October 29, 2012
BIRTH OF A RIVALRY
3 bitterly contested games between the MetroStars, United in the 1996 playoffs
By Michael Lewis
In previous 16 years of the MLS playoffs, the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United have met only three times in the playoffs -- in the opening round of the inaugural season in 1996 and in the 2004 and 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals.
In 1996, United prevailed over the Red Bulls, then called the MetroStars, in a bitterly contested best-of-three series, 2-1. In 2004, United captured the total goals series, 4-0. In 2006, D.C. also prevailed in the aggregate goals series, 2-1.
"I just remember they were great playoff games, great crowds, very good players, players we probably don't have the equal to in the league today," said former Red Bulls coach Bruce Arena, who was the coach of United in 1966.
"Down the road I think it was a very good series. I remember [Carlos] Queiroz [the MetroStars coach] telling me that after we won the series," Arena said several years ago ."He said this game was like any game played in Europe, from the competitive aspect, the emotions in the stand, all of that stuff. That was a real plus for the first year of the league to have something like that."
With the Red Bulls and United ready to go at it again iin an aggregate goals series on Saturday, here's a look at the 1996 meeting.
Take a look at all the legendary players that participated for both sides.
MetroStars 3, United 2, shootout (Sept. 24)
Not surprisingly, a controversy, a close game and a marathon shootout punctuated the first encounter on the artificial turf in front of 14,416 rain-drenched spectators on a rare Tuesday night game at Giants Stadium.
Raul Diaz Arce lifted the visitors into the lead in the 24th minute, taking advantage of a rare Tony Meola error. Meola, only two years out of the 1994 World Cup, charged some 30 yards out of the net for the ball, only to see it bounce off his foot to Diaz Arce. The El Salvadoran striker lobbed a 38-yard shot into the unattended goal as Peter Vermes tried in vain to clear the ball off the goal line.
But Antony De Avila, off a Roberto Donadoni feed, knotted things up 14 minutes later. The Colombian international took the pass with his back to the net, beat a United defender and then goalkeeper Mark Simpson from six yards.
But D.C. regained the lead in the 56th minute on a Jaime Moreno goal. John Harkes sent a short corner kick to Diaz Arce, who sent the ball to Marco Etcheverry at the far post. Etcheverry found Moreno, who headed it past Meola.
But only a minute after he replaced defender Rhett Hardy in the 74th minute, Giovanni Savarese equalized at 2-2.
Then came the shootout, which decided tied games at the time.
The Metros prevailed in an 11-round shootout, 6-5, but it was not without controversy.
Jeff Agoos, Etcheverry, Moreno, Tony Sanneh and Mario Gori and connected on their attempts. Diaz Arce, Harkes and Richie Williams had theirs saved. Clint Peay and Pope shot wide left and goalkeeper Jeff Causey, who replaced Simpson as the shootout specialist after regulation, wide right.
For the Metros, De Avila, Roberto Donadoni (he needed to score off a penalty after Causey took him down in the box), Miles Joseph, Matt Knowles and Savarese converted their tries. Tab Ramos, Damian Silvera, Jeff Zaun and Rob Johnson had theirs saved. Meola, who converted penalties for Kearny High School., placed his attempt wide left.
That brought up Vermes, who played with a bruised shin since the 30th minute. He converted the game-winner, beating a sliding Causey to the lower left corner, although United claimed to referee Esse Baharmast (he would officiate the Brazil-Norway first-round World Cup match in 1998) that he shot out of order.
Arena and United general manager Kevin Payne protested the match, claiming it was in breach of MLS shootout rules. Commissioner Doug Logan and deputy commissioner Sunil Gulati, who were at the game, upheld the result.
"I remember the game here," Arena said. "It was a complete fiasco in terms of the shootout.
"It was a classic, a complete mess. You think about it, there is at least one progress in the league that you're not losing playoff games on shootouts. All those rules and they didn't even get them right.
"Those were the exact rules. We were just following the rules. In those days, every rule in the league in every area was broken. It was finding a way to accommodate everyone regardless of the rules."
United 1, MetroStars 0 (Sept. 27)
United dominated from the opening kickoff, but could not solve the MetroStars until the 72nd minute in front of 21,422 spectators at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Etcheverry dribbled past Knowles and fired a right-footed shot past Meola.
Etcheverry and Harkes were forced from the game with injuries in the 80th and 84th minutes, respectively.
The Metros came close to scoring when Ramos' shot hit the right post.
Not surprisingly, tempers flared as the MetroStars pressed for the equalizer. Moreno took a swing at Metros defender Nicola Caricola and the United forward was red carded by referee Paul Tamberino (considered one of the best MLS game officials) and was suspended from Game 3.
United 2, MetroStars 1 (Oct. 2)
Super-sub forward Steve Rammel, who replaced Moreno in the lineup, gave United the lead in the 65th minute before a crowd of 20,423 at RFK.
Williams fired a shot that ricocheted off Diaz Arce and saved by Joseph off the goal line. Rammel put home the rebound for a 1-0 advantage.
The Metros experienced a frustrating match, hitting the woodwork twice -- Savarese's shot that bounded off the crossbar and Donadoni's 35-yard free kick that rattled off the crossbar.
De Avila finally equalized in the 86th minute, converting a curving through ball from Donadoni past defender Clint Peay.
The match seemed destined to be heading for another shootout when second-half sub Rob Johnson fouled Etcheverry in the penalty area in the 89th minute. Diaz Arce, who had converted four penalties during the regular season, fired his attempt into the lower left corner as Meola dived in the other direction.
"Marco was taken down in the box," said Eddie Pope, a former Metros defender who was a rookie on that United side. "His presence was always dangerous. It was really one of those situations that he was going to be taken down or we were going to possibly score. I looked at that one of the two things was going to happen. It was just a matter of making the penalty kick."
Since the clock was kept in the press box and not on the field by the referee, there was no stoppage time to be added one in those days.
A minute later, referee Brian Hall whistled the game over and United moved on as hundreds of fans swarmed the field.
All seven matches between the teams in 1996 were decided by a goal and U.S. international to-be Sanneh came on as a sub in each of the three playoff encounters.
One last thing -- after sweeping the Tampa Bay Mutiny in two straight in the conference finals, United went on to meet the LA Galaxy in the very first MLS Cup during a torrential downpour in Foxboro, Mass. D.C. overcame a 2-0 deficit late in regulation to win in extratime on Pope's header off an Etcheverry corner kick in what is still considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, MLS Cup final.