Work in Sports
MLS has new champ
Upstart Fire stop United 2-0 to win trophy
Posted: Saturday November 13, 1999 01:00 PM
PASADENA, California (CNN/SI) -- A year ago, the team did not even have any players. On Sunday, they were crowned champions.
United coach Bruce Arena is used to winning, and he was not a content individual after his team lost to Chicago, coached by his former assistant, Bob Bradley.
Bradley and Chicago midfielder Jesse Marsch now have rings from all three MLS championship games.
Arena, who led his team to the title in the MLS' first two years, complained about the officiating and the fact his team played three games in eight days and had just three days off between its final playoff game and the title match.
"I'm very disappointed with a couple of controversial calls in the game," Arena said. "It's hard for me to believe we are not champions. The breaks went their way. A couple breaks go our way and maybe we're champions again.
"It seemed like we weren't given a chance in some way to defend our championship, with the number of cards dealt against us."
Arena, the leading candidate to become U.S. national team coach after two MLS championships and five NCAA titles at Virginia, did offer compliments amid his grousing over the loss to the Fire.
"I applaud the Fire's effort; they deserve to be champions," he said. "There were controversial calls, but I don't want to take anything away from Chicago's game."
Bradley, Arena's close friend and an assistant under him first at Virginia, then with D.C., agreed that circumstances favored Chicago in MLS Cup.
"Bruce is right on those issues. The Fire ended up getting breaks and that helped determine the game," Bradley said.
Arena maintained the Fire's Ante Razov should have been whistled for offside on Chicago's second goal. Referee Kevin Terry, however, determined that Razov did not affect on the play and that no call was needed.
Arena also said United should have been awarded a penalty kick after Lubos Kubik's tackle on D.C. midfielder Marco Etcheverry in the Chicago penalty box four minutes into the game. Terry called no foul.
Jerzy Podbrozny and Diego Gutierrez scored goals 16 minutes apart in the first half and goalkeeper Zach Thornton and the Fire defense did the rest in front of a crowd of 51,350 at the Rose Bowl on a warm, sunny day.
The win marked Bradley's first major victory over his former boss -- his Princeton team lost to Arena's Cavaliers in the 1993 NCAA semifinals and the Fire were beaten 3-1 and 4-1 by D.C. this season.
Thornton made eight saves as the Fire stopped United's high-powered offense, including league MVP Etcheverry and forwards Jaime Moreno and Roy Lassiter. D.C. outshot the Fire 22-10 and held an 8-4 edge in shots on goal, including 6-0 in the second half.
Chicago midfielder and captain Peter Nowak, a Polish native and one of Chicago's four "Eastern Bloc" players, was voted MVP of the championship game, an honor that went to United's Moreno last year and Etcheverry in 1996.
"This is a very special day for me because I've never won a championship," said Nowak, who assisted on both goals.
The first half featured continuing attacks by both sides, with D.C. taking three shots in the opening four minutes, and Chicago also came forward on the attack.
Podbrozny, another Polish player, finished what was a textbook bit of passing to give Chicago the lead in the 29th minute.
Gutierrez began it just outside the D.C. box, passing to Kubik, from the Czech Republic. Kubik passed the ball to Nowak, who fed Razov as the United defenders tried an offsides trap. Razov rolled a perfectly paced pass beyond the defensive line and Nowak sprinted to the ball and dribbled toward the left post, with goalie Tom Presthus forced to come out on him.
Nowak rolled the ball slowly across the goal mouth and the charging Podbrozny tapped it into the open net to complete a scoring sequence in which half the Fire's field players touched the ball.
Gutierrez, a Colombian who missed all of last season with Kansas City because of torn ligaments in his left knee, gave Chicago a pad by being in the right place at the right time in the closing seconds of the first half. Nowak got off a shot toward the center of the goal that Presthus could have stopped, but the ball deflected off Gutierrez and veered into the left rear corner of the net.
With a two-goal lead in the second half, Chicago returned to the defensive stance that was its trademark during the regular season and a two-game sweep of Los Angeles in the conference playoffs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.