MLS Cup Top 50: #11 Kevin Hartman (1999)
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Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: #11 Turf Toe

D.C. United 2 LA Galaxy 0
Moreno 19'
Olsen 45+'
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Kevin Hartman has more wins (171), more saves (1,376) and shutouts (106) than any goalkeeper in MLS history.
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#11. Turf Toe (1999)

D.C. United head coach Thomas Rongen got word from his contacts in New England that the Foxboro Stadium field surface was going to be in bad shape for MLS Cup '99 against the LA Galaxy.

He took the news so seriously that he made it a point to pick out the worst training fields possible for his club to train on in the week leading up to the final. At the old Washington Redskins training facility in Reston, Va., he opted for the choppy field used by local leagues.

“It was almost impossible to play on,” Rongen said. “But I really feel that helped us just from a psychological standpoint. You try to replicate what we we’re trying to see on game day. In New England, we trained on an intramural field that was chewed up. Based on that I really feel that most of our players learned that anything can happen and they had that belief.”

By the time game time rolled around, the Dutchman was convinced that his players were trained to look for rebounds and second balls because they knew to expect the unexpected. That’s exactly what happened in first-half stoppage time.

LA Galaxy defender Steve Jolley played the ball back to his teammate Kevin Hartman, that season’s Goalkeeper of the Year. A botched clearance later and D.C. United’s Ben Olsen found the ball at his feet for an easy chip and the goal that sealed a 2-0 win for United.

“Ben was quite far away,” Rongen said. “Most players around the world go, ‘Wow, 25 or 30 yards, I’m not going to run over there and waste energy.’ But I could see Ben’s eyes getting bigger and bigger and his run becoming stronger and he’s sensing trouble. If it’s a good field, Kevin takes a touch the ball doesn’t jump up on him. One touch and boom up the field.”

Recalled former LA defender Paul Caligiuri, “I remember thinking, 'How could a goal like this happen?' These are goals that don’t even happen in practice with Kevin Hartman, how could they happen in an MLS Cup final?”

Few remember how bad the surface was. But although it was a factor, for Hartman, it didn’t change the end result.

“I misplayed a ball with the outside of my left foot, which I obviously felt confident enough to strike,” Hartman said. “I had difficulties with the field. It got caught up in the turf and then I lose it to Ben. It was a critical moment of the game and it changed everything and really left us with our heads low.”

Said former Galaxy midfielder Cobi Jones, “That was disappointing and probably something that haunts Kevin to this day. Those are things that are game changers and if you make mistakes in a final, you can’t win.”

For years to follow, Hartman was haunted by that play, which he calls “a low point.” Because it continued to be the first thing that came to many people’s mind when they thought of Hartman. That and the fact that he was perhaps not the strongest with the ball at his feet.

Until he won his first title with the Galaxy in 2002. But even in that moment of glory, that play from MLS Cup ’99 resurfaced.

“We were fortunate enough to get back there but some guys weren’t on that team in 2002 when we won it and I had those people in my thoughts,” Hartman said.

The 37-year-old has enjoyed arguably the greatest goalkeeping career in MLS history – 15 seasons and still going strong – with numerous records that have transformed the 1999 moment into a mere footnote.

Although he believes the Olsen goal may have cost him a shot at Europe – his contract was up at the end of 1999 and he had opportunities lined up in Europe which “would have been a lot easier if things worked out differently” – he believes his ability to learn from the mistake is what has defined his career.

“It makes you psychologically stronger,” Hartman said. “A goalkeeper is really a lot of his experiences and the ability to learn from those experiences. That’s why you see goalkeepers playing well into their 30s. I think that with some of the difficulties I’ve had to overcome throughout my career, I’ve been able to do it.”

Added Rongen, “That play is potentially a career killer. We’ve seen athletes crumble after a play that costs them the championship and never recover mentally. But great players rebound. For Kevin to go on and especially last year what he did with Dallas, getting them singlehandedly to the final, I’ve got a lot of respect for guys like that.”

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