It was a long way away from California for the San Jose Earthquakes and Los Angeles Galaxy, who met for MLS Cup 2001 on a dreary Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.
Theirs was a rivalry that was supposed to have existed since the start of the league, but it had really just begun to flourish in 2001.
The Quakes and Galaxy were not only natural geographic rivals, but the two clubs had battled on every front during the course of that season. After several years of futility, the Quakes were finally competitive, and they were giving LA a run for its money.
Even though San Jose had triumphed in the two regular-season meetings, the Galaxy won the Western Division title by two points in a season cut short by the terrorist attacks of September 11. LA had also eliminated the Quakes on PKs in a thrilling U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal. Could the Galaxy do the treble on San Jose and capture their first MLS Cup?
Los Angeles had the experience (three previous MLS Cup finals) and the big-name players (Luis Hernández, Alexi Lalas and Cobi Jones, to name a few). They also scored the first goal in MLS Cup 2001 on a quick transition, which Hernández finished off in the 21st minute.
But San Jose had a difference-maker of its own. American soccer’s golden boy, Landon Donovan—who had made his return to the United States earlier in the year—was the quickest to react to a ball in the box, leveling the score two minutes before halftime.
The second half was ruled by a tension that mounted with each minute as the score remained deadlocked. Both teams were visibly nervous and cautious, and that approach spilled into extra time. Only a moment of brilliance could prevent what seemed like the inevitable conclusion: penalty kicks.
In his first season in MLS, former A-League player Dwayne De Rosario showed he had that special play in him. Throughout the year he displayed flashes of magical technique that made the 23-year-old Canadian stand out. However, it was not enough to earn him a starting role at MLS Cup 2001.
With five minutes remaining in regulation, San Jose head coach Frank Yallop brought De Rosario into the match to see if he could catch lightning in a bottle. Although it didn’t happen during regulation, De Rosario would repay his coach’s confidence six minutes into the first extra time period.
"Before I went into the game, Frank said to me to go out there and win it,” De Rosario said. “I had the one-on-one situation and I decided to take it."
That situation came against Galaxy defender Danny Califf on the left corner of the Galaxy box. De Rosario took him head-on, forcing Califf to retreat while converging toward the middle. He then picked out the far right post and nailed the sudden-death winner with a curling shot that beat goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.
WATCH: De Rosario's game-winning goal.
"In a cup final, you have to be mentally ready above everything," DeRosario said. "He thought I was going near post, so I pulled it back over and saw an opening and decided to take it."
The worst-to-first run was complete for San Jose. For the first time that entire season, the Earthquakes had come back from a deficit to win a match. That 2001 triumph would only be the start of a special run for San Jose and its fans. In Los Angeles, where they failed to bring home the cup on their fourth attempt, the monkey on the back was beginning to weigh heavier and heavier.