Salvadoran playmaker Mauricio Cienfuegos joined the LA Galaxy in the inaugural season of MLS and immediately took the league and the city of Los Angeles by storm.
In his first five seasons with the Galaxy, the diminutive 5-foot-6 and 140 pound playmaker had an immense impact tallying 32 regular season goals and 63 assists to go with five goals and 12 assists during the postseason. By the time the 2001 season came around, the 33-year-old midfielder’s numbers had dipped, as Cienfuegos finished the regular season with his lowest mark in goals with two and tying his lowest total of assists with seven.
As the Galaxy entered the 2001 MLS Cup Playoffs, Cienfuegos was more of a role player in LA’s offense than the star, with players like Cobi Jones, Luis "El Matador" Hernández, Simon Elliot, and Sasha Victorine leading the charge. However, in the postseason, the Galaxy’s wily veteran rose to the occasion.
In the 2001 MLS Cup Playoff Quarterfinals, the Galaxy met the MetroStars in a series of two evenly matched teams, with LA playing to a 1-1 tie at the Rose Bowl in the first game before the MetroStars notched a 4-1 victory at Giants Stadium in the second match. In the third game, the Galaxy defeated the MetroStars by a score of 3-2, tying the series at four points apiece.
With the series tied, the teams were forced to play a critical 10-minute sudden-death overtime period to decide the winner. And in the eighth minute of that period, Cienfuegos would make his impact felt. After Jones was tripped by a defender, Cienfuegos stepped up to take a free kick just on the edge of the penalty area. The Salvadoran launched his shot into the wall, but the ball took a deflection off the chest of Metrostars midfielder Mark Chung, deflecting into the left corner and past goalkeeper Tim Howard for the series-winning-goal.
“Cien” would step up again in the MLS Cup Playoff Semifinals’ decisive third game against the Chicago Fire. With the Galaxy and Chicago playing to a 1-1 tie in the first game and LA defeating the Fire 1-0 in the second, the stage was set for a third and the final game at Soldier Field. Game Three, which the Fire needed to win in order to force a series overtime period, was a contentious affair with LA and Chicago splitting a pair of first half goals. Neither team could break the deadlock in the final 45 minutes, sending the game to overtime.
The Fire were pushing forward in hopes of scoring the goal that they needed to keep their season alive, but it was the Galaxy that would score in the 98th minute to book a return trip to MLS Cup. Off a Fire throw-in, Cobi Jones forced a turnover along the sideline, allowing the ball to fall to the feet of Brian Mullan who touched a pass into the path of the Salvadoran. Without taking a touch, Cienfuegos launched a left-footed rocket from more than 35-yards-out that sailed over Fire goalkeeper Zach Thornton and into the back of the net, and smashing the back of the goal frame in the process. With Cienfuegos’ moment of brilliance, LA advanced to the MLS Cup Final.
Cienfuegos’ heroics may have been enough to lead the Galaxy to the 2001 MLS Cup Final at Columbus Crew Stadium, the first soccer specific stadium to host the league’s championship match, but it wasn’t enough to give LA their first MLS Cup title. The Galaxy met the San Jose Earthquakes, a veteran team led by a young forward named Landon Donovan.
After Luis Hernández put the Galaxy up 1-0, Donovan tied score just two minutes before the half. The match went into extra time, but San Jose’s Dwayne De Rosario tallied a golden-goal in the 96th minute to give San Jose their first MLS Cup title and LA’s third MLS Cup defeat in six years.
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com