The Kansas City Wizards celebrate their 2000 MLS Cup championship.
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2000 MLS Cup flashback: Gansler, former players share memories of KC's first title

As Major League Soccer celebrates Audi MLS Cup Playoff Week, now is an appropriate time for Kansas City soccer fans to take a stroll down memory lane.

On Oct. 15, 2000, the Kansas City Wizards defeated the Chicago Fire 1-0 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., to complete a historic Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup double. The team’s first MLS championship was secured in a manner that typified the 2000 Wizards: through opportunistic attacking, resolute defending and a series of brilliant saves from goalkeeper Tony Meola, Major League Soccer’s MVP that year.

In the space below, participating players and former coach Bob Gansler provide an oral history of the 2000 MLS Cup — a match that will re-air Saturday at 7 and 9 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City with second-screen commentary from current Sporting coaches Peter Vermes and Kerry Zavagnin, who both helped the Wizards to victory as players 20 years ago.

Editorial note: This story was originally published on Dec. 2, 2015.

The 2000 MLS Cup was a meeting of Major League Soccer’s two most dominant teams that season. Kansas City (16-7-9, 57 points) had edged Chicago (17-9-6, 57 points) for the Supporters’ Shield by the slimmest of margins: the Wizards ended with a plus-18 goal differential, while the Fire ended at plus-16.

Despite boasting equally impressive records, these clubs achieved their results in dissimilar ways. Kansas City posted an MLS-record 16 shutouts during the regular season and conceded just 29 goals, fewest in the league. Meanwhile, Chicago topped the scoring charts with 67 goals, including three in both meetings against the Wizards earlier that year.

KC defender Nick Garcia: Ante Razov, Hristo Stoichkov, Peter Nowak, Carlos Bocanegra, Chris Armas—you’re talking about one of the best groups of guys that has played in Major League soccer together. That Chicago Fire team, you could argue, should have won multiple MLS Cups.

KC defender Peter Vermes: Chicago was very explosive going forward and they were tremendous on the counter. They had great movement off the ball, incredible speed and some players in Nowak and Stoichkov who could absolutely bury you.

KC goalkeeper Tony Meola: You look at our roster, and we used to call ourselves the “Unwanteds” because a bunch of teams had gotten rid of these guys. We used to joke with each other, “Hey, where were you unwanted at?”

KC head coach Bob Gansler: If there’s a common thread that runs through that (Kansas City) team, they were very determined because they had not had much success yet in MLS. The composite there was more than the individual parts might have warranted in the eyes of some, but not mine.

KC midfielder Chris Henderson: Brian Bliss and Bob Gansler did a really nice job bringing in some veteran players who had either been traded into Kansas City or had been released from other clubs. If you look at that lineup, you had veterans in Preki and Peter Vermes and Mo Johnston. We had Miklos Molnar as our top foreign player who was scoring goals in almost every game he played. Chris Klein was in great form and Kerry Zavagnin anchored the midfield—a guy who had been released in a lower league and had something to prove.

KC midfielder Chris Klein: (Chicago) had one of the best collections of players this league has ever seen. Individually, they certainly had more talent than we didgreat guys at just about every position. But we had some special players as well. Miklos scored timely goals, Preki was arguably the best player in the league at that point, and Tony was the best goalkeeper in the league.

KC midfielder Matt McKeon: Chicago was definitely one of the best MLS teams I’d played against in my career. They were really, really good. They even subbed on Lubos Kubik at the end of the game. Especially with Stoichkov, they were loaded for sure.

KC midfielder Kerry Zavagnin: Chicago was an excellent team with good balance to complement their dynamic attackers. Chris Armas was an excellent player to maintain stability and they had tremendous experience with Lubos Kubik in the back. We were a team that was built around a group of individuals that were discarded by many other teams. Therefore, we were on a mission to prove everyone wrong. 

KC forward Miklos Molnar: I was very motivated throughout the season because I wanted to go with my national team (Denmark) to the 2000 European Championship. At the same time, I had a feeling it would be my last season as a football player. When we got to play the MLS Cup in Washington, I knew it was probably my last game as a player.

Garcia: What you spend on the ledger sheet doesn’t always equate to winning championships. We were always the team that was less respected. The expectations were never there for us to win games, much less win a Supporters’ Shield, the Western Conference, or the MLS Cup.

Meola: My dad had just gotten done with chemotherapy two days earlier, so I was really excited because he was going to be at the game. He hadn’t seen me play in person that year—he actually hadn’t travelled in months, but my family drove him down there. So I was very excited to know that he was at the stadium.

