CARSON, Calif. – LA Galaxy associate head coach Dave Sarachan still vividly remembers it as a lost opportunity. Landon Donovan called it a special day because many of his friends and family members were in attendance. Mike Magee, on the other hand, would rather not relive one of the biggest disappointments of his MLS career.
Sunday’s MLS Cup final against the Houston Dynamo at The Home Depot Center (6 p.m. PT, ESPN, Galavision, espn3.com, live chat at lagalaxy.com) has brought back a number of memories – some cherished and others painful -- for Galaxy coaches and players who have been involved in previous Cup finals at the facility that opened eight years ago.
This will mark the fourth time The Home Depot Center has hosted a final. The first one was in 2003, when the Donovan-led San Jose Earthquakes defeated the Chicago Fire 4-2. A year later, D.C. United beat Kansas City 3-2 for their fourth title. The third and most recent MLS Cup in Carson was in 2008, when the Columbus Crew beat the New York Red Bulls 3-1.
Sarachan was head coach of the Fire in 2003 and still remembers the game like it was yesterday. He still can see, for example, Chicago’s Jesse Marsch fouling San Jose’s Ronnie Ekelund and the ensuing free kick resulting in a goal that gave the Earthquakes a 1-0 lead just five minutes into the match.
“All of a sudden,” Sarachan said, “your planning and preparation kicks into a different gear.”
Donovan, in only his third season in MLS at the time, scored two goals and was named the game’s MVP.
“The atmosphere was just tremendous,” Sarachan recalled. “The weather was great, the place was packed. Just like a Cup final should be. You couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day as far as the playing goes and the atmosphere.”
Sarachan said the disappointment of that loss still lingers despite the passing of almost eight years.
“It doesn’t ever quite go away,” he said. “Finishing second in a final is as lasting as when you win a final. No one remembers who finished second. You feel you had an opportunity and you didn’t complete the job.”
Donovan, on the other hand, still enjoys looking back on that sunny afternoon. The Ontario native, who was just 21 at the time, had a sizeable gallery cheering him on.
“For me personally, it was really special,” he said. “I had a large majority of my friends and family that were able to come, and having grown up in Southern California made it a little extra special.
“Then the game had a lot of twists and turns, but we made the plays that won the game.”
Now fast-forward to the 2008 Cup final. The Galaxy’s Frankie Hejduk was a member of the victorious Crew and scored the game-clinching goal in the 82nd minute. Hejduk, who was born in Cardiff, called it “one of the best moments of my career.”
“It was something very special,” he said. “A lot of hard work goes into lifting a cup; it’s a year-long process. To be able to lift it at the end of such a long, grueling season, all the ups and downs, and for me to win it here in L.A. was great.
“I want another one. When you get the taste of one, you always want another.”
Magee was on the Red Bulls’ bench that afternoon and looks back on the game with decidedly mixed emotions. He said he knew it was his last game with the Red Bulls and still doesn’t know why then-New York coach Juan Carlos Osario didn’t use him.
“For me personally it was bad and for the team it wasn’t much better,” he said. “I forgot about that one pretty quick because of everything that was going on. We didn’t have our best game that day. It was a game I wanted to play in; it was a bad experience.”
Those memories, as disappointing as they are, make him particularly eager for Sunday.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “It wouldn’t matter if we were playing in a parking lot. Playing here in L.A. and seeing how the fans have been, it’s going to be one to remember.”