Obscure Metro Files: Open Cup semifinals
Open Cup on|
Long Island, 2000
May 29, 2013
While recent Metro history in the Open Cup has been spectacularly terrible, that wasn't the case early on. Yes, there was that run to the final in 2003, but even before that, Metro managed to make three semifinals in four years. Of course, once they got there, it didn't exactly go well...
In 1996, only five MLS teams were selected to participate in the Open Cup, and Metro was not one of them. So their first foray into the competition came a year later, when they visited the Richmond Kickers of the then A-League. Recently-acquired Shaun Bartlett scored twice, and Miles Joseph added another in an easy 3:0 win. A local derby versus the Long Island Rough Riders followed, with Metro winning on the island thanks to a golden goal by Rhett Harty, who put his bald head to a Roberto Donadoni free kick. That setup the semifinal against the Dallas Burn.
That game marked the first (and only) time that Metro played a competitive match in New York City. The game took place in front of 1,000 souls at Baker Field at Columbia University. Damian opened the scoring early, but Branco leveled for Metro directly off a free kick, five minutes from time. So to sudden death we went, where "El Pitufo" De Avila missed a sitter for the ages. Immediately after, Dallas went the other way and Jorge Flores scored to end Metro's run. "We've now seen both sides of the coin," head coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said. "In the quarterfinal we felt what it was like to win in sudden death and tonight, we felt what it was like to lose. We wanted very badly to make it to the final."
Not to worry, we said. There will be more Open Cups, and the 1998 run started at home against the A-League's Hampton Roads Mariners. The game, played at Kean College in Union, NJ (attendance: 462!) went into overtime scoreless. Metro won on a golden goal by Eduardo Hurtado. For some reason, the quarterfinals took place in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Two first-half goals in a span of three minutes from Giovanni Savarese set the tone, as Jim Rooney and Mike Sorber tallied in the second for an emphatic 4:0 victory. The semifinal opponent was Columbus.
That year, both semifinals were played in Metairie, Louisiana (was this US Soccer's way to show off the game?). Five minutes into the match, the Crew's Ricardo Iribarren sent the ball under Tony Meola. And that was all she wrote, for Metro couldn't find footing on the terrible pitch of Zephyr Field (the patched-up grass didn't hold up). "One mistake cost us the game tonight," said head coach Alfonso Mondelo. "Aside from that, I think the game was pretty even. We got behind early, and failed to generate many opportunities."
Not to worry, we said. In 2000, (Wait! What about 1999, you ask? It never happened!) the Open Cup expanded, so Metro entered in the Round of 32. In what was billed the "Biggest Sporting Event in Wilmington History", they trumped the Wilmington Hammerheads 2:1 behind first half goals by Mark Chung and Clint Mathis. The next round was played on Long Island, and although Metro trashed Tampa Bay 3:0 with goals by Chung, Alex Comas, and Mathis, the game was marked by a season-ending injury to Daniel Hernandez. Quarterfinals in Columbus saw yet another overtime, as Tab Ramos' second-half goal was met with a Crew equalizer. For the first (and only) time in their history, Metro went into penalty kicks. Both teams converted their first four shots. Tim Howard stopped the fifth, but Ramos missed as well, so to sudden death we went. Mike Petke(!) scored in the 8th frame, as the Crew's Mike Lapper sent his shot wide to send Metro to the semifinals against Miami.
And once again, the welcoming shores of Long Island hosted Metro. This team had it all, this team was bound to the first final ever... But it was not to be. With Howard away on Olympic duty, A-League call-up Paul Grafer had to man the nets, and it showed. Miami scored early, Metro replied through Billy Walsh. But two goals in quick succession midway through the second half made the rest an uphill climb. Adolfo Valencia tallied in the 84th, but it was too little, too late. "The first half, I thought we really were not in the game," said head coach Octavio Zambrano. "In the second half, I thought we were going to win this match, I really did. We gave this one away."
By then, we were worried...