Through Their Eyes: 2002 MLS Cup Final (part 1 of 3)

Galaxy greats and fans discuss their roles and emotions in LA’s first MLS Cup championship

On Saturday, the Galaxy will honor the 2002 MLS Cup champions by inducting them into the club’s Wall of Legends at The Home Depot Center. But before the induction, LAGalaxy.com spoke to those that were at the MLS Cup Final about their role in the Galaxy’s first MLS Cup title.

(Part 1 of 3. Read Part 2. Read Part 3.)

HISTORY

Appearances in the MLS Cup were nothing new to the LA Galaxy. Considered one of the premier franchises in MLS, the Galaxy had reached three MLS Cup finals in 1996, 1999 and 2001, but had fallen each time. In 2002, the Galaxy led by head coach Sigi Schmid, headed into the match as the Supporters’ Shield winners to face a plucky New England side in their home ground of Gillette Stadium.

Kevin Hartman (goalkeeper): “In 1997, we were fresh off a loss in MLS Cup so I knew a lot of the guys that dealt with that first MLS Cup loss; I was a part of the 1999 loss and the 2001 loss so it was a tough time. We didn’t know if we were going to be able to do it. Fortunately, we just kept putting ourselves in that position.”

Joe Tutino (Radio announcer): “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.”

Linda Pickle (Galaxy fan):  “We were the Buffalo Bills of MLS with our three losses; I had been to 2001 when we lost to San Jose. Even after the stadium was empty and it was just cleaning staff, I remember sitting there thinking that I can’t believe that we lost again.”

THE BUILD UP

The scars of those past losses were fresh for the club and their fans as they prepared to take on a youthful New England side that had clawed their ways back to the final. Although the match was LA’s fourth finals appearance since 1996, there was a sense of fate surrounding the scene. 

Alexi Lalas (defender): “We were staying in Providence for logistical reasons and I remember waking up the morning before MLS Cup knowing that this will probably be my only opportunity to be on the field and win one. I woke up at 4 in the morning and I was rooming with Peter Vagenas at the time, I didn’t want to wake him up, but there was no way that I was going to sleep. So I was very quiet and used my cell phone as a flashlight to make my way out of the hotel and I remember walking the streets at 4am, the day of MLS Cup because I couldn’t sleep.  I remember saying, ‘this is either going to be a great story to tell one day or a horrible story about why I lost MLS Cup’.”

Linda Pickle: “I had been to most MLS Cups and myself and some others were debating if we should go or not, but we thought if you don’t go then you’re going to regret it if we win. So I didn’t pay some utility bills so I could have some money to go to the game.”

THE FISH

Throughout the 2002 season, it was the play of Carlos Ruiz that lifted the Galaxy to the brink of their first MLS Cup. In his first season with the club, the Guatemalan known as “El Pescadito” or the Little Fish, tallied 24 goals en route to the league’s golden boot. His penchant for timely goals earned him MLS’ Most Valuable Player award, an honor that his Galaxy teammates believed that he fully deserved.

Alexi Lalas: “It’s no secret that from an attacking standpoint and a pure wins and losses standpoint, we rode Carlos Ruiz due to the spectacular year that he was having. What he did was that he didn’t just score a lot of goals, but he scored in a lot of games so our defense had this idea that every time we went out, for all intents and purposes, we were up 1-0. Carlos was going to get a goal and that’s an incredible comfort and confidence to have.”

Chris Albright (defender): “Pescadito was unreal. I always try to share my experiences about the Fish with guys about the amount of cheesecake and Pepsi that he had the night before the final.”

Click here to read part 2, where we look back at the game itself and the stoppage time goal that propelled the Galaxy to victory.

Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com