|Chicago 2||D.C. United 0|
|Did You Know?|
|Today Roy Lassiter serves as the Advancement Director at Albion Soccer Club in San Diego. He's held the position for the last eight years.|
#27. When It Rains, It Pours (1998)
It was the final that was never meant to be for D.C. United.
From controversial referee decisions to poor execution and a series of great saves by Chicago Fire goalkeeper Zach Thornton, the bounces were just not going the way of the two-time defending champions. But what occurred on the field – the final resulted in a 2-0 loss for D.C. – was just the culmination of a series of events gone wrong.
There was the cross-country trip from Washington, D.C.. the Thursday before that Sunday MLS Cup final, while Chicago enjoyed five extra days of rest. But the nightmare was only beginning for United.
There was the team bus getting stuck under a bridge in LA. Not to forget what happened to star forward Jaime Moreno, who was taking strong medication for shin splints in ’98 and popped a couple on an empty stomach. He wound up passing out and heading for a night at the hospital in an ambulance.
“In 1998, a lot of things happened to us that a lot of people didn’t know about,” Moreno said. “We never said anything because we didn’t want excuses.”
There was also the news of forward Roy Lassiter’s child experiencing a 104-degree fever just an hour before the match.
“It definitely affected him,” Moreno said.
And so when Lassiter’s second-half header inside the six-yard box was thwarted by Thornton at the left post, the forward took the ball and hurled it against the woodwork in anger. The thud of frustration was audible to the viewers at home.
“Man, I was so upset,” Lassiter recalled. “I was thinking I clearly had him beat. I timed my jump perfectly and already envisioned it in the back of the net and he got it.”
It was one of six shots on the afternoon for Lassiter, three which were stopped by Thornton, who was elected the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 1998.
“I didn’t want to let the moment slip by because my teammates depended on me to score goals and that’s what I was there to do at D.C.,” Lassiter said. “When that didn’t happen, I was tremendously frustrated. They needed me to get it done and get us back in the game and I was thinking that would have done it. But it was a fantastic save on Thornton’s part and it was unfortunate for me.”
“You could see the frustration coming out with Roy,” said then D.C. defender Eddie Pope. “He was right there and Zach made an unbelievable save. [Thornton] was incredible that day. He got them that championship. Roy hitting the post after that – that summed it all up. The frustration we all were feeling. ... It got to be all too mental for us.”
Chicago’s Thornton may have “got them” the championship on that day, but it didn’t come without some adversity of his own.
“I was nervous because I was having trouble all week saving things to my left,” Thornton said. “I don’t know what it was. That day it worked out. Roy jumped up and headed it to my left. I do remember vividly two days leading up to final having trouble saving things to my left. I was not sure if it was mechanical or mental and I was concerned about that.”
But his teammates were not preoccupied in the least. Current Montreal Impact coach and former Fire midfielder Jesse Marsch also credits Bob Bradley’s game plan at the time based on how familiar he was with United from his years as an assistant manager. But when a ‘keeper makes eight saves in a single game, he’s bound to earn a more than a few plaudits.
“That moment specifically came in the middle of a period in which we were on our heels,” Marsch said of Lassiter's header. “The thing that made us good is how we defended as a group and how we dealt with tough moments. It didn’t faze us. And in moments we broke down, we knew we could count on Zach.”
“Zach is an absolute beast,” Lassiter said. “It was all clicking for them, no matter what we did.”
Fate works in mysterious ways like that sometimes.