramírez’s struggles were the case of a very good player having a very unlucky year. Though the Guatemalan just couldn’t buy a goal – whether it was because opposing ‘keepers made fantastic saves or he just didn’t bury his chances – Sampson felt Ramírez’s contributions in the midfield were valuable in the team’s run to the playoffs.
But Ramírez’s lack of production caught up to him, and as the season wound down, Sampson had no choice but to remove him from the starting lineup and start others who were producing.
“He was the captain of his national team and expected to play every game, but Sampson benched him and started Ned Grabavoy toward the end of the season,” Vagenas said. “The team took off and [Pando] couldn’t find his way back on the team and Steve wasn’t about to change the starting lineup.”
For the final games of the regular season and the two playoff series against San Jose and Colorado, Sampson used Ramírez sparingly off the bench. Thus, when the MLS Cup final came around, it was no surprise to see the Guatemalan start the match on the bench. But little did Ramírez know – or anyone else, for that matter – that his role would turn out to be far grander than that of a substitute.
With the tight game tied 0-0 in the second half, Sampson decided to bring Ramírez onto the field. The coach noticed the player’s drive and competitive spirit in training leading up to the final, and felt that Ramírez would produce something magical in the match. The day before the final he got into a tussle with Paulo Nagamura at Pizza Hut Park.
“I literally had this sense the night before that Pando, for some strange reason, would do something very, very special on that day,” said Sampson. “I actually shared that with Landon Donovan and Cobi Jones and Pete Vagenas the day of the game. I told them that I thought there was a good chance that I was going to inject Pando into the game.”
“At halftime, Steve calls me and Cobi into a room and says, ‘I have a feeling. I’m going to put Pando in,’” Vagenas remembered. “There were definitely words exchanged because he hadn’t scored all year. … We told him, ‘If you get this right, you’ll be a genius. But if you get this wrong, you’re going to be a goat.’”
Sampson proved prophetic. In the 105th minute, Ramírez found a clearance from Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis, then volleyed from 18 yards out and past six defenders to score one of the greatest goals in MLS Cup history.
“I jumped off the bench and turned to my assistant, Billy McNicol, and said can you believe who just scored that goal? Can you believe who is going to win an MLS Cup Championship for the LA Galaxy?” said Sampson.
The goal stood, the Galaxy won the title, and Ramírez went from zero to hero.
“For me, that’s one of the greatest goals because it shows a player who struggled throughout the season, struggled throughout the playoffs, and then can come in and make a season-changing difference for your team,” said Jones. “He was a flash in the pan for the Galaxy. … But he had a defining moment, not just in MLS Cup history but also a defining moment for the club. When we talk about the 2005 championship, he’ll always be in the history books as the one who scored the winner.”