|Kansas City 1||Chicago 0|
|Did You Know?|
|Diego Gutiérrez represented Colombia's youth national teams before making a switch and registering one cap for the US senior team.|
#43. On The Doorstep (2000)
It was perhaps the single most stunning representation of an afternoon of futility that struck one of the greatest teams in MLS history.
On October 15, 2000, the high-octane Chicago Fire were not only foiled by MVP goalkeeper Tony Meola but also by a dose of misfortune and inaccuracy that was remarkable for a team that scored the most goals in the regular season (67) and steamrolled through the playoffs to the tune of 15 goals in six matches.
And when “Danish Dynamite” Miklos Molnar put Kansas City ahead on an 11th minute counterattack, few at RFK Stadium believed that it represent the only score of the game. Not with the likes of Hristo Stoitchkov, Ante Razov, Peter Nowak and Josh Wolff leading the way for Chicago. Lubos Kubik and DaMarcus Beasley came off the bench for Chicago in that game.
“We felt in 2000 we had stronger group than when we won MLS Cup in 1998,” said Philadelphia Union head of scouting Diego Gutiérrez, who started the match for the Fire on that day. “It was the best team the league has ever seen and we were stacked with talent. There were so many guys that made an impact in this league for many years. Extremely talented.”
Gutiérrez was among those long-time contributors, enjoying a 13-year career in MLS. But MLS Cup 2000 would see him involved in a play that still brings him pain to this day.
Down 1-0 at the break, the Fire came out strong in the second half. In the 54th minute, a Stoitchkov free kick caromed off the KC wall and 30 feet into the air before falling back into the penalty area. It took an unpredictable bounce right at Gutiérrez in the middle of the six-yard box and just feet away from the goal line.
“It was a strange play,” Gutiérrez recounts. “The ball had such a backspin that it went over everybody’s head and I thought Tony [Meola] was going to come out and gather it, but I saw he stayed on his line. It fell right on my lap. The ball was knee high and I took a stab at it and it hit off the crossbar.”
Seeking to roof the shot with his favored left foot, Gutiérrez instead found the woodwork.
“A lot of heartache and a lot of years after, we’re still talking about it,” Gutiérrez said. “It was painful because I knew that it would have put us back in the game and with the momentum we could have scored four or five. We knew that if we scored one goal, the floodgates would have opened up.”
Despite the fact that Chicago knocked on several occasions, the floodgates would not open. The Fire registered 22 shots compared to Kansas City’s six.
“I really think we were the best on the day. We had a ton of chances and a ton of shots,” Gutiérrez said. “You have to give KC credit that they held strong and they put a lot of numbers behind the ball. But we were the ones trying to create and attacking constantly. The ball just didn’t go in for us.”
The Fire would come back a week later and settle for the US Open Cup title as a consolation prize.
“I think I watched [MLS Cup 2000] once the day after we played,” Gutiérrez said. “I still think about it because I’d like to have two rings instead of one.”