COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nearly 11 years ago, Crew Stadium hosted the MLS Cup for the first and so far only time. It took place on one of those crisp, gray October days that seem possible only in the American Midwest.
On that afternoon, the San Jose Earthquakes defeated the LA Galaxy, 2-1. The Galaxy actually took an early lead through Luis Hernandez before a teenaged Landon Donovan — sporting his then-iconic bleach-blond hair — equalized just before halftime. Then in extratime, Dwayne De Rosario put away the golden-goal winner.
I can’t tell you I remember any of the goals or the saves or the near misses. I don’t recall the formations or whether there was any colorful tifo from the supporters.
But I very clearly remember the prematch ceremony.
MLS Cup 2001 came barely six weeks after the attacks of 9/11. And so the coin toss was performed by members of the FDNY and NYPD, and a special ceremony honored the men as well as the thousands of people who lost their lives on that dark Tuesday in September. It was a hard and fitting tribute.
“We all knew what we needed to do, to bring this league back to properly honor and show our gratitude to those people who were heroes and those who lost their lives,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber recalled last year.
Tonight, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, the US national team will take on Jamaica in their first match on this fateful date since the attacks. It will be an emotional event, not only because of the must-win situation the US team finds itself in at the moment, but also because for some of the players, the events of 9/11 really hit home.
In September 2001, US star Clint Dempsey was an 18-year-old student at Furman University. He was just starting out on what would eventually be a remarkable college career that would then lead him to MLS, the World Cup, and now the English Premier League. That morning, he noticed a crowd of students circling a television at the dining hall and went to find out what was going on.
“I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he recalled on Monday. “And as the days followed, you found out more about the situation. Everybody was affected. But anytime you lose family members — and I know what that’s like — it’s a tough thing for people.”
In 1995, Dempsey’s older sister, Jennifer, then just 16, passed away from a brain aneurysm. She was a promising young tennis player, someone Dempsey looked up to, someone who is still with him. He has said he finds inspiration in her memory, something many Americans did after 9/11.
“All you can do is try to look at the positives,” he said on Monday. “Try to think everything happens for a reason. Other than that, you’ll go crazy. Us as a nation, drew strength upon each other, and that’s what we need to do in the game on Tuesday. We need to come together as a team and get the right result.”
If there was ever a day for the US national team to come together and get the right result, Tuesday, September 11, would be it.
On Monday, while attending the US national team’s final practice before Tuesday’s match, I ran into Captain Joseph Brosi of the New York City Fire Department. He is a member of the Bravest Soccer Club, the department’s soccer club. He and a couple of his colleagues were in town as guests of Jurgen Klinsmann and the federation: They were to address the US players on Monday night.
Brosi said he would discuss the significance of 9/11 to the players, many of whom were either too young to really understand or simply weren’t part of the American fabric at the time.
And as if it all needed to come full circle, Brosi reminded me that, yes, he was one of the firemen honored at the MLS Cup in 2001 (far left in image above).