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Locker Room

United celebrates victory with cigars

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Posted: Sunday December 19, 1999 11:52 AM

  D.C. United D.C. United players and executives celebrate their third MLS Cup championship after beating the Galaxy. Jamie Squire/Allsport

By Michael Lewis, CNNSI

FOXBORO, Massachusetts -- During and after most championship celebrations, most team locker rooms smell like stale champagne. D.C. United's room stunk from the stench of cigars on Sunday.

But United had a decent excuse, as Major League Soccer's most celebrated team captured its third MLS Cup in four seasons with a solid, 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy.

After D.C. had survived the near-collapse of the stage during the post-game awards ceremony -- and after the team had saluted the fans, especially the two large pockets of vocal D.C. supporters -- United's players adjourned to the locker room. Victory cigars were the celebration piece of the day, along with the champagne bottles scattered around the room.

Veteran defender Jeff Agoos, a mainstay on the three championship sides, wasn't seen with a stogie in his mouth, only the look of satisfaction on his face after his team wound up on top of the MLS heap again.

United captured MLS's very first crown in 1996 with an amazing 3-2 comeback win in the rain against these same Galaxy here at Foxboro Stadium and made it two consecutive crowns behind a workmanlike 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids at RFK Stadium in 1997. Last season turned out to be an aberration as United lost to the Chicago Fire at the Rose Bowl, 2-0.

"Winning never gets tiring," Agoos, who was sitting as his locker, holding the hand of his girlfriend, Lauren. "The team has put an emphasis on from Day One, to have a big trophy cabinet and be competitive internationally.

"We want the same respect as top teams around the world, like Real Madrid and Manchester United. That's our aim. It's a learning process. We're only four years old. These clubs, when they were four years old, it's hard to say if they had the same success. What we have done in four years is incredible, absolutely incredible."

Agoos gave credit to coach Thomas Rongen, who took over for Bruce Arena after he left to take over the U.S. national team reigns last year.

"There was only one way to go -- down," Agoos said. "A lot of coaches would want to put their stamp on the team. Thomas looked at the team and didn't think anything was broken."

The United locker room was a difficult terrain to negotiate, with friends, families, fans and other interested parties cramming into the room at Foxboro Stadium.

Sometimes it was quite difficult for a reporter to do his or her job, their interviews interrupted by those wanted a picture with, say, game MVP Ben Olsen.

After about six quick snapshots, Olsen was more than happy to talk with the media.

"This is real special to me to get this monkey off my back," said Olsen, who made his debut as MLS rookie of the year last season and was without an MLS Cup ring. "It's nice to get the goal. I didn't think that I played that particularly well.

"Believe me. I'm not the MVP of this game. Marco [Etchverry] was out there, Jaime [Moreno] and the rest. Our team is amazing and this was a sweet win. I'm really stunned."

Across the way, Richie Williams was getting congratulated by friends and team supporters. Someone was throwing Milky Ways in his direction.

Williams was credited with shutting down the Galaxy's midfield creative force, Mauricio Cienfuegos.

"You have to be a little bit physical with him and win the ball," he said of his secret of dealing with the El Salvadoran international.

"The year was so long with the ups and downs," Williams added. "We lost in CONCACAF and in the U.S. Open Cup. Now people are doubting us, saying we are not the best team in MLS to come back to win the championship, it is a great feeling."

Outside the locker room, there were no victory cigars to be found. Kevin Payne, the team's president and general manager, was accepting congratulations from whomever was there while trying to get a cigarette out to smoke.

"It's a challenge and this is what professional athletes live for -- the competition," he said. "You want to do your best. You want to put yourself in a position to win these games and you want to win them. And this team knows how to do that.

"We have a culture now of winning. It's a culture of excellence. That's kind of the bottom line. That's what we aim for. Excuse me a second . . ."

Payne then walked over to his wife Pam, who gave him a big victory kiss.

Yeah, it's tough to get tired of winning.

Michael Lewis covers soccer for the New York Daily News and is editor of Soccer Magazine.


 
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