that was in those ancient days before e-mails became so popular -- that this game was not be missed. There was no hype in that message. Kansas City surged to a 2-1 lead on goals by Mark Chung and Mo Johnston sandwiched between a Brian McBride score. But the Crew rallied for three consecutive goals by Todd Yeagley, Mike Clark and a Sean Bowers own goal during a 17-minute span in the second half. Then it was the Wizards' turn again. Preki converted a penalty kick in the 67th minute. Johnston, the former Scottish international and current MetroStars interim coach making his MLS debut, equalized three minutes later. Mike Sorber's 77th-minute goal broke a 4-4 deadlock and Preki's second goal, in the 88th minute, gave the hosts some breathing room before a crowd of 8,848 at Arrowhead Stadium.
Last man standing
In terms of drama, lead changes and incredible goals and two teams playing attacking soccer, it doesn't get much better than this. In fact, this confrontation occurred less than a month ago: the MetroStars' 5-4 triumph against the New England Revolution on Sept. 24 before 17,031 spectators at Giants Stadium. The MetroStars struck first, grabbing a 3-1 lead behind Mike Magee, Youri Djorkaeff and Amado Guevara. But the Revs, who have built a never-say-die reputation with their comebacks, rallied for a 4-3 advantage on scores by Shalrie Joseph (his second one in the 61st minute), Clint Dempsey (71st minute) and Taylor Twellman (74th minute) But the MetroStars, fighting for an Eastern Conference playoff spot, came right back. Magee equalized in the 76th minute. And the incomparable Djorkaeff, from a seemingly impossible angle on the right side, managed to beat all-star goalkeeper Matt Reis for the winner in the 86th minute.
No player has enjoyed such a remarkable individual performance than Clint Mathis, who connected for a league-record five goals in the MetroStars' 6-4 win against the Dallas Burn on Aug. 26, 2000. The funny thing about it is that the MetroStars needed every one of his goals to get past the pesky Burn that warm, humid night at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Mathis' first shot that game landed some 14 rows into the seats. His next five were right on target -- in the third, 26th, 40th, 68th and 83rd minutes. His last goal was a penalty kick, which Adolfo Valencia usually took. Team captain Tab Ramos, sensing history could be made, asked the Colombian international if Mathis could take the attempt. He did, slotting his attempt past goalkeeper Matt Jordan. To put that amazing night and this season into perspective, Mathis has three goals and four assists in 26 games as expansion Real Salt Lake prepares for its season finale.
Winning one for the league
OK, it wasn't a true MLS-v-MLS match and it certainly did not get the national publicity it deserved at the time. But this game went a long way in establishing the reputation of a three-year-old league in 1998. D.C. United defeated South American champiom Vasco da Gama to capture the Interamerican Cup 2-1 on aggregate goals at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Dec. 5. In the Nov. 14 home leg before 26,313 at RFK Stadium, United dropped a 1-0 decision to the Brazilian side. But D.C. rebounded with a 2-0 triumph several weeks later in front of an estimated crowd of 7,000. Tony Sanneh equalized in the half and 1996 MLS Cup hero Eddie Pope connected for the winner in the 77th minute in coach Bruce Arena's final match in charge of United before taking on the reins of the U.S. national team.
I'm cheating. I'm actually using two games in this particular memory. Take your pick: Which game about Freddy Adu do you remember the most? Is it his professional debut as a 14-year-old for United on April 3, 2004? Or perhaps it was his first pro goal against the MetroStars on April 17? Few games rarely had the buzz that Freddy produced last season. Adu stepped onto the field the very first time before 24,603 at RFK Stadium, replacing Alecko Eskandarian in the 61st minute. Eskandarian scored in the 39th minute to give D.C. a 2-1 lead that turned into the final score. Adu scored his first goal two weeks later at Giants Stadium, coming on as a 54th-minute substitute. It wasn't a pretty one -- he slipped a Joshua Gros feed from six yards past goalkeeper Jonny Walker in the 75th minute. But they all count the same. Does anyone remember that the MetroStars won 3-2 on a pair of Fabian Taylor goals? That will make a great trivia question someday, if it isn't today.
