Change a theme for MetroStars in '05

The MetroStars opened their 2005 season with a scoreless draw against expansion side Real Salt Lake in monsoon-like conditions at Giants Stadium.

And the Metros' season would be about as turbulent and unpredictable as the weather that April night.

The club would bring in a new president and general manager in Alexi Lalas, see Bob Bradley's three-year reign as head coach come to an end after an embarrassing loss to rival D.C. United and then see Mo Johnston promoted from assistant to interim coach and lead the Metros to a dramatic playoff run.

Even the playoffs were a roller coaster ride, which saw the MetroStars play their best game of the year in a 1-0 victory over New England in the first leg then crashing out of the playoffs in New England the following week.

A day after being booted out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by USL First Division side Rochester, Aug. 3, the club formally announced plans for a new soccer-specific home in Harrison, N.J., which is slated to be opened June, 2007.

"I think it's going to be the best stadium we have," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said of the proposed 29,000-seater. "And that will be replaced by the next one after that. This is going to be a world class stadium. This is a world class market."

But while there were peaks and valleys, Johnston, who lost the interim tag last month, didn't view 2004 as positive.

"It wasn't a success because we haven't won anything," he said. "It's all about winning and we came up short vs. New England. For me, we need to compete and build a team that can go to the next level."

With an emphasis on bringing in veteran leadership, the Metros traded for five-time MLS Cup champion Jeff Agoos, brought in World Cup champion Youri Djorkaeff, traded for striker Ante Razov and brought back goalkeeper Tony Meola to his home state.

The move for Djorkaeff was met with skepticism in the press, there was a belief that the 37-year-old would be just another aging international player looking for an easy retirement.

"I have nothing to prove in 21 years of a career," Djorkaeff said. "I just enjoy the moment, I just enjoy my football. I understood when I came here people said, 'yeah, another player' because it was a bad experience the MetroStars the last couple of big names. I was not really under pressure like this."

But instead -- after shaking off an early injury -- Djorkaeff was the MetroStars' best player, he provided leadership on and off the field, taking over for Amado Guevera. When Guevera sat out because of a red-card suspension in August, Djorkaeff wore the captain's armband the following game and the final 11 contests as well.

"He doesn't need the money, he just loves the game, he loves to compete and it just shows," Mike Magee said of Djorkaeff. "Now that he's healthy, he's contributing so much to the team that it's helping me out a lot too. He's just a freak of nature."

Meola's second stint with the Metros was also criticized by some in the media who believed the former U.S. national team 'keeper had little left after a storied nine-year MLS career and after having been out of the sport for nine months following his unceremonious departure from Kansas City.

Meola made his return to MLS and the MetroStars in a 1-0 loss at Columbus July 20. He would start the rest of the way for the Metros and was brilliant during the club's march to the playoffs. A stunning 12-save effort on the final day of the regular season sparked the Metros to a 2-0 win at Chivas USA and into the playoffs.

But for the rest of the Metros, it was a season of inconsistency. And that proved itself nearly every week. It was as if it was part of a script: the Metros would struggle throughout the game, trail in the waning moments and find a spectacular way to win or tie in the dying seconds.

It happened against Chicago May 31 when Guevara's bending strike deep into second-half stoppage time gave the Metros their first win of the season at Giants Stadium.

It happened against Chivas USA Aug. 21 when Guevera again provided the heroics, scoring the stunning equalizer in second-half stoppage time capped a hat trick in a wild 3-3 draw.

And it happened against New England Sept. 17 when Djorkaeff essentially saved the Metros' season with a remarkable winner four minutes from full time in a wild 5-4 win over the Revs. He caught Matt Reis leaning to his right and slipping the ball inside the near post from the extreme right.

But too often, the Metros frustratingly missed critical points, blowing late leads in a 4-2 loss at New England June 25, in a 2-2 tie at Real Salt Lake on July 4 and a 2-2 tie at Chicago in Johnston's debut Oct. 5 and losing 1-0 at Columbus in the final seconds July 20.

The most glaring example, though, would come in the playoffs when the Metros took a 1-0 lead on aggregate into Foxborough, Mass., and would go ahead 2-0 on a Djorkaeff strike in the 59th minute to put the Metros 31 minutes away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Championship.

But the Revs scored three goals in the final 22 minutes to dramatically end the Metros season. The Revs would go on and compete for the MLS Cup while Johnston was left to prepare for next season.

"We need to find guys who can compete in very, very big games," Johnston said. "In New England, we came up short. That's why I'm [going to scout talent] in Europe. I'm looking for players who can compete on the next level."

Dylan Butler is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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