FOXBORO, Mass. -- The weather -- a rainstorm and temperatures in the low 50s -- was atrocious. The television competition -- the NFL -- was stiff.
But the soccer was nothing short of thrilling.
Eddie Pope redirected a corner kick with his head four minutes into sudden-death overtime yesterday to give D.C. United an improbable 3-2, come-from-behind victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS Cup '96 at Foxboro Stadium.
"If we wanted an exclamation point on our first season," Major League Soccer commissioner Doug Logan said, "we couldn't have asked for a better one."
The MLS did want an exclamation point to its first season. Others had tried professional soccer in the United States before, with mixed results. But the result had always been that soccer didn't have the legs to go the distance.
Yesterday, it had the left leg of Marco Etcheverry, the captain and midfielder for D.C. United. After his team spotted the Galaxy a 2-0 lead and just 17 minutes remained in regulation, Etcheverry brought his team back from defeat. Although he was credited with just two assists, he set up all three D.C. goals with perfectly targeted kicks.
The first two goals came on free kick restarts, the winner on a corner kick. Foxboro Stadium's 34,643 fans, who had endured the elements for more than an hour and a half, applauded wildly when Pope's shot beat goalie Jorge Campos. Many of the fans even stayed long after it was over, waiting for D.C. players to reappear from their locker room.
"It felt like home-field advantage for us," United coach Bruce Arena said.
Despite working in a city famous for broken promises, Etcheverry made good on his preseason pledge to D.C. fans that he and his teammates would deliver a championship to Washington in the MLS' first year.
"I made a promise to win a championship and learn English. Well, we won a championship," Etcheverry said in Spanish, through a translator.
That looked like an empty vow early yesterday. Los Angeles took a 1-0 lead in the game's fifth minute when forward Eduardo Hurtado headed a crossing pass from Mauricio Cienfuegos past D.C. goalie Mark Simpson.
The Galaxy made it a seemingly commanding 2-0 lead in the second half when Chris Armas split two defenders and scored from 14 yards out in the 56th minute.
"They adapted to the conditions better than we did," Arena said of the puddle-covered field. "They just wanted to keep the ball in our end and we were trying to play soccer."
A difficult task yesterday. Turnovers were frequent as players slipped attempting to make quick cuts and constantly overran passes when the ball died in deep water. "Late in the game we just told the guys to try and get the ball to the net," Arena said.
Which is what Etcheverry did. After leading the league in assists this season, with 19, he went looking for teammates yesterday. "I wanted to give lessons on how to play soccer here in the United States," he said. Duly noted.
His free kick from 35 yards out in the 73rd minute was placed perfectly for forward Tony Sanneh to head the ball past Campos. Sanneh had entered the game as a substitute 14 minutes earlier.
Etcheverry's free kick from the left side in the 82nd minute set up midfielder Shawn Medved, whose first try was blocked by Campos but whose second attempt found the net.
Etcheverry wasn't through.
His overtime corner kick from the left side was redirected by Pope from six yards out for the championship.
"They did something nearly impossible," Galaxy captain and defenseman Robin Fraser said. "To be down 2-0 and win it is a great achievement."
And with a cold wind blowing rain sideways through a canvas tent serving as the post-game media interview room, D.C. midfielder John Harkes said: "What a great day. What an absolutely terrific day."
Pub Date: 10/21/96