1998 Club by Club
And the former kicked off their maiden season in style, winning 11 games in a row after beginning their campaign with a 2-4 record under head coach and future US national team manager Bob Bradley. The Fusion, though less spectacularly successful, took fourth place in the Eastern Conference and won a playoff berth at the expense of the rival Tampa Bay Mutiny.
And players from across the globe continued to arrive stateside in response to the expansion. As well as allowing young American players the chance to develop in a professional environment, MLS was fast becoming a desirable destination for foreign players, including Trinidad and Tobago forward Stern John. The burly Columbus Crew striker smashed home 26 goals with 5 assists in his first ever MLS season after joining from the New Orleans Riverboat Gamblers. His 57 points took the MLS scoring title, as the all-time leader in caps and goals for the Soca Warriors burst into the limelight.
The Crew pushed reigning champion D.C. United to the brink in the Eastern Conference Finals, the clubs trading wins in the first two games of the series. But United showed their quality in Game 3, whipping Columbus 3-0 to send the Capital Club to their third consecutive MLS Cup.
The 1998 season marked the first time an award was given for compiling the best regular season record, and the newly-minted Supporters’ Shield was awarded to the LA Galaxy (and also retroactively to the Tampa Bay Mutiny for 1996 and to D.C. United for 1997).
But the expansion Fire wouldn’t be intimidated in the Western Conference Final, sweeping the Los Angeles Galaxy to reach MLS Cup in their first season in existence. But they would do one better, defeating D.C. 2-0 in the final.
Jerzy Podbrozny and Diego Gutierrez both scored before the half to deflate D.C. and give the Windy City their first taste of MLS success. Mexican keeper Jorge Campos and the Polish trio of Peter Nowak, Roman Kosecki and Podbrozny all spearheaded Chicago’s hugely successful assault on MLS. Just days later, Podbrozny and future Fire manager Frank Klopas were the heroes of Chicago’s US Open Cup triumph over the Crew, completing the double in their first season in existence.
The Men in Red were also extremely successful in the postseason awards as Bob Bradley won Coach of the Year honors, goalkeeper Zach Thornton won Goalkeeper of the Year and Czech Republic defender Lubos Kubik was named MLS Defender of the Year.
Most Valuable Player: Marco Etcheverry – D.C. United
Goalkeeper of the Year: Zach Thornton – Chicago Fire
Scoring Champion: Stern John – Columbus Crew, 57 points
Rookie of the Year: Ben Olsen – D.C. United
Defender of the Year: Lubos Kubik – Chicago Fire
Goal of the Year: Brian McBride – Columbus Crew vs. Chicago Fire – July 9, 1998
Coach of the Year: Bob Bradley – Chicago Fire