While D.C. United have lifted the Alan I. Rothenberg trophy three times -- more than any other team in MLS history -- the Kansas City Wizards have reached the Cup final only once before, in 2000.
That year, coach Bob Gansler marshaled a stingy defense that worked in concert with the red-hot goalkeeping of MLS Cup MVP Tony Meola to allow only 0.55 goals per game in the playoffs, culminating with a hard-fought 1-0 victory against the Chicago Fire in the final at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
Brandon Prideaux was the left back for that side, an extremely dependable player who missed only one start all year and went 90 minutes in the final, helping shut down the Peter Nowak-led Fire attack.
Now Prideaux wears the black-and-red of D.C. United and takes his orders from Nowak, who has led United to MLS Cup in his first year as a head coach. Over the years, Prideaux has evolved from a speedy youngster into a more seasoned veteran who typically comes in off the bench to help protect a lead or shut down an opposing attacker.
He's the only United player to have donned a Wizards jersey, and this championship meeting with his former club has inspired some introspection.
"I knew I was going to get that question from somebody," Prideaux said. "You know, it's kind of cool. It's funny because it was three years ago that I was traded, so I've kind of moved on and moved past the whole rivalry stage.
"When you first get traded, that next year, even the second year, you want to get back at the team, you want to play extra hard against them. There's only four or five guys left over from when I was there, but it will be neat to play against them and Bob Gansler."
Despite his initial frustration at being traded away from KC, the University of Washington product holds only admiration for his former mates, as well as for Gansler, one of the USA's most experienced coaches.
"I've got a lot of respect for them," he said. "They're a good team and coached the way I would expect them to be. Bob's a great coach. (Trading me) was a business decision; I've never held anything against Gansler. I respect him a lot -- as a young player I learned tons from him. He's a great guy and I hold no ill will against him at all."
Nagged by injuries in the early going, Prideaux started 16 matches for United this year. But with stiff competition for spots in DC's three-man back line, he struggled to break into the first 11 late in the season, and as the team found its stride in September, Nowak chose not to mess with success.
"It's been a difficult year for me personally," he said. "At the beginning of the year I had a couple of injuries, and that happens. But in the second half of the season, I feel like I've played well. It's just that the team started playing well and I can't argue with the success that we've had. It's just the way it goes sometimes. When a team does well when you're out of the lineup, you're not going to get back in the lineup."
An experienced veteran and model citizen both on and off the field, Prideaux has been rumored to be an enticing possibility for MLS expansion side Real Salt Lake, who will participate in Friday's expansion draft along with Los Angeles' CD Chivas USA. A consummate team player, Prideaux turned aside talk about a move.
"We've got a big game tomorrow," he said, "and we're all trying not to think about that. We know it's next week, but we're just trying to focus on this next one, the most important game. My wife and I live in Arlington (Virginia) and we really like the area. It's always a difficult thing, moving. We went through it once, moving from Kansas City -- it's tough. You never want to move. I'm happy with where I'm at."
But Prideaux clearly wants to be back in the starting 11, regardless of his location.
"I want to be out on the field every minute, you know," he said. "I've had to swallow my pride a little bit and be a good, supportive team guy, and I think I've done that. It's a difficult thing when you're used to playing all the time and then you don't."
Prideaux has adapted well to his new role as a second-half substitute, however. During last week's Eastern Conference final he came on in the 81st minute for Earnie Stewart and helped contain New England winger Steve Ralston, who had run rampant along D.C.'s left flank all game.
"It's great to step on the field," says Prideaux. "All I want to do is play, whether it's coming off the bench or starting. It's been great to go forward a little bit more at times (as a midfielder). I look forward to all that. You've got to prepare a little bit differently when you come off the bench -- it's tough to get going right away when you're cold. It's been a challenge, but it's been a good challenge, something that I've definitely learned from, and I think I'm better for it."
Prideaux, like the rest of his teammates, is looking forward to Sunday's match, and his postseason experience is a valuable calming influence on this young D.C. side.
"There's so much hoopla," he says, "with all you reporters and the big crowd and stuff, but it is just another game, you know? The guys have to not let the nerves get to them, and just go out and play the way we've been playing. We've been doing so well the last 10 games or so, so we just have to continue the way we're playing."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.