Work in Sports
Wizards Locker room
Joy and sadness as champagne, farewells mix
By Jeff Green, CNNSI.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Kansas City's locker-room celebration took on a bittersweet flavor on Sunday after the team captured its first MLS Cup championship, 1-0 against the Chicago Fire.
On one hand, there was joy and satisfaction embodied by goalkeeper Tony Meola, drinking champagne from the MLS Cup MVP trophy, wearing a Wizards championship T-shirt and an MLS championship medal around his neck.
On the other hand, there was Mo Johnston, who went out on top as he called his career to a close. Following the game, the former Scottish international player announced his retirement from the game.
He was joined in retirement by two other Kansas City forwards, MLS Cup goalscorer Miklos Molnar, 30, and the injured Alex Bunbury, 33 -- former Norwegian and Canadian national team players, respectively.
"To win a championship at 37 years old, outside my own country, I can't ask for anything better," said Johnston, an original Wizard who in more than 20 years of professional soccer won league and cup championships with both Celtic and Rangers, Scotland's two traditional powerhouses which have strong religious identities.
Johnston aroused a firestorm of controversy in 1989, when he became the first Catholic to play for Rangers.
"I'm so proud of what I've achieved," Johnston said, wearing his Wizards championship T-shirt and hat. "I came in at the top, and I'm going out at the top."
Having said that, Johnston began working his way around the locker room with a hug for each of his teammates.
Meanwhile, Meola received a congratulatory kiss on the cheek from childhood friend John Harkes, his one-time teammate on the U.S. national team.
Asked about his maturation from his more petulant days, family-man Meola, 31, harkened back to his youth in Kearny, N.J.
"I grew up in a Scottish town with all Scottish coaches, and John Harkes' dad told me I should scream at everybody when they make a mistake. That's how I was watching guys do it on TV for years," he said. "My guys know that it's never anything personal."
The win capped long journeys for both Meola and Gansler, who were player and coach with the 1990 U.S. World Cup team. While Meola remained with the national team for the 1994 World Cup, Gansler was far less visible on the U.S. soccer scene until joining the Wizards last year.
"I'm so happy for coach Gansler. I'm sure the wait was worth it," Meola said. "I'm happy for guys like Mo Johnston, Preki and Uche [Okafor], the guys that were there from the beginning, because those are the guys that defined the Kansas City Wizards."
Wizards coach Bob Gansler acknowledged that his Wizards team was probably the underdogs in all facets of the MLS Cup match except one -- the intangibles.
"We are psychologically extremely tough people," he elaborated. "Close games are something we were in all year long."
It paid off with a trophy ceremony on the stage at midfield after the game, a parade with the MLS Cup trophy around the stadium (with a stop to thank the Mystics fan club) and a champagne-drenched but cigar-less celebration in the plastic-draped locker room.
"It's really surreal. To think where this team came from," said midfielder Chris Klein, referring to the Wizards' second-from-last finish in 1999. "A lot of people said this was a ragtag bunch, a bunch of misfits that nobody wanted.
"We came together this year, veterans and young guys, and put together an excellent team. And that's a credit to coach Gansler."
Still marked on the board in the locker room during the celebration were the words: "It's about winning ... find a way!!"
And beside that, "The last step."