Work in Sports
'Danish Dynamite' explodes Chicago's MLS Cup hopes
By Jeff Green, CNNSI.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Talk about playing to your strengths.
The manner in which the Kansas City Wizards captured the MLS Cup against the Chicago Fire on Sunday could hardly have been more appropriate.
"All season," said Wizards defender Peter Vermes said going into the contest, "our motto before the game is that we are going to come into this locker room either even or ahead at halftime."
They did just that, and they did it in typical fashion -- with a scrappy, early tally by the team's leading goal scorer, Miklos Molnar. True to form, when Molnar scored this season, Kansas City went 14-0-1.
"We got him to score goals," Kansas City coach Bob Gansler said of the Danish forward he acquired during the last offseason. "And that's exactly what he did."
In much the same style that allowed Kansas City to finish atop the league with the top defense during the regular season, the Wizards stifled Chicago's MLS-best offense.
After setting an MLS record with 16 shutouts in the regular season and leading the league in goals-against average (0.91), the Wizards went on to allow just four goals in six playoff games.
Vermes' comments ahead of the game proved prophetic. Many teams get complacent when they score, he said.
"I think it's just the opposite with us," according to the MLS defender of the year. "We realize that once we score, we have the lead, now let's be sure we lock everything up in the back.
"When a goal is scored, everybody's game plan changes. When we score, the other team comes at us, and we're able to lock it down and counter the other team and maybe get that killer goal."
The "killer" second goal didn't come, but the Wizards managed to lock up the defense courtesy of an MVP performance from goalkeeper Tony Meola and a little bit of luck.
"We got to halftime and we said to ourselves, 'If there's any team we want to be on leading 1-0 at halftime, this is the team,' and once again we found a way," Meola said.
The play that allowed the Wizards to lock up the defense came in the 11th minute, when right-side midfielder Chris Klein stripped Chicago's Diego Gutierrez near midfield and broke down the right wing.
Klein burst past Fire defensive midfielder Chris Armas, who turned and caught up to Klein just as he sent a low cross through the box.
"Klein was extremely effective in the first half," Gansler said, indicating that the Wizards set out to attack the Fire from the wings. "I don't think that it was by accident that we got the goal in that matter."
The cross found its way past sprawled Fire defender Tenywa Bonseu, past Wizards forward Mo Johnston at the near post, past Molnar, and finally off Fire midfielder Jesse Marsch.
"I was expecting him to get a foot on it, and then he missed it," said Marsch. "Then it came and hit me in the legs, and then bounced perfectly right back to him. It was a bit of a lucky break for him.
"The best team doesn't always win," Marsch said, while also giving K.C. credit for the victory.
The goal didn't win any style points, but that didn't concern Molnar.
"I saw it go in, and that's the most important thing," the Dane said. "I don't care how it went in. The ball went over the line and that was the main point."
Said Gansler: "That's what he does. He finishes."
Marsch had suffered a slight concussion in practice on Saturday when he was struck in the head by a blast from Bulgarian forward Hristo Stoitchkov.
"I have a little bit of a headache right now, but I was fine during the game," Marsch said, keeping his sense of humor: "Now, did we win or lose?"
Concussion effects or no, the Wizards jumped on Chicago with a quick counterattack.
"We caught them on the break," Klein said, praising the ability of the Wizards' defense to hold a lead.
"It always plays into our strengths to get an early goal," he said. "We may have stepped back too much. Chicago had a lot of shots today."
When it goes for a repeat championship next season, the Wizards won't see a similar scoring sequence. Both Molnar, 30, and Johnston, 37, retired after the game, along with fellow international forward Alex Bunbury