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

Analysis

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

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sunday, October 15, 2000) -- In the end, goalkeeper Tony Meola proved to be the difference for the Kansas City Wizards in their 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire to capture MLS Cup 2000.

As billed, the match featured Chicago's Major League Soccer-leading offense against Kansas City's league-best defense. The key for Kansas City was Meola's 10 saves, including three clutch saves in the last 10 minutes. With his performance, Meola added the MLS Cup "Most Valuable Player" award to his league MVP honors.

It was almost as if Meola willed his Wizards team to victory.

This was a vintage Meola performance. He screamed at his defense on almost every Chicago shot. He fouled with abandon, at one point earning a yellow card that could just have easily been a red. But his positioning was impeccable. He made the tough saves when he had to, and twice when he was beaten he had the posts to save him.

This was not a case of Kansas City's defense shutting down the Fire offense. The Fire controlled the ball and spent much of the game in Kansas City's defensive third of the field. Chicago had shot after shot, 22 in all, but too often those that were on net, were right at Meola or within his grasp.

The match today was eerily reminiscent of the Fire's MLS Cup win two years ago over D.C. United. As Chicago did today, United hammered shot after shot at Fire's goalkeeper Zach Thornton and could not score. Today, it felt like Chicago could have played for hours more and never would have put the ball past Meola.

Two of Chicago's key players, striker Ante Razov and midfielder Chris Armas had especially flat performances, possibly the result of playing a tough 90 minutes for the United States against Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier Wednesday night. Would both have had much stronger performances today if they had a full week's rest.

The match, which got chippy near the end, with some elbows thrown and ankles kicked, was played without a great deal of passion, perhaps because of the neutral field environment, where the bulk of the fans seemed to have no emotional involvement with the outcome.

Chicago appeared to play in the belief it would eventually start putting balls behind Meola. It was not until late in the second half that the Fire seemed to realize it could actually lose, after which Chicago began to play with more intensity.

Chicago Fire coach Bob Bradley said he feared Kansas City's counterattack and that was how the Wizards produced the game’s only goal in the 11th minute. Chicago midfielder Diego Gutierrez slipped at midfield, giving the ball to Kansas City's Chris Klein who blew by Chris Armas before carrying the ball into the right corner.

Klein crossed the ball into the box and Chicago's Jesse Marsch made a complete hash of clearing it, instead putting it on Miklos Molnar's foot, for an easy tap-in.

That was one of only two shots on goal in the first half for Kansas City which added only one more attempt on frame after intermission. In contrast, Chicago had 16 first-half shots, seven on goal. There was no beating Meola, however, who always was positioned in the right place.

About the only time Meola was beaten was in the 54th minute when Diego Gutierrez hit the underside of the crossbar from three yards after Kansas City failed to clear a Hristo Stoitchkov free kick that had rebounded high off the Kansas City wall. Meola's best save came in the last 10 minutes when he saved on hard shots by Dema Kovalenko, Josh Wolff, and Stoitchkov.

Player ratings:

Chicago Fire - Zach Thorton 6, C.J. Brown 5, Carlos Bocanegra 5, Tenywa Bonseu 5, Peter Nowak 6, Diego Gutierrez 5, Chris Armas 4, Jesse Marsch 4, Dema Kovalenko 5, Hristo Stoitchkov 6, Ante Razov 5. Substitutes: DaMarcus Beasley 5, Josh Wolff 6, Lubos Kubik (no rating).

Kansas City Wizards - Tony Meola 9, Chris Klein 6, Nick Garcia 5, Peter Vermes 5, Brandon Prideaux 5, Preki 5, Matt McKeon 5, Kerry Zavagnin 5, Chris Henderson 6, Mo Johnston 5, Miklos Molnar 6. Substitutes: Uche Okafor 3, Francisco Gomez (no rating).

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com..

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