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

Major League Soccer

Johnston on Kansas City's MLS Cup triumph: 'I'll cherish it till I die.'

By Ed C. Morgans
Special to SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, October 19, 2000) -- Kansas City Wizards midfielder Mo Johnston didn't need any more accolades to dignify his fine soccer career.

Mo Johnston
Mo Johnston capped his 20-year professional career savoring the Kansas City Wizards' MLS Cup title, then retiring
A veteran of 15 European seasons and one of the Wizards' original allocations, he won five trophies in Scotland, the last of which being a league title with Glasgow Rangers in 1992. He also played for Scotland's national team during the 1990 World Cup.

But through five years of trials and tribulations in Kansas City, Johnston was yet to taste the sweetness of success. Kansas City had won just one playoff series (1996 conference semifinals) in its history prior to this year, even though Johnston had contributed 30 goals and 26 assists in those five seasons.

This year, it was all different, and the 37-year-old native of Glasgow native savored the champagne and appreciated the trophy like no other player in the Kansas City lockerroom. And it was Johnston who was the first to hold it, receiving the award from Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber after Sunday's 1-0 win over the Chicago Fire during the MLS Cup 2000 championship match at RFK Stadium.

"It's been a long time, five years," Johnston said. "A couple of times we had our backs to the wall. For me to win a championship, I'll cherish it till I die."

The differences in this year's Wizards team were numerous. Through much of its previous four seasons, Kansas City was known as the "Showtime" of MLS -- scoring goals at will but giving them up at almost an equally heartbreaking rate. And last season, the Wizards sunk to 8-24, when the goal scoring that had become their trademark dried up and the defense didn't improve.

"This team always scored goals but we never defended goals," Johnston said. "This year, we defended goals and we scored goals."

Mo Johnston
With coach Bob Gansler arriving, however, Kansas City went 16-7-9 in the 2000 regular season, then beat Colorado and Los Angeles to advance to the final for the first time. The Wizards allowed just 33 goals in 39 games (including playoffs) thanks to goalkeeper Tony Meola's league-record 21 shutouts (also including playoffs). But Meola is quick to highlight the contribution Johnston and the other veterans made to this year's title winner, including their work in previous seasons.

"Preki and Mo and Uche [Okafor], this game is for them," said Meola, referring to the team's five-year veterans. "They've had real highs and real lows in Kansas City. They never flinched."

Johnston said doubt did creep into his mind about whether this kind of success was ever possible in Kansas City, where the Wizards struggle to draw 10,000 fans to most home games. But hard work let him persevere.

"There's always doubt. But everyone knows, I came out to practice every day and I gave 100 percent," Johnston said. "When you give 100 percent, somebody up there will look after you. This is one of the proudest moments of my life."

It was that hard work Gansler noticed. The coach said Sunday he told Johnston last year the team would be successful in 2000, even as he was making moves to reshape the team. He was right, in no small part due to Johnston, a veteran presence the team needed for this year's run, who also contributed four goals and seven assists.

"Mo is the kind of player and the kind of person you trust, not only with a game but with a hell of a lot more," Gansler said. "I trust him with my house, I'd let him babysit my kids."

Johnston captured his first title with Glasgow's Celtic in 1985 when the club won the Scottish Cup. He compared Sunday's win over Chicago to that moment. And having announced his retirement shortly after the victory along with Miklos Molnar, the only MLS Cup scorer and injured Alex Bunbury -- Johnston can go out knowing his work in Kansas City has finally found its reward, a medal draped around his neck and champagne soaking a championship T-shirt.

"I feel the people in the United States have accepted me as one of their own. I'm proud of that. Everything you put in the game, you get out of it and we've got a championship," Johnston said. "I'm so emotional right now. It's unbelievable. It's been a long five years."

Ed C. Morgans is the sports editor of the Daily Journal in Prince William County, Va., and can be e-mailed at emorgans1@earthlink.net.

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