MLS Cup Top 50: #30 Gillette Stadium (2002)
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Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: #30 Occupy Gillette

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The New England Revolution hosted the first official event at Gillette Stadium, downing Dallas 2-0 back on May 11, 2002 behind two goals from Taylor Twellman.
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#30. Occupy Gillette (2002)

Fall in Boston typically means one thing: sports fever. For a town so possessed by its sports teams, it’s a time of year when New England is often spoiled rotten by its four major franchises playing simultaneously.

The autumn of 2002 was no different. The Patriots were beginning their Super Bowl title defense, the Celtics and Bruins were in the process of kicking off promising seasons and the dust had barely dried on the Red Sox, who had come up just short in the playoff race.

The New England Revolution? A mere afterthought. They’d been left for dead after a miserable start to the season that saw head coach Fernando Clavijo fired and their roster virtually blown up at midseason. Sure, MLS Cup 2002 was set for Gillette Stadium, the sparkling new home they shared with the Patriots, but midway through the MLS season, the Revs were just looking for stability.

Then something funny happened. They became a team again. They won six of their last nine regular-season games and pulled into an inexplicable tie atop the Eastern Conference, before outslugging Chicago and Columbus in the playoffs with gritty overtime efforts.

Somehow, Steve Nicol’s improbable heroes scored their first-ever berth in MLS Cup right on their new home soil, and turned New England into Revolution-ville in the process.

What at the time was looking like a decent turnout for MLS Cup 2002 suddenly became a panic in the New England front office.

“We had about 20,000 [tickets sold] going into 10 days before the event,” recalls Revolution vice president of business development Craig Tornberg. “We were thinking it would be in the 30s by time the teams clinched. … Once we were in, all heck broke lose.”

In lightning-quick fashion, Revs Fever pushed ticket sales through the stratosphere. The game went from a mere special event to a can’t-miss milestone moment in the New England sporting landscape.

“The phones rang off the hook,” remembers Tornberg, adding that nearly every staff member started working the switchboard – and not just in the Revolution front office, but every Patriots staffer, too. “We knew we were going from what we all felt would be a good event to a potentially historic event.”

By game day, a record crowd of 61,316 made a clear statement: The Revs had stolen the spotlight in New England. “Rev, White and Blue” bumper stickers were everywhere, and the huge pro-Revs throng assembling in the Gillette Stadium stands was eager to welcome another sports championship to New England.

As the biggest crowd in MLS Cup history got settled in for kickoff, the uniqueness of the moment wasn’t lost on former Revs defender and western Massachusetts native Jay Heaps.

“When we walked out, you could feel it, it was a special moment for sure,” he remembers. “We had goosebumps running up and down.”

As bolstered as the Revolution were by the fan support, it was the exact opposite for the LA Galaxy, who had to contend with far more than the 11 players on the other side of the ball.

“We knew it’d be a crowded stadium with fans cheering for New England,” says former Galaxy icon Cobi Jones. “But I think knowing it was going to be full or close to it and actually seeing it were two different things. ... You would only see a splotch here and there of our fans or some family members.”

Recalls former Revs attacker Alex Pineda Chacón: “There were 61,000 people there, and way at the top I saw this little Honduran flag. And I said to myself, ‘If I get a chance and we win, I will run to the top and celebrate with them.’”

Unfortunately there would be no storybook ending for the home team. Carlos Ruiz scored a golden goal in overtime to give the Galaxy their first MLS Cup title, leaving most of the 61,316 in attendance in stunned silence.

But the legacy of that game is still a high point as the largest crowd ever for an MLS Cup. Whether you were a Revs fan, a Galaxy fan or a neutral, it was a raging success. Former Galaxy striker Alejandro Moreno could see the significance even then.

“The league was in a state where they had just contracted two teams, so it was a sort of uneven year for the league in terms of what the future did hold,” he remembers. “And to see the stadium packed, and to come out there and see that crowd, it said that the future was there for us."

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