Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: #1 I Am Legend
|DC United 3||LA Galaxy 2|
|Did You Know?|
|Before his illustrious MLS and US national team career, Eddie Pope wasn't a bad place-kicker, either. The North Carolina native played three years of high school football and once drilled a 48-yard field goal. He practiced briefly with the UNC football team before ultimately committing to soccer full-time.|
#1. I Am Legend (1996)
The launch of MLS back in 1996 was not without its glitches. The stadiums were generally too large, the uniforms were garish and player scouting and identification was somewhat less than a completely refined science.
Even with all the stops and starts, though, 1996 gave us some great memories. They started with Eric Wynalda’s game-winning golazo in the first-ever league game, and were capped by the very last play of the year when a soft-spoken D.C. United rookie headed his team to an epic, improbable 3-2 comeback win in extra time of the first-ever MLS Cup.
“I’m thinking, ‘I can’t believe this just happened,’” Eddie Pope recalls today of the moment that would define his club career. “I’m not kidding. I’m at the bottom of the pile, and I’m thinking, 'I cannot believe this.' Those were my exact thoughts. I remember it like it was yesterday. I hadn’t won a lot of stuff until that point, not in high school, not in college, or anything. That adds to the fact I couldn’t believe I had just won.”
Pope and D.C., of course, would go on to win almost constantly over the next three seasons. But in terms of dramatics, nothing before or since – not by D.C., not by anyone – has topped Pope’s 94th-minute Cup winner off a corner kick from Marco Etcheverry amid torrential conditions at old Foxboro Stadium.
“The truth is that I never had the chance to play in a golden-goal match,” Etcheverry explains. “After we scored, I saw everyone celebrating and euphoric and I only thought it was because we were up in the score.
"I didn’t think the game was over. That’s one of the memories I had. I thought it was our third goal but there was a lot of celebration. And I celebrated with them. But when I saw no one was getting ready to kick off again, I realized the game was over.”
It was a surreal ending to an incredible game. LA had taken a 2-0 lead through goals from Eduardo Hurtado and Chris Armas, and looked like they had the game wrapped up. But in the midst of swirling winds and rain in New England, United crafted a late comeback.
They got a 72nd-minute goal from Tony Sanneh to make it 2-1, then the equalizer nine minutes from time from sub Shawn Medved. United had been dead and buried, but now were headed to overtime. It was crushing for the Galaxy.
“I had felt — and much of my team did — that the momentum had switched,” says Armas, who went on to a legendary career with the Chicago Fire and US national team. “It just went in and, in that moment, the ball hits the back of the net and it’s done right there."
"Soccer is not about X's and O's," Armas continues. "It’s about rolling up your sleeves and getting it done. You battle and hope the clock moves fast when you get the lead.”
Says then-D.C. midfielder and current Montreal Impact head coach Jesse Marsch, “There was a period when we were warming up on the bench and we made all three subs. The bench, the coaches and everyone now is just a fan. We’re sitting there watching the game and you felt the momentum had turned, and we had got the two goals and went to OT. It was our moment and only a matter of time.
"The ball that Marco plays is perfect, and the run that Eddie makes, the timing and everything is perfect and Eddie’s there to put it in. And then it’s mayhem and euphoria at that point. Going into that game we understood how important it was to be the first champions of MLS.”
The rest, as they say, is history.