|D.C. United 3||Kansas City 2|
Zotinca (OG) 26'
|Did You Know?|
|Alecko Eskandarian is the only player to win Gatorade Player of the Year honors in high school (2000), the Hermann Trophy as the collegiate player of the year (2002) and MLS Cup MVP honors (2004).|
#32. Hand of Eski (2004)
It’s not exactly MLS’ version of Rashomon.
There’s not a lot of disagreement about Alecko Eskandarian’s second goal in D.C. United’s 3-2 win over the Kansas City Wizards in MLS Cup 2004. Anyone who saw it and didn’t have a rooting interest in D.C. shouted the same thing: "Handball!"
But the goal stood then, and it stands today. And for those who do support United or, better yet, played for or coached that side, it’s as good a goal as they’ve ever seen scored.
“I still don't think that it was [a handball], and I applaud Michael Kennedy for making the right call,” Eskandarian said recently. “I jumped up to block the clearance and the ball ended up hitting me in the back of my forearm. It was 100 percent unintentional and my eyes were even closed, so those that think it was intentional are giving me far too much credit for being cheeky.”
One of those people who felt it was a clear handball is former Kansas City defender Jimmy Conrad, whose clearance it was that Eskandarian swatted into a breakaway.
“He’s a liar,” Conrad said with an exasperated laugh when told that Eskandarian denied he’d handled the ball intentionally. “He said on Twitter, he admitted publicly that it was a handball.”
The Tweet in question – the smoking gun, as it were – came back in August when Conrad announced his retirement:
Sure, it was part of a roast, and thus by definition a joke. But Conrad’s not buying it.
“There’s no joking around," said. "He knows, and I know, that it was handball.”
Eskandarian’s coach at the time, current Union head man Peter Nowak, is still toeing the D.C. line today as well.
“I agree that the ball hit his hand, but I will disagree that Alecko did it on purpose, because his head was not facing the ball,” Nowak said. “He basically turned himself to block the ball from Jimmy Conrad, so as soon as the ball came off Jimmy’s foot, Alecko didn’t see the ball at all. So it’s not like he saw the ball and was intentional toward the ball. As soon as he turned, the ball just popped up and hit his hand.”
Asked to settle the dispute, former D.C. defender Mike Petke also came down on the side of Eskandarian.
“I don’t recall his arm being out from his body,” Petke explained, “I recall it being across his face. Now, that was many years ago and I’ve had over 1,000 head balls since then. There’s a chance my memory could be foggy. But all I know at the end is that the whistle never blew.”
Petke then caught himself and couldn’t resist a dig.
“Actually, it did blow – five seconds later when the ball was in the back of the net.”
Ouch. Coming to Conrad’s defense is Diego Gutiérrez, currently a coach with the Union and, on that day, a midfielder with KC.
“I was 15 yards away. It was a hand ball,” Gutiérrez insisted. “We brought Alecko to work with us with Union. I give him crap every day because it was a handball. The referee didn’t see it and you have to live with those calls.”
For Eskandarian, Petke and Nowak, that means living with a championship ring. But for Conrad, that means some living with questions still left unanswered.
“I just couldn’t believe that nobody saw it," he said. "It hit his hand and he went in for a breakaway, how does the referee not see that? For me, it’s on the sideline ref, and he had a pretty good angle on it but he didn’t call anything. So I don’t know if he was paying attention either. I don’t know what.”