Henderson: Walking through the tunnel and onto the field at RFK, I remember looking to the right and there was a giant Frosted Flakes banner that had Carlos Bocanegra on it. It’s like everyone assumed Chicago was the champion. As we were walking out, I saw that and it was a huge motivation. It’s like everyone thought they had already won.

Kansas City took the lead in the 11th minute through leading scorer Miklos Molnar.

KC defender Brandon Prideaux: Chris (Klein) stole the ball from Diego Gutierrez, got past another guy and started bombing down the line—just like Chris did a million times in his career. Personally, I just wanted him to push the ball up the field because I was huffing and puffing myself.

Gansler: I recall Chris winning the ball from Diego Gutierrez, who was playing on the left side of midfield for them. Then he made a heck of a run for 60 or 70 yards.

Meola: Chris pushed the ball past Armas on the right side of midfield. From that point he did what he had done all year.

Klein: Chris Armas was better than anyone in the league back then at breaking up plays. Once I broke through that, the break was on. There were acres of space. Miklos Molnar and Mo Johnston had an incredible knack for goal. So that was the intention there—get your head up and look for those two guys and put the ball in the general area where they can go finish it, and they usually did.

Henderson: Kleiny made a great run down the side and whipped in a low cross. It rolled past Mo, reached Miklos in the box, bobbled a bit, and he ended up knocking it in.

Vermes: That was probably the worst goal ever scored in regards to the execution. He hits the ball into the ground with his shin, but the ball finds the back of the net. But that moment was very appropriate—it was a goal scorer’s goal.

Gansler: You gave Miklos a chance or two a game, and he would score one of those. It was a near-post run and he beat the goalkeeper.

Molnar: The beautiful work was made by Chris Klein. After that I was only thinking to get the ball over the line.

Henderson: After celebrating the goal, Miklos was so happy that he had scored with his shin. He was like, “That is the perfect goal for me because I have scored so many goals like that with my knee or my shin or my toe. It’s just fitting for how I’m going to end my career.”

Prideaux: Miklos is probably the best pure goal scorer that I ever played with. He could be quiet the whole game and do very little in terms of possession, but you could always count on him to get a goal. He just had a knack for it. Just like in that game—there was a little deflection here or there, but it went in.

Garcia: The start was key for us and at that point, we never looked past anything but our job on the field. It wasn’t “Let’s look for another goal.” It was “Let’s keep Chicago off the score sheet.”

McKeon: We knew that when we got that first goal, they were going to have a really hard time breaking us down. They threw everything at us, but getting that early goal was huge. We said, “Hey, come and get us,” and they did their best.

Klein: There was a thought that maybe the goal was too early, because we still had 80 minutes left.

After falling behind 1-0, Chicago went on the offensive. The Fire outshot Kansas City 12-2 in the first half, coming closest to an equalizer in the 25th minute when Hristo Stoichkov’s well-hit shot caromed off the post. Five minutes later, Meola made a reflex save to deny Dema Kovalenko.

Meola: Stoichkov’s shot came from a strange angle. I had it covered at the near post. He hit it hard for sure, but given the angle he still needed a foot to the other side in order for it to go in. Kovalenko’s shot was a tricky one because there were so many people in front of me. That was one that I two-fisted over the bar. I didn’t see it until late and I was kind of just reacting.

Zavagnin: It was a reputation of the team that once we scored, it would be very difficult to get a goal against us due to our team discipline. For me personally, my responsibilities were always the same—protect the back three and cover the areas where we could be exposed. There was a lot of work to be done in the midfield, especially with our inability to sustain much possession.

Garcia: Peter Vermes was definitely the puppet master for us. He told Brandon Prideaux and myself what to do and where to do it. To this day, he’s the kind of guy who is a control freak and knows exactly what he wants. I just happened to be a 20-year-old kid who listened to instructions extremely well.

Prideaux: So much of defending is just putting out fires and being focused and watching the runners, whether it was Razov or Gutierrez or Stoichkov. They even brought Josh Wolff and DaMarcus Beasley off the bench, I believe. They had so many dangerous players, and I don’t think I was fully confident until that last whistle blew.

Gansler: Sometimes you defend deep because you’re trying to set up the counter attack. But sometimes you defend deep just because the other team exerts their will upon you.

Chicago remained on the front foot as the second half commenced. In the 54th minute, Diego Gutierrez rattled the crossbar from three yards out.

