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Crew Stadium Moment No. 10: Landon Donovan, Earthquakes win first MLS Cup

Crew Stadium helped usher in the Landon Donovan era in MLS and U.S. Soccer.


Massive Report’s countdown of the 15 most memorable moments in Crew Stadium history based on voting from the staff continues. Join the discussion on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #MRStadium.

Historic Crew Stadium has always been a harbinger for new eras in MLS. When the stadium opened in 1999, it quickly became the crown jewel of a then-fledgling MLS and ushered in the era of soccer-specific stadiums. The 2005 All-Star Game saw the MLS All-Stars face off against a European opponent, Fulham, for the first time in what became a yearly tradition. As this tradition has continued, MLS’s All-Stars have squared off against Europe’s elite in stadiums throughout the league.

These moments were huge steps for MLS and historic Crew Stadium in gaining the respect of the greater soccer world while improving the league’s soccer infrastructure. The 2001 MLS Cup Final was no different. The match provided the second national showcase (following the first edition of Dos a Cero earlier in 2001) for MLS’s first soccer-specific stadium but more importantly, it ushered in a new era of soccer.

The early days of MLS play were dominated by some quirky rules and lots of titles for D.C. United, winners of three of the first five MLS Cups. Beginning with 2001’s MLS Cup Final, the league entered an exciting new era of play largely dominated by a young American attacker named Landon Donovan.

With three divisions in 2001 and eight teams making the MLS Cup playoffs, there was a possibility of both teams in the MLS Cup Final coming from the same division. After the third-seeded LA Galaxy defeated the New York/New Jersey Metrostars and the Chicago Fire, they were pitted against the San Jose Earthquakes, who dispatched the Columbus Crew the Supporters’ Shield-winning Miami Fusion in the postseason.

With an all-California championship game set, the American soccer world turned its eyes toward Columbus as MLS Cup Final made its debut appearance in America’s first soccer-specific stadium.

The Galaxy, wet to win a championship, was still one of the marquee teams in the league. Manager Sigi Schmid, who would later lead the Black & Gold to their first MLS Cup, was already considered one of the great in MLS. LA’s 2001 MLS Cup Final starting lineup featured U.S. Soccer legend, and team captain, Cobi Jones, current Columbus assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson, goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, former Toronto FC and current Galaxy manager Greg Vanney, Salvadoran legend Mauricio Cienfuegos, a member of the inaugural Crew roster in Paul Caliguri, and Mexican striker Luis Hernandez.

San Jose sent out an equally formidable lineup, led by longtime MLS manager Frank Yallop. The starting 11 was filled with now-familiar names including Landon Donovan, goalkeeper Joe Cannon, USMNT defender Jeff Agoos, former U.S. defender and current media figure Jimmy Conrad. Future Canadian and MLS legend Dwayne DeRosario started this match on the bench for the Earthquakes.

With the lineups set, the crowd of more than 21,000 turned their attention to what would be Donovan’s first big match on a national stage.

After the Earthquakes dominated possession for the first few minutes, the Galaxy made the first breakthrough in the 21st minute. Vanney picked up the ball just outside his own goal box and spotted Hernandez running free downfield. The defender hit a perfectly weighted pass just in front of Hernandez who let the ball take two bounces before hitting a perfect strike past Cannon into the back of the net.

The Galaxy kept up the pressure but was unable to break through. Just before halftime, Quakes midfielder Ian Russell carried the ball deep into LA territory where he spotted midfielder Richard Mulrooney with a step on his defender. Russell hit a pass in front of Mulrooney who quickly turned and whipped in a first-touch cross into the penalty box. The ball bounces in front of striker Ronald Cerritos and rolls toward an unmarked Donovan near the top of the box. Donovan hit a first-time rocket at the goal and easily beats Hartman into the top corner of the net.

Just after the break, Agoos lined up what was the best chance for either team until the end of regulation. The American defender hit a free kick just outside the penalty box that beat Hartman only to have the ball strike the inside of the post, bounce off the hands of the goalkeeper and fall right in front of Cerritos. The Salvadoran striker was unable to finish and the score remained tied. Neither team gained an advantage for the rest of the half, leading to an MLS Cup Final golden goal extra time.

Six minutes into extra time, San Jose defender Ronnie Ekelund spotted young attacker Dwayne DeRosario, a late-game substitute with fresh legs, out wide with only one defender to beat. Ekelund hit a long pass from his own half right to the feet of DeRosario who picked up the ball just outside the LA goalbox with only Danny Califf to beat. DeRosario went right at Califf, forcing the defender back into the box. As he neared the center of the box, DeRosario teed up a right-footed shot on goal that beat Califf and just nipped off of Hartman’s fingers, off the post and into the back of the net. The Earthquakes, Landon Donovan, and Dwayne DeRosario all won their first MLS Cup in dramatic fashion.

It was a dramatic win for the first MLS Cup for the Earthquakes. On that sunny, October afternoon in 2001, Donovan announced himself as the present and future of U.S. Soccer. Donovan went on to win five more MLS Cups, play in three FIFA World Cups for the United States and shares the U.S. Men National Team’s goalscoring record.

And it all started at Crew Stadium.

Read Massive Report’s previous Crew Stadium Moments

No. 11: The 2002 U.S. Open Cup championship

No. 12: Wil Trapp’s miracle game winner

No. 13: The scoreboard fire

No. 14: 2005 MLS All-Star Game

No. 15: The first game after Kirk Urso’s passing