Ten Years Ago: The playoffs that changed everything
April 14, 2006
When we look back at the ten years of Metro history, we can't help wonder... what if? For all the failures, what if one break went the other way, one foul was not called, one extra goal was scored? A lot of those questions deal with the first playoff series in Metro history, the series that changed the fortunes of not only the two teams in it, but the US national team, and MLS itself... forever. Forever?
Metro came into the playoffs having split their season series with their opponent, DC; each team winning on the road. The Scum, who had a start of the season even worse than Metro was picking up steam, ending the year at .500 and seven points above the third-place Metros, who had an up-and-down end of the season. However, with newly-signed Antony De Avila scoring like a madman on the Giants Stadium turf, and the experience of Carlos Queiroz leading the team (although he had already agreed to ditch Metro after the season to go to Japan), there was a lot hope.
The MLS Playoffs were a best-of-three series back then, with the underdog having the first game at home. Shootout wins counted as much as regulation wins, which would come into play very soon. The story of that first match has often been recapped; Raul Diaz Arce would open the scoring for DC after a horrid Tony Meola clearance, De Avila answered for Metro, and Jaime Moreno made it 2:1. Giovanni Savarese, benched by Queiroz, came in the 74th minute, and scored almost immediately, tying the game. The historic tiebreaker ensued, but not before DC put in shootout specialist Jeff Causey in goal just prior to the end of the game. He did not help, as through the first ten rounds, each team scored five times, with De Avila, Roberto Donadoni, Miles Joseph, Matt Knowles, and Giovanni Savarese tallying for Metro. After Causey shot wide, the lone player yet to go was Peter Vermes (even Meola had taken his attempt at this point), but the captain was limping and would have probably be taken off before the shootout if Metro hadn't used all their substitutions. The rest is legend; Vermes confirmed with referee Baharmast, "Esse! If I shoot, we win?" and then chipped the ball over Causey and Metro had their first playoff win ever and a playoff series lead.
That lead would evaporate three days later in DC, as an even match (interestingly, Savarese was benched once again), saw only one goal, from Marco Etcheverry. So on October 2nd, all was set for the decider. The first half ended scoreless, but DC's Steve Rammell broke the ice in the 67th. Just four minutes from time, De Avila replied for Metro off a Donadoni pass, and it looked destined to go to shootout, except... Except, as we all remember, second-half substitute Rob Johnson tackled Etcheverry just inside the box with one minute left, Brian Hall pointed to the spot, and Diaz Arce converted the penalty. And it was all over.
And of course, from that point on, it's all uphill for DC and all downhill for Metro; the former have their dynasty (but let's not forget their four horrid years in the early 2000s), while the latter have won only one playoff series in their ten years, and are no longer Metro (except in our hearts). And it also makes us wonder what would have happened to Bruce Arena and the US national team if DC didn't win that first championship? Would he have still be hired? Who knows... And the Tampa Bay Mutiny, the best team in the regular season in 1996, but one DC handled in the semis, would Metro have gotten past them? If not (since Metro did not play them well after the historic 3:3 comeback), could the Mutiny have won the MLS Cup, and maybe still be alive? But then, winning the cup didn't save the San Jose Earthquakes.
So as we enter this new era of Metro history, we wonder... Why, Rob Johnson? Why did you have to tackle him so hard?