Duhaney in the shootout
Obscure Metro Files: 1998 Playoffs
November 20, 2008

One would think that a playoff series does not belong in Obscure Metro Files. Yet, the 1998 postseason somehow does. Every other lost series, from 1996 to 2006, had its share of memorable moments, its share of miserable heartbreak, its share of unforgettable storylines. 1998? Not so much. Metro came into the playoffs limping, nothing was expected from them, they crashed out in two games, season over. But, since the opponent in 1998 was the Columbus Crew -- until this week, the only time the two have met in the playoffs, this seems as good time as any to remember that series.

When we say Metro came into the playoffs limping, that's a huge understatement. Late in the season, they crashed and burned, losing six straight matches, ending with a 5:0 home loss to DC. The disastrous collapse cost coach Alfonso Mondelo his job, but since the team collected enough wins prior to the losing streak, they still entered the playoffs as the East's third seed.

And they entered the playoffs under a new coach, former US national team manager Bora Milutinovic. Back then, we had no idea the horror Bora will bring to the franchise; we'd have to wait for 1999 for that. All we expected that then is Bora-ball, which, in theory, can get you results with its tight defense and attempts to win 1:0. (Hmmm, why does that sound a bit familiar?)

We got our first taste of Bora-ball in the last regular season game, when Metro finally tasted victory, sort of, by tying New England 0:0 in regulation and winning in the shootout. Exciting indeed. And then came the playoffs.

Back then, MLS's playoffs were a best-of-three affair, with shootout wins counting as wins. So, in theory, a team could lose the first game, tie the next one, win in a shootout, tie the third one, win in a shootout, and win a series. And they say the current format is convoluted. NOT EVEN CLOSE.

So, Metro entered game one in Columbus, and... well, it was over before the fans could settle in. Brian McBride scored two, the first nine minutes in, the second three minutes after. At the half it was 4:0.

Eduardo Hurtado, yet to become the El Stanque of 1999, made it 4:1, Columbus responded immediately, as it became 5:1. Then, a Mike Sorber penalty kick and a Miles Joseph long shot made it 5:3. The game was nowhere as close as the final margin suggested.

But since the margin of victory did not matter back then, it was irrelevant if Metro lost 4:0, 5:3, or 1:0. They were one game down, coming home. They haven't won a home game in a month and a half, but surely they had a chance. And, on a rainy Saturday night in front of a slim Giants Stadium crowd, for a while it looked like they did.

Thirteen minutes into the match, Tab Ramos scored off a direct free kick to give Metro their first lead of the series. But nine minutes after, Stern John made it 1:1, and that's how regulation ended. A shootout was to ensue. And Metro was great in the shootout.

For those who don't remember, the shootout consistent of players taking the ball 35 yard from the goal, and given five seconds to score. It was contrived, it was annoying, it was ridiculous. But it was also a source of two of Metro's greatest victories ever, back in 1996 (the 3-goal comeback versus Tampa Bay, and the playoff win over DC). And, in 1998, Metro did not lose a single shootout. They went 3-0 in the regular season, and, what's more, Columbus went 0-5. Metro had a chance.

Or so we thought. After the first frame, it was 1:1, Ramos converting for Metro. But after future Metro Thomas Dooley scored in the third frame for Columbus, the player he will end up swapping teams with in 2000, Mike Duhaney, had his shot saved by Jurgen Sommer. Columbus would go up 3:1 in the fourth frame, meaning Metro would have to score the next two and have the Crew miss to stand a chance. Sorber did his part, making it 3:2. Another future Metro, Andy Williams, shot high. So it was up to Mike Petke to bring Metro even.

It was Petke's time to shine. The rookie defender, who changed his bleach blond hair to red for the playoffs (with Duhaney joining him), was coming off a solid year. He made his only shootout attempt of the regular season. Surely, he would come through.

Well, he didn't. Sommer made a save, the Crew won the shootout, with it, the series, and just like that, 1998 was over. Ugh. Why do we relive these moments? Maybe because when victory finally comes, it will be that much sweeter?

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