Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: #2 King Fish
|LA Galaxy 1||Revolution 0|
|Did You Know?|
Carlos Ruiz had a magical 2002 debut season in MLS, capturing the Golden Boot (24 goals) and MVP honors in addition to the game-winning goal at MLS Cup. Ruiz currently stands second all-time in post-season goals (16) behind only LA's Landon Donovan (19).
#2. King Fish (2002)
In the morning before the 2002 MLS Cup final, there was a miracle: sunshine. It was bright and clear, and the soggy October foliage colorized the New England landscape in washed-out oranges and yellows.
That, along with the hometown club’s first final appearance, brought fans to Foxboro in droves to see if the upstart Revolution, who had gone on a late-season streak just to get into the playoffs, could best the dominant LA Galaxy. More than 61,000 people filled Gillette Stadium to the upper reaches and they were ready to be entertained.
Boy, were they. Despite being 0-0 at the end of regulation, the match was an instant classic, as the Galaxy pipped the Revs through Carlos Ruiz’s golden goal in the 113th minute. It was the Galaxy’s first MLS Cup victory following three previous losses in the final.
Up until that point, the sides had played an intriguing chess match, both looking for that one opening for their respective aces: New England’s Taylor Twellman and LA’s Ruiz. The duo had battled all season for the Golden Boot, and Ruiz finally took the honors with 24, one more than his Revolution counterpart. The final was positioned as the final showdown between two gunslingers.
A 23-year-old nicknamed "El Pescadito" (the Little Fish), Ruiz was a classic poacher. He seemed capable of scoring from any angle and in every manner possible, and he notched a league-high nine game-winners that season.
“Whenever you play the game of soccer, you want to know that you have that one guy who, if you give him one opportunity, he can bury it,” former Galaxy midfielder Sasha Victorine recalls. “And we knew all along that we just needed that opportunity to come.”
For the first 90 minutes of the Cup final, though, that opportunity didn’t come. Despite a back-and-forth tussle, there were few clear-cut chances conceded by either defense.
By the time the sudden-death extratime started, the tension had ratcheted up. And the Galaxy, the runaway league leaders in the regular season, were feeling the pressure.
“As good as things were going, we needed that final piece,” former LA midfielder Peter Vagenas says. “It had always been, ‘LA, LA, LA,’ but we had no MLS Cup to show for it. We won CONCACAF and Open Cups, but couldn’t get the big one.”
And in the 112th minute, it looked like they wouldn’t get it again. Revolution sub Winston Griffiths, who played sparingly all season, struck a long shot that deflected up and over LA keeper Kevin Hartman. It looked destined to be the most unlikely of winners. But instead it clanged off the crossbar.
The crowd was stunned. The Revolution were stunned. About the only people not stunned were the Galaxy, who eventually got hold of the loose ball and took off on a counterattack led by a defender of all people, Tyrone Marshall.
“I made the overlapping run,” Marshall remembers. “I could see so much daylight in front of me, and the adrenaline was pumping fast. That was the fastest I ran in my life and Chris [Albright] played the ball down the channel.”
The Revolution players, many of whom were caught up in the attack, recognized the situation for what it was: trouble.
“I knew we were in trouble when they broke out as quick as they did,” recalls former Revs defender Jay Heaps. “I could see [Ruiz] on the whole run; he was setting himself across the whole run to be in the right spot. I had a very awful pit in my stomach as I tried to get back.”
Heaps’ efforts were to no avail. Marshall slotted the ball across to Ruiz, who collected it with only goalkeeper Adin Brown between him and the winning goal. Ruiz had not had a good game, but he could redeem himself in this one moment.
But there was a problem.
“You work all game for that moment, and you find that one moment where it comes to Carlos, and you know in front of the goal that he’s lights-out — especially that year — and it comes to his left foot,” Victorine recalls. “If you know Carlos Ruiz at all, you certainly don’t want to put it on his left foot because he’s a great goalscorer with his right foot and with his head, but his left foot? Not so much.”
But on this day, in this moment, it didn’t matter. Even with his left foot, he was perfect.
“It seemed to be that the worse Carlos played or the worse luck he had, he would always pull something out,” says ex-LA centerback Danny Califf. “That’s the kind of season he was having. We had faith that one of those chances would fall for him — and it did.”
Finally, the Galaxy, losers of three MLS Cup finals, including a heartbreaker in 2001 to their bitter California rivals, the San Jose Earthquakes, had the trophy they coveted above all others. And the celebration began immediately.
“I was just thinking, ‘I’ve gotta get over these stupid sign boards and onto the field. I’ve gotta join in on the celebration,’” recalls then-Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid. “It was like when you cook something in a pressure cooker, and you finally get to open it and steam comes out. That was an accumulation of four years of frustration and feeling the relief of, ‘We’ve finally done it.’”
WATCH: #2 - King Fish (2002)