Metro at the Millennium: Crime of the Century
December 20, 2006
As we slowly move through this offseason and into the New Year, anxiously awaiting the opening of the transfer window with promises of still-unseen greatness, let's look back at one of the most important events in Metro history, August 16th, 2000. The result on that day, a 4:3 defeat to the now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny, is all but an afterthought, but the events that transpired in that match had an effect well beyond the scoreboard.
Metro, playing as well as they ever had before and sitting near the top of the league, came into the mid-week affair on the heels of a terrific comeback victory over the Revs on the weekend. Alex Comas gave them an early lead in the 21nd minute, and all seemed well. Little did we know then that the event that will turn the Metro season and the fortunes of a number players would happen 14 minutes later. It was then that Mutiny striker Mamadou Diallo stepped on Metro goalie Mike Ammann.
Saying "stepped" is an understatement. Although we might never know if it was intentional or not, it sure looked like it was. It looked like Diallo could have held up his motion, and even if not, carry it out with less force. The outcome: for Ammann, three broken ribs, punctured lung, and facial laceration. For Diallo: nothing. In fact, he went on to score a hat-trick in the match, the last coming in overtime as the Mutiny pulled out a late victory.
We repeat, Diallo got nothing. For he already carried a yellow card, and the referee, some fool named Andrew Banes, decided against giving out the second that would have meant Diallo's marching orders. It did not matter that he had a history of violent play and was already suspended twice for that in 2000. It didn't matter that Ammann's pain was anything but unclear. Diallo played on; Ammann was carried off the field.
Four days later, Metro played Colorado. And they seemed to take it to another level, racing to a 5:1 lead behind two goals by Clint Mathis. But it was the fifth goal that was most memorable, as Mike Petke scored off a corner kick and revealed a shirt that said "August 16th: Crime of the Century" on the front and "Revenge is Coming" on the back. A few days later, the league fined him $250; exactly $250 more than what Diallo got for the Ammann stomp.
But the ramifications of Ammann's injury were more complex. With Tim Howard, who replaced Ammann in goal, scheduled to leave for the Sydney Olympics, Metro was suddenly without a goalkeeper. A mad scramble followed, which saw them scour the A-League and battle teams who didn't want to give up their starters. At the end, they went with Russell Payne from the Boston Bulldogs, who got his lone Metro playing time in the last eight minutes of that Colorado match, allowing two goals in that span. The other goalie loaned was Long Island Rough Riders' Paul Grafer, who quickly grew into the legend that few expected.
It's not that Grafer was a great goalie. It's not that Grafer's long, black pants that forever entered Metro lore. It's that Grafer became the first -- and so far (oh, so sadly!) only -- Metro goalie to win a playoff series, as he backstopped the club to a first round sweep against Dallas. (And we will close our eyes to his performance in the Open Cup semifinals; Open Cup loses are dime a dozen; that playoff series win... Oh, the horror of Metro fandom.)
Then, Chicago came calling in the MLS Cup semifinals, and Grafer was putrid in the opening 3:0 loss. Ammann, not fully recovered, made a remarkable start in game 2, and promptly recorded the first shutout in Metro playoff history in a 2:0 win. Then, in game 3, Chicago went up two, Adolfo Valencia got two back, his third gets called back for questionable offside, Ante Razov scores in the dying minutes, and the rest is history.
The rest is history, but we will never forget. The thuggery of Mamadou Diallo. The solidarity of Mike Petke. The victories of Paul Grafer. And the courage of Mike Ammann. Forever the King of East Rutherford.