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Without Meola, Kansas City probably wouldn’t be celebrating Cup win.

MLS Cup 2000

Molnar provides early lead, Meola makes it stand for Kansas City which outlasts Fire 1-0.

By Gary Davidson
SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sunday, October 15, 2000) -- One year after completing a miserable season that left the team in the basement of Major League Soccer’s Western Division, the Kansas City Wizards are triumphantly sipping from the MLS Cup.

Striker Miklos Molnar netted a loose ball early and Tony Meola contributed 10 saves to make the goal stand up as the Wizards edged the Chicago Fire 1-0 to capture the MLS championship before 39,159 at RFK Stadium this afternoon.

"Even though a lot of people didn't believe in us, most importantly we believed in ourselves and we got the job done." Kansas City defender Nick Garcia said. "

Chicago controlled the action throughout the match, holding a 22-6 shots advantage, 10-3 on frame, but Molnar made the Fire pay for a defensive breakdown in front of its net.

The winning sequence began when Wizards midfielder Chris Klein stole the ball from Chicago's Diego Gutierrez near midfield and stormed down the right flank, blowing by Fire midfielder Chris Armas and into the right corner. Klein sent a cross to Molnar, who six yards from the near post fanned on a shot, but Fire midfielder Jesse Marsch miskicked his clearing attempt.

The ball rolled back to Molnar who extended his right leg and poke home a shot for a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute.

"I saw it go in, just barely over the line, but that's all that matters," Molnar said. "We knew if we scored the first goal it would be a very difficult game for them."

Molnar's goal was his fifth of the playoffs and seventh in his last 10 games. The Wizards finished the season with a 14-0-1 record in games that "Danish Dynamite" and 19-2-1 when scoring first.

"They (the Wizards) possessed the intangibles," coach Bob Gansler said. "We always said we have to find a way to win and that's what they always do, whether it's 1-0, the way we beat the Fire today or 4-3 the way we beat them in the beginning of the season. It's a talented bunch and a bunch that was really thirsty for success. They worked their buns off for nine months."

Chicago, which took the MLS Cup in its inaugural 1998 season, had an abundance of opportunities, the best of which came in the 54th minute. Striker Hristo Stoitchkov drove a free kick from 22 yards out into the defensive wall, the ball caroming high into the air. K.C. midfielder seemed to be inposition to head the looping ball away, but it bounced behind him and with two other Wizards defender in close proximity, Fire midfielder Diego Gutierrrez pounced on the ball in the middle of the six yard box and drilled a three-yard shot of the crossbar.

"I should have played it with my head," McKeon said. "I didn’t see it."

While many of Meola’s saves came from close range, most were sent right at him. The one lateral stop he was called to make was the first of three crucial saves he made in the final 10 minutes of regulation (six minutes of injury time was added).

"I don't even know what to say. It was incredible," said Meola, the United States starting goalkeeper in the 1990 and 1994 World Cup. "It was so surreal when (referee) Paul (Tamberino) finally blew that whistle. I thought last week felt good and it wasn't even close."

Ante Razov sent a perfect left-side cross to fellow forward Josh Wolff in the 82d minute, cutting diagonally from the far side. Wolff targeted his one-time shot for the left corner, but Meola reacted quickly, diving to snare it.

A minute later, Dema Kovalenko took a pass from Lubos Kubik and zig-zagged deep into the box, but sent his hard shot into Meola’s chest. In the 86th minute, Meola got in the way of a 13-yard Hristo Stoitchkov bullet.

"The last 20 minutes they threw everybody -- Wolff, Kubik, (Jamar) Beasley, Stoitchkov, Ante Razov," Meola said. "They had everybody. We had todefend. That's all we had to do. We did it all year and there's no reason wecouldn't do it again."

Meola set a record with five shutouts in the playoffs to go along with new MLS marks established during the regular season -- 16 shutouts and 681 consecutive minutes without allowing a goal.

"It's an amazing story where we went from wire to wire in first place," K.C. defender Peter Vermes. "And people doubted us and I say rightfully so. This team was the worst team in the league last year. We turned it around quickly and to gel this quickly and do the things that we've done there's no doubt that a huge part of the victory goes to the coaching staff. They instilled a different type of philosophy and attitude and every time we stepped on the field we are prepared to play."

This was the first year three-time MLS champion D.C. United did not play in the title match.

Kansas City Wizards 1, Chicago Fire 0

Lineups: Kansas City - Tony Meola, Chris Klein (Francisco Gomez 89), Nick Garcia, Peter Vermes, Brandon Prideaux, Preki (Uche Okafor 74), Matt McKeon, Kerry Zavagnin, Chris Henderson, Mo Johnston, Miklos Molnar. Chicago - Zach Thornton, C.J. Brown, Carlos Bocanegra, Tenywa Bonseu, Peter Nowak (Lubos Kubik 83), Diego Gutierrez (DaMarcus Beasley 70), Chris Armas, Jesse Marsch (Josh Wolff 59), Dema Kovalenko, Hristo Stoitchkov, Ante Razov.

Scoring:
Kansas City - Molnar (Klein) 11.

Total shots: Kansas City 6 (Preki 2, Molnar 2), Chicago 22 (Stoitchkov 4, Razov 4). Shots on goal: Kansas City 3 (Molnar 2), Chicago 10 (Razov 3). Saves: Kansas City - Meola 10; Chicago - Thornton 2. Fouls: Kansas City 26 (McKeon 5, Molnar 5), Chicago 17 (Brown 4). Offside: Kansas City 5, Chicago 1. Corner kicks: Kansas City 2, Chicago 8. Yellow card cautions: Kansas City - Johnston 48, Garcia 58, Meola 76; Chicago - Kovalenko 47, Bonseu 76. Possession percentage: Kansas City 42, Chicago 58.

Referee: Paul Tamberino. Referee's assistants: Craig Lowry, George Vergara. Attendance: 39,159 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Weather: Sunny, 77 degrees.

Gary Davidson is managing editor of SoccerTimes and can be e-mailed at editor@soccertimes.com.

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