Vermes: There were a lot of guys in the box on that play—I mean, a lot of guys. The ball took a big bounce and there was a lot of confusion, and (Gutierrez) had a look from point blank range. Thank God he put it over at the end of the day.

Klein: When the ball bounced to (Diego), I thought “Aw, it’s 1-1.” But somehow the ball didn’t go in. 

Meola: I think Diego was trying to roof it, and he just mishit it. If he had to do it over again, I’m sure he would have. We dodged a bullet there.

Henderson: Diego Gutierrez had a shot from five or six yards out that hit the crossbar. It was one of those moments where I thought, “Okay, today is our day.”

Zavagnin: Of course, we were fortunate a few times with the post helping us out. Diego Gutierrez’s shot off the crossbar was one I don’t think I had seen before or since. I’m sure that was something running through the mind of the Fire players.

Garcia: That miss probably affected Chicago more than us. In fact, I know it did.

McKeon: Obviously they were very frustrated at that point. They were pushing everyone forward and doing everything they could to score. Their frustration level was high. And that was part of our deal the whole year: let’s frustrate these guys and make it hard for them. And that’s what we did.

Vermes: It was just one of those things where there was no way they were scoring that day. They were all over us, but it just seemed like there was a wall in front of the goal and there was no way it was going in, whether it was the defense stopping the ball or Tony making an unbelievable save or their guys being unable to execute the final piece.

Molnar: I think I would have been frustrated too, if the opponent had just put a wall in front of goal.

Kansas City nearly grabbed a second goal against the run of play in the 62nd minute, but Zach Thornton touched Molnar’s thunderous volley over the crossbar.

Zavagnin: Of course we had some chances as well. Preki came close in the first half before we took the lead, and Molnar almost scored again in the second half.

Meola: Zach Thornton made a really good save. I remember a shot bounced nicely to Miklos—he hit a volley out of the air and Zach pushed it over the bar. We had opportunities ourselves, but we were playing a very good team that was really firing on all cylinders.

Molnar: I should have done better.

Gansler: I didn’t think one goal would be enough, so it wasn’t like we were just parking the bus. But certainly we were being prudent with the players we would release on counter raids.

Meola: As the second half wore on, they brought DaMarcus Beasley on, they brought Josh Wolff on, they brought Lubos Kubik on. You look at the names they were bringing on as substitutes, and you’re like “Holy cow, they’re loaded.”

Klein: They brought in Josh Wolff and DaMarcus Beasley—players who could change a game. At that point it was hold on for our lives.

Chicago breached the Kansas City defense in the 82nd and 83rd minutes, only for Meola to make sprawling saves on Josh Wolff and Kovalenko. Meola finished the match with 10 saves, an MLS Cup record that stands to this day.

Gansler: Tony’s season in 2000 was the best ever by a goalkeeper in MLS history. He was at such a level that the extraordinary was really every day for Tony. He crowned it with that performance there.

Meola: The Josh Wolff reaction save—I remember the ball being crossed in by Stoichkov. Josh came into the middle of the box and hit it low with his left foot. At just about the same time, Kovalenko broke through and hit one with the outside of his foot. I believe it hit my chest and kind of rolled up on me a little bit. Those two were really solid chances for them.

Vermes: Tony was always a gamer: the bigger the game, the bigger the performance he would have. It’s not like that was the first time I had seen that from him in a big game.

Garcia: We knew as a group that if Tony was ready and focused, there was no team that could beat us—even if we had a stinker of a game in the back. Tony would always be good for at least one or two saves where he would stand on his head.

Henderson: Tony and I played over 100 games together between the national team and the Wizards. I’ve seen him play some incredible games, but that day was something else.

Zavagnin: The confidence we had as a group knowing that Tony was in goal made us all better players and more committed and confident in knowing we could absorb a lot of pressure.

Molnar: Tony was the game-winning player. He was like a wall, and on this day nobody could have scored on him.

Kansas City reached the 90-minute mark leading 1-0. That’s when fourth official Kevin Stott signaled six minutes of stoppage time would be played.

Meola: I can remember our coaching staff having a word or two with the fourth official when six minutes went up.

Klein: It felt like 30.

Gansler: I was (expecting) maybe three minutes. Six minutes seemed like an entire week.

McKeon: The biggest thing for me in that game was the six minutes of extra time. The referee put up six minutes, and I had never seen that much extra time before. I said to the referee, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I said, “Really? In a final?” It was Paul Tamberino and he kind of just shrugged and said, “What are you gonna do?”

Garcia: There weren’t six longer minutes that I can remember in my career.

Vermes: I