Ten Years Ago: The Curse of Caricola
March 5, 2006
Frankly, we're a little tired of the Red Bull logo gracing the front page of MetroFanatic. Ok, we're very tired of it; and who knows how much of bull we will see in the future, so we are starting a new feature, dedicated to the MetroStars' 1996 season. We already covered some aspects of it in Obscure Metro Files and Ten Best/Worst, but this feature, Ten Years Ago, will take a closer look at that inaugural Metro season, the season that made many of us Metro fans. We start with the events of April 20, 1996: The creation of the Curse of Caricola.
On that fateful day, the MetroStars, coming off their opening day 2:1 loss against Los Angeles, were playing their first home game ever, against the New England Revolution. Over 46,000 people showed up for the Metros' first home match; most of them had no idea who most of the players were; surely they heard of Tony Meola and maybe Peter Vermes, but Andrew Restrepo? Jeff Zaun? Edmundo Rodriguez? Nevertheless, Metro was their new team and they cheered for the name, cheered for the shirt, cheered for 89 scoreless horrible minutes. Face it; there are some people who wax poetically about the level of play in the league's early days, but it was mostly... crap, with substandard players and tactics in most of MLS. Yes, there was that special player or two, like Carlos Valderrama or our own Roberto Donadoni, who would arrive two weeks later, special players who could produce spectacular moments, but those were few in horrendous matches, and it is this horrible play and player selection that turned away many of these 46,000 from attending future games... But let's not go on a tangent, because 89 minutes into this match, the 46,000 are glued to their seats, oblivious of what will come (be it in the next minute or in the next ten years), many of them not even knowing that a tied MLS game would go in a shootout... And as the seconds tick off the clock, Metro defender Nicola Caricola attempts to clear a deflected Darren Sawatzky cross, and the ball goes the other way, into the Metro net, past the never-expecting Meola. And that's it; the few seconds left tick away, the clock hits zero, there is no injury time in MLS, and 46,000 leave stunned, as the dagger of Metro failure get stabbed into their heart for the first time. For some, the last. And the Curse of Caricola is born.
So who was Nicola Caricola? The 33-year old Italian defender spent four years with Juventus, and also played for Bari, Genoa, and Torino. He had spent some time with Italian youth national teams, but never progressed to the senior squad. Married to a model (don't we all just love foreshadowing), he decided to come to New York and the MetroStars. Caricola played just one year for the club, abruptly retiring during the 1997 preseason. He never removed the stigma of that own goal from his name; in fact he also deflected a Galaxy shot into the Metro net in the inaugural match (it was not counted an own goal), and had another one in a July loss to the Rapids. Amazingly, he was not as bad as many remember, and this very website called him the tenth best Metro foreigner of all time (which says more about the quality of Metros' foreign signings than anything else). Caricola played the sweeper role with great success, and linked the defense with the offense like few, if any, have done for Metro since. He scored two goals into the correct net himself, one against Dallas, and one on a remarkable long bomb against Columbus that remains one of the best goals in Metro history.
But the Curse remains. For even ten years after that own goal, the Metros are still without a domestic trophy (for who can forget, on this two-year anniversary, the 2004 La Manga Cup!) And every time a late goal is scored against them, or every time a Metro player mistakenly puts a ball into his own net, the Ghost of Caricola rises from the swamp, and Metro fans -- those who remember -- shriek in horror at that memory. The Curse of Caricola lives.