At the beginning of the 2004 MLS season, D.C. United forward Alecko Eskandarian was fighting for playing time with then-14-year-old rookie Freddy Adu. Now he's the Honda MVP of MLS Cup 2004.
Eskandarian scored twice in United's 3-2 win against the Kansas City Wizards Sunday and helped force the own goal that sent United to its MLS-record fourth title. The Montvale, N.J. native and former University of Virginia star became just the second player to score twice in an MLS Cup match after San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Landon Donovan, who was named the title game's MVP a year ago after scoring twice in the Quakes' 4-2 win against the Chicago Fire.
Last year and early this season, it might have been difficult to envision Eskandarian playing such a large role in the MLS crown jewel. A year ago, the striker barely saw the field under former United coach Ray Hudson, and despite showing some promise early in the 2004 campaign, Eskandarian was substituted for teen phenom Adu in each of the first three games of the year, and then in several matches thereafter the second-year player was relegated to the substitutes bench.
Ironically, Adu replaced Eskandarian in the 65th minute of Sunday's match after Eskandarian picked up an injury.
While Eskandarian said he cherishes the MLS Cup trophy most, he smiled wide when talking about being named the MVP speaking of the award as the culmination of a long, hard battle.
"It's pretty sweet to go to everybody that was doubting me or hating on me, to just show them that trophy and just be like, 'Shut up. I did it,'" Eskandarian said.
Eskandarian opened his account in the 19th minute, taking a pass from Carroll at the top of the penalty area and powering past Wizards defender Nick Garcia on the turn before burying a left-footed shot. He got on the score sheet again just five minutes later, pouncing on a defensive mistake by Jimmy Conrad and easily slotting home past Wizards 'keeper Bo Oshoniyi to set the mark for fastest double in an MLS title match.
On the game-winning goal, Eskandarian helped force Alex Zotinca into planting the ball in his own net by racing the Wizards defender to Earnie Stewart's cross.
Both of Eskandarian's goals required hard work from him, and United head coach Peter Nowak said the 22-year-old has worked for everything he's gotten this year, understanding his role on the team and pushing to make his mark.
"It wasn't easy," Nowak said. "It doesn't matter if you play five, 10, 20, 45, 90 minutes, 120 minutes. You have to make a difference on the field.
"Alecko has proved it to us, to all of us. He plays with the right mentality, the right attitude, and he can be very dangerous."
Kansas City Wizards head coach Bob Gansler tipped his cap to Eskandarian, saying, "He's a heck of a striker. That's what he does -- he smacks the ball at goal, and you've got to applaud that."
Eskandarian gave a lot of credit to his teammates, referring to them as his "brothers" and saying he's sad that this particular group of players won't play on the same field together again.
"The group of guys that we have on this team, I can't say enough about," he said. "Best team I've ever been on in my life ... a group of guys that are class acts."