Sigi, Cobi, Cien, El Gato and El Pescadito, Joe Tutino looks back at the 2002 MLS Cup Champion Galaxy

Galaxy to honor 2002 championship team Saturday


Special Edition Galaxy All-Access Podcast: Joe Tutino & Ralph Perez look back at LA's first MLS Cup Championship in 2002

CARSON, Calif.— This week we remember our first MLS Cup championship, a 1-0 win over New England that was played 10 years ago. For those of us who were connected to that team, it seems just like yesterday.

When I was asked about sharing my thoughts of the 2002 MLS Cup Championship, I received the invite while the club’s charter was making its way to Puerto Rico for Wednesday’s Champions League match against the Islanders, the memories of that entire season immediately began to pop into my head. As such, bare with me as I sift through my brain to connect the games and the goals to the correct season.

First thing that came to mind, there is no 2002 championship without Carlos Ruiz. It’s as simple as that.  The Guatemalan striker was a true find for head coach Sigi Schmid and the late Doug Hamilton, who was the club’s General Manager. He really was the missing piece of the puzzle for the Galaxy. They had brought in bigger names in the recent past, but nobody could find the net like Fish. With each goal that season, he stretched the net a club record 24 times during the regular season, plus added eight more in the playoffs, and cemented his place in the club’s history. He also scored the greatest goal in Galaxy history in my opinion. 

LISTEN: Joe Tutino and Ralph Perez re-live 2002 MLS Cup win (also above)

I’d like to say the Galaxy roared through the season much like the 2011 club had, but in reality the team got a slow start out of the box.

I remember the team toyed with formations, trying to find the right mix. A young Brian Mullan would get the start at the second forward position with Ruiz and had the misfortune of hitting a post or crossbar with regularity. He’d later be moved into a crowded midfield that included Cobi Jones, Mauricio Cienfuegos, Simon Elliott, Peter Vagenas and Sasha Victorine.

They’d go with a 3-5-2 with Elliott and Vagenas playing behind Cien, allowing him to roam forward and create his magic closer to the penalty area.

They platooned their goalkeepers for a time - and this was a big deal during the season, because Kevin Hartman was considered the better shot stopper, but Matt Reis was better in distributing the ball. I remember those conversations during production meetings on the road. Ultimately Sigi had to make a choice to go with one and decided on Hartman, who of course didn’t let his coach down. 

Then there was the back line. There was converted forward Chris Albright playing right back. Easy Ezra Hendrickson would also get his starts. In the middle, there was a young Danny Califf, a now mature Alexi Lalas (the Uncle Sam’s beard was long gone by the time he came out of retirement to join the Galaxy) and Tyrone Marshall who had been acquired before the season.

LA Galaxy: History of a champion

I remember Rick Davis and I talking to Lalas following a game and discussing how his game on the field had caught up to his star power off the field. I’m not sure it was much of a discussion, more like a statement made from us and Alexi accommodating.

I believe that 2002 season was one of Alexi’s best.

So, basically you had a team finding its way through the first few months of the season.  Trying different formations, goalkeepers, who to start where and losing a major cornerstone in Cobi Jones to the World Cup. (USA 2- Mexico 0.  What? How’d that get there?)

The Galaxy obviously figured it out as they captured the Supporters’ Shield. Sound Familiar?

Once the team got to MLS Cup, the league had captured lightning in a bottle. A brand new Gillette Stadium hosting with the home team playing in it. Over 60,000 fans on hand, most of who were cheering for the home team though quite a few Galaxians also made the trip.

The Galaxy were the better team, but New England was hot and of course had a significant home field advantage, meaning that it was the Galaxy that were the underdog going in.

The match itself was hard fought. Cobi Jones and Joe Franchino battled it out like two heavyweights throughout the match and as the clock inched toward full time, the tension grew. The tension grew, but the scoreboard would not change as the game went to extratime tied 0-0.

For the Galaxy, the pressure had to be tremendous as the club had been to the final on three prior occasions without ever winning the ultimate prize.

In 1996, LA reached the final and led 2-0 with 20 minutes to go, only to concede a pair of late goals and then a third in extratime, losing to Bruce Arena’s D.C. United. Thanks, Bruce.

In 1999, the Galaxy returned to Massachusetts for MLS Cup, only to lose again to United. In 2001, it was Dwayne DeRosario’s Golden Goal that gave a first MLS Cup to the rival San Jose Earthquakes and a young Landon Donovan. Thanks, Landon.

The first 15 minutes of extratime passed without a winner. If the Galaxy were to avoid the agony and ecstasy of penalty kicks, they would need a goal in the next 15 minutes.

Seven minutes from time, they finally had their breakthrough. In the 113th minute, just minutes after the Revolution had seen a deflected shot hit the crossbar, the Galaxy starts a counterattack. Chris Albright gains possession, looks up the field and finds Tyrone Marshall making a run up the right side. The Jamaican Sensation breaks down the wing and sends a low cross through the penalty area as The Fish is breaking into the box.  He one times it with his left foot, past the outstretched dive of Adin Brown and into the far side netting.

CHAMPIONS!

Rick Davis couldn’t help but laugh as I lost my mind on the call and the players had a bit of fun with it in the locker room as Doug Hamilton played it for everyone to hear.

In all seriousness, what that Galaxy team did was mend a lot of broken hearts from past failures in the final.

To me, it set the first benchmark going forward for this organization. 

The second benchmark? They’re defending it as we speak.