Obscure Metro files: Copa Merconorte
July 25, 2006
As of 2006, Metro has only competed in one major international tournament; for as much as we treasure the La Manga Cup victory of 2004, that was only a preseason competition. But in 2001, the MetroStars participated in Copa Merconorte, a now-disbanded tournaments for Latin American clubs that was parallel to the more prestigious Copa Mercosul. The two are now combined to form Copa Sudamericana.
But enough history of lesser South American cups; in 2001, Metro, along with the Kansas City Wizards, were the first US teams invited to participate into a Latin American competition. As Metro fans, we were excited, as this presented the first time that our team was matched up against foreign clubs in a tournament that actually mattered... Little did we know that it would be the last time it happened (La Manga! La Manga!)
And then there was the $42, as in the amount Metro players were getting paid for each Merconorte match. A vote was held and the players decided to take the $42 and play. It was their chance to prove themselves in international competition, after all.
So the MetroStars were drawn into a group with Venezuela's Deportivo Italchacao, Colombia's Millonarios, and Mexico's Chivas Guadalajara. Metro opened the tournament with an incredibly easy 2:0 win (Adolfo Valencia and Mike Petke scored) over Italchacao on August 8th, letting us believe that they can actually compete on the greater American stage.
A couple of weeks later, we were sent down to earth as Metro went to Colombia and lost to Millonarios 2:1 (Valencia again for Metro). And then September 11th happened.
And then, Chivas refused to travel to play Metro. You see, Guadalajara had a very important league match against rival Club America the same week, so the Goatf---ers decided to use September 11th as an excuse, citing safety concerns as their reason for pulling out of the match; never mind the fact that the game was scheduled for October 17th, more than a month after the attacks. The match was on, then off, then on, then finally off again... with the Goats expelled from the competition and banned from South American tournaments for two years.
So Metro was awarded two 2:0 wins over the Goatf---ers, and now needed a win in their last two games to win the group and advance to the semifinals. But in true Metro fashion, they blew it, first losing to Italchacao in Venezuela, then allowing a last-minute goal in a drab October 31st match to the Colombians, who ended up winning the competition over Ecuador's Emelec. Metro hasn't even sniffed international competition since. (La Manga! La Manga!)
So what did we take from our first (and of now, only) venture into Latin America? Well, Pedro Alvarez was in his true form, getting three yellows in four matches, with Petter Villegas and Gilmar picking up reds. Valencia, with his two goals, is now Metro's all-time leading scorer in tournament play. And Alex Dixon and Birahim Diop made their Metro debuts.
A few quick notes about that pair, since they are as obscure as it gets in Metro lore; the Panamanian Dixon was discovered by Metro while playing for the Latin American select team in a preseason match and was signed to their reserve team, MetroBlack. When the deal to bring back Giovanni Savarese in mid-season fell through, Nick Sakiewicz touted Dixon as a better alternative. He played in three Merconorte matches and was supposed to come to Metro in 2002, but never did, vanishing into the neverwhere that he came from. But he is (so far) the only Metro to play in a match that counted for the club, without ever appearing in a MLS game.
That is because Birahim Diop did, in 2002, moving on to the main team from MetroBlack. The native of Senegal played in four games for the club, including a puzzling decision by Octavio Zambrano to play the defender in left midfield. Diop was absolutely terrible and was mercifully cut early in the season.