|Chicago 2||D.C. United 0|
|Did You Know?|
|Zach Thornton grew up in D.C. United territory in Baltimore and attended Loyola-Maryland.|
#41. Weathering the Storm (1998)
After two years as a reserve behind Tony Meola at the MetroStars, 1998 was Zach Thornton’s turn to take a spot in the limelight.
He led the expansion Chicago Fire on the field at the Rose Bowl with 90 minutes separating him from an MLS Cup title. But he just wasn’t feeling it on the afternoon.
“At halftime, I was one of the first into the locker and remember going to Bob [Bradley] and I said, ‘I haven’t settled down,’” Thornton recalls. “I just felt uneasy. Every game you have those five to 10 minutes it takes to get into a game and take a deep breath. I hadn’t and it had been a whole half of 45 minutes which was pretty odd and I told Bob that.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.’ Then I settled down and I was able to play my game in the second half.”
For a player who hadn’t felt settled in the first half, Thornton still came up with a key early save after just four minutes that set the tone for the rest of the match. He stretched out in traffic and swatted away a Jaime Moreno header that was destined for Roy Lassiter in the six-yard box.
It was the first in a series of scoring chances that D.C. United would create on the day. Thanks to Thornton's saves, Chicago took a 2-0 lead into halftime, a scoreline which would hold up as the final.
“Zach was huge all year and those were the kind of plays he made,” said Fire defender C.J. Brown, currently an assistant coach for Real Salt Lake. “We were shell-shocked at being in the final and any play or anything we could do to help each other, we did it. We were an expansion team and we were more nervous than anybody. Me being a rookie that year, I was scared out of my mind.”
The biggest scare for Chicago came later in the first half when Thornton stoned Lassiter on a header low at the right post.
“D.C. were favorites, especially after ’96 and ‘97,” Thornton said. “Unfortunately for them, they had to play that [previous] Wednesday in the conference final. We had clinched so we had the whole week [to prepare]. They were coming off playing on Wednesday but they were still favorites. After we scored our two goals in the first half, in the second half they were coming and bringing everything.”
Nothing Thornton couldn’t handle.