When Major League Soccer was founded in 1994, the LA Galaxy were expected to serve as one of the league’s flagship teams, so when the inaugural season rolled around, the Galaxy were keen to showcase their skills.
At the end of the league’s inaugural season in 1996, LA owned the finest record in the Western Conference while setting the standard for attendance in MLS. Led by forward Eduardo “El Tanqué” Hurtado, midfielders Cobi Jones and Mauricio Cienfuegos, defender Robin Fraser and goalkeeper Jorge Campos as well as many others, the Galaxy entered the MLS Cup playoffs as a favorite to reach the title.
Standing in the Galaxy’s way in the Western Conference Semifinals were the San Jose Clash, and star forward Eric Wynalda. Although LA entered the series as a heavy favorite, the Clash shocked the Galaxy in Game one as Tayt Ianni’s lone goal put San Jose ahead in the series. The Galaxy tied series at one just three days later, winning 2-0 in Game Two to set up a decisive game 3 at the Rose Bowl.
The match was a heated one from the start as the Clash resorted to physical play due to the absence of Wynalda, who was suspended because of yellow card accumulation. The move paid off as San Jose controlled the play early in the first half, but in the 31st minute, it was the Galaxy that struck first blood.
Forward Ante Razov fired a cross down field to a waiting Hurtado, who was streaking down the right flank. With San Jose’s defense caught behind the play, Hurtado was alone on goalkeeper Dave Salzwedel, and easily chipped the Clash ‘keeper for LA’s first goal of the night.
Just four minutes later, Clash defender Ben Iroha fouled Cobi Jones in the box and referee Esse Baharmast pointed to the penalty spot setting up a penalty kick for Cienfuegos. A minute later, the Galaxy’s Salvadoran playmaker fired a shot into the top right corner to seal LA’s passage into the Western Conference Finals.
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After the match, the Clash were left steaming over the penalty call, helping further sow the seeds for the California Clásico rivalry.
The win over the Clash proved to be a decisive moment for the Galaxy as they marched past the Kansas City Wiz in the Conference Final by sweeping the series, two games to none. This placed the Galaxy in the inaugural MLS Cup against Bruce Arena’s D.C. United at Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts. Although LA led 2-0 heading into the 72nd minute, DCU stormed back to defeat the Galaxy 3-2 in extra-time.
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com