It ain't over 'til it's over
United and the Fire can attest to that. On April 8, 2000 and in front of a national TV audience, defending champion D.C. entered stoppage time trailing Chicago 2-1 on goals by Hristo Stoitchkov (46th minute) and Jesse Marsch (85th minute). But Jaime Moreno and Ben Olsen connected in the 92nd and 93rd minutes, respectively, to stun the visitors in a 3-2 triumph. The Fire went on to MLS Cup that season. No one knew that United would wind up out of the playoffs that season. But it was one whale of a comeback.
A magical afternoon
Few soccer events or games in this country have generated magic on the field and electricity in the stands. On one incredibly hot and sunny Sunday afternoon nine years ago -- July 14, 1996 -- that magic and electricity was back at Giants Stadium, which played host to not one, but two memorable matches: the very first MLS All-Star Game and the FIFA World All-Star Game. A then sports-record crowd of 78,516 -- the highest since Pope John Paul II attracted 82,498 for a mass on Oct. 5, 1995 -- jammed the stadium to watch a delightful display and doubleheader of how the game should be played: end-to-end attacking soccer and not a professional foul, yellow card or red card in sight. Carlos Valderrama was named all-star MVP for setting up two goals, including Steve Pittman's 87th-minute game-winner in the Eastern Conference's 3-2 victory against its Western counterparts. The nightcap also lived up to its hype as the Brazilian Olympic team prevailed over the World all-stars, 2-1, on a Roberto Carlos goal in the 79th minute. Bebeto, a 1994 World Cup hero, connected first for Brazil. Jurgen Klinsmann, the current German national coach, equalized in the 69th minute.
Packing the house
A unique international-club doubleheader was held at the Rose Bowl on June 16, 1996, drawing an MLS-record crowd of 92,216. In the opener, the U.S. played Mexico to a 2-2 draw. In the second match, the Los Angeles Galaxy survived a 3-2 shootout victory against the Tampa Bay Mutiny in the first battle of division leaders. Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos performed in both matches, mostly in goal, although he was a forward for the final 17 minutes of the nightcap as backup David Kramer became the shootout star.
A stadium of their own
It doesn't matter who won and what the final score was. MLS finally had a stadium it could call its own on May 15, 1999, when the Columbus Crew inaugurated Columbus Crew Stadium before a crowd of 24,471. In case you were wondering, Jeff Cunningham, now with the Colorado Rapids, scored one goal and set up another, by Stern John, in a 2-0 victory against the New England Revolution. The Crew was forced to play its opening seven matches on the road as its new home was being completed. The stadium heralded in a new era for the league. Since then, the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., (Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA) and the Pizza Hut Park (FC Dallas) have opened with a stadium in Bridgewater, Ill., (Chicago Fire) slated to open next season and another one in Commerce, Colo., (Colorado Rapids) set for an April 21, 2007 kickoff. The MetroStars also expect to open their new stadium in Harrison, N.J., in 2007.
The first steps
Some skeptics said that it couldn't be done -- a professional soccer league in the U.S. But on the very first game in MLS history -- April 6, 1996 -- a crowd of 31,683 packed Spartan Stadium to see what this was all about. By the time referee Esse Baharmast blew the final whistle, the San Jose Clash (now the Earthquakes) had secured a 1-0 victory. Eric Wynalda, who has scored more international goals (34) than any other U.S. player, curled in the game-winner from the left side in the 88th minute (off a Ben Iroha pass) to make sure critics wouldn't moan about a scoreless tie (well, they did have shootouts back in those days, so someone would have won 1-0). A number of MLS observers felt that these two teams were favorites to meet in the very first MLS Cup in Foxborough, Mass., that October. They were half right -- United made it, overcoming a late 2-0 deficit to defeat the Los Angeles Galaxy 3-2 in extra time. But that's fodder for another column.
Michael Lewis writes about soccer for the New York Daily News and is editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has covered MLS since its inception. He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com. Lewis will only answer e-mails and letters that have names or are signed. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.