Four fantastic MLS finals

Landon Donovan and Todd Dunivant of the Los Angeles Galaxy pose after winning the 2012 MLS Cup
© Getty Images

The 18th Major League Soccer season will conclude on Saturday, 7 December at Sporting Park, where hosts Sporting Kansas City take on Real Salt Lake in the 2013 MLS Cup. The one-off final – played at the home of the club with the highest regular season point total – is the annual fixture on the MLS calendar to determine USA and Canada’s best football team following a series of home-and-away play-offs against conference foes as the climax to the seasons they've both endured.

This year, Real Salt Lake made their way past LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers en route to the final, while Sporting Kansas City saw off New England Revolution and Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference semi-finals and finals, respectively. And with the MLS clubs not stepping onto the pitch until next weekend, decided to look back at four finals from the division's first 17 seasons as fans await this year’s MLS Cup.

Both of this year’s participants have featured in the final before, and both successfully hoisted the Phillip F. *Anschutz Trophy *on their maiden attempt. Kansas City also featured in the 2004 MLS Cup, but fell to a D.C. United side spurred on by Alecko Eskandarian, Ben Olsen and Freddy Adu, We begin by looking at the two successful outings by this year's competitors before moving on to two other thrilling finals that contributed to the lore of Major League Soccer's young but rich history.

15 October 2000
Kansas City Wizards 1-0 Chicago Fire

Sporting Kansas City – originally known as Kansas City Wiz in 1996 before becoming Kansas City Wizards in 1997 and then rebranding to Sporting Kansas City in 2011 – were spurred on by former USA goalkeeper Tony Meola’s ten saves and former Danish international Miklos Molnar’s 11th minute strike to best Chicago Fire, who had the league’s most potent attack that year, 1-0. Wizards, who had the league’s best defensive unit in 2000, were bested by Chicago in efforts on goal 20-6 but Meola and the rest of the midwest outfit held on to hoist the cup in front of nearly 40,000 spectators at D.C. United’s RFK Stadium. Standout players such as Preki, Mo Johnston, Chris Klein and Chris Henderson led Kansas City in their title celebrations, while Chicago failed to add a second trophy to their cabinet after capturing the MLS Cup in their inaugural campaign as one of the league's first expansion sides in 1998.

22 November 2009
Real Salt Lake 1-1 LA Galaxy
Real Salt Lake win 5-4 on penalties

Seattle’s Qwest Field (now CenturyLink Field) hosted the 2009 edition of MLS Cup in front of 46,000 fans who were thrilled in an end-to-end encounter capped off by a star-studded seven-round penalty shootout where Real Salt Lake snuck past LA Galaxy to lift the trophy. Mike Magee opened the scoring for Galaxy, but Robbie Findley equalised 25 minutes later to see normal tine end in a 1-1 draw. A scoreless additional 30-minutes sent the final into penalties for only the second time to date.

David Beckham started the penalties with a cool finish to lower corner to give Galaxy an early lead. Clint Mathis, Gregg Berhalter and Findley followed, who all scored, before former USA international Jovan Kirovski saw his effort saved by Nick Rimando. Kyle Beckerman was denied by Josh Saunders to keep the shootout notched at 2-2. Landon Donovan then fired high, and a round later former Jamaican international Andy Williams had the opportunity to seal the title for Real Salt Lake but Saunders saved again. Rimando would save Edson Buddle’s attempt and Robbie Russell buried his ensuing penalty to secure the trophy for the Salt Lake City side. Rimando earned MLS Cup most valuable player honours, only the second goalkeeper to do so, with Kansas City’s Tony Meola taking the award in 2000.

23 November 2003
San Jose Earthquakes 4-2 Chicago Fire

In the league’s highest scoring final in history, Landon Donovan led San Jose to their second title in three years in a six-goal thriller at the newly opened Home Depot Centre (now StubHub Centre). Ronnie Ekelund buried a free-kick five minutes into the match to set the pace for the high-scoring affair, and USA all-time leading scorer Donovan doubled Earthquakes’ lead seven minutes before half-time. Donovan's FIFA U-17 World Cup New Zealand 1999 team-mate DaMarcus Beasley pulled one back for Chicago just after the break, but less than a minute later Richard Mulrooney restored San Jose’s two-goal lead. Fire once again had a glimmer of hope when Chris Roner scored an own goal within three minutes of entering the match, but Donovan put the game out of reach in the 71st minute with another calm finish. While San Jose relished in their triumph, Chicago suffered their second MLS Cup loss in four years, with this match also serving as the last MLS game for USA internationals Beasley and Carlos Bocanegra before the duo headed overseas to join PSV Eindhoven and Fulham, respectively.

20 October 1996
D.C United 3-2 Los Angeles Galaxy

Probably the league’s most memorable MLS Cup was won in the midst of a storm that drenched Foxborough Stadium in suburban Boston, Massachusetts, with more than four inches of rain when Eddie Pope’s 94th-minute extra-time header sealed the inaugural season title for D.C. United. In nearly unplayable conditions at times, with winds consistently gusting from 30-50 miles per hour, Galaxy were the first to strike as Eduardo Hurtado put the Western Conference side ahead in the fifth minute on a great service from former El Salvador midfield maestro Mauricio Cienfuegos. A young Chris Armas doubled Galaxy’s lead early in the second half, but for the final 20 minutes the winds changed in United’s favour. Bolivia midfielder Marco Etcheverry whipped in a cross that found Tony Sanneh unmarked at the back post to cut Los Angeles’s lead in half. Eight minutes later, Shawn Medved capitalised on an error by Mexico goalkeeper Jorge Campos to level the score, and Pope connected on a snapping header six yards out on another service from Etcheverry four minutes into  the golden goal overtime period. The title would be the first of many for United, who claimed three MLS Cups in the league’s first four years.

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