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Archive for Monday, October 16, 2000

Wizards claim MLS Cup

Molnar’s early goal enough for KC

October 16, 2000

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— The Kansas City Wizards scored a clumsy early goal, survived some strange bounces and rode the play of goalkeeper Tony Meola to their first MLS championship.

The Wizards beat the Chicago Fire 1-0 on Sunday to win the MLS Cup. Miklos Molnar scored in the 11th minute and Meola added the game's MVP award to the season MVP trophy he won Friday.

After the final whistle, Meola fell on his back, hands to his face, while the rest of the team jumped on him.

"We came out determined to win," Meola said. "We knew we had a team to win."

Meola made 10 saves, three in the final 10 minutes. He dived right to stop Josh Wolff in the 82nd, cradled a close-range attempt from Dema Kovalenko in the 83rd and got his chest in the way of a 13-yard bullet from Hristo Stoitchkov in the 86th.

It was the record fifth shutout of the playoffs for Meola, the U.S. national team goalkeeper at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups who once tried out with the New York Jets. Meola also set league records with 16 shutouts during the regular season and a scoreless streak of 681 minutes over eight games.

The game pitted the league's best offense (Chicago) against its best defense (Kansas City). Predictably, Chicago outshot Kansas City 22-6, but the Fire couldn't get a shot past Meola.

This was the first MLS Cup without three-time champion D.C. United, making RFK Stadium a neutral site. Still, the game drew 39,159 fans.

Like many soccer finals, the game was mostly tight and tense and hardly a showcase of great plays. Molnar's goal wasn't exactly a classic, while teammate Chris Klein botched a breakaway that could have made it 2-0 in the first half.

One of Chicago's best scoring chances resulted from a misfired shot, and another came on a funky bounce after a blocked free kick.

Stoitchkov, the Fire's flamboyant Bulgarian star, called for the ball early and often and argued with the referee when calls didn't go his way. Often heavily marked, he sometimes found space in the wings and rattled the left post with a left-footer from 12 yards in the 25th minute.

He also went down after being sandwiched in the penalty box between Meola and defender Nick Garcia in the 60th minute, but no foul was called.

Molnar's goal came after Klein made a nice run down the right wing. Klein's cross was fanned by Kansas City's Preki, then Chicago's Jesse Marsch had the ball on his foot but didn't clear. With the ball rolling in the box, Molnar finally pushed it off the right post and into the net for his fifth goal of the playoffs.

Unusual near misses highlighted the rest of the game. Chris Armas failed to cleanly kick his shot on a set play in the 30th minute, sending the ball instead to Kovalenko. He took a point-blank shot at Meola, who was backpedaling as his two hands pushed the ball over the bar.

Four minutes later, Chicago defender Diego Gutierrez fell trying to keep pace with Klein on the right wing, leaving Klein with only goalkeeper Zach Thornton to beat. Inexplicably, Klein waited, then passed up the shot for a weak cross that rolled out of bounds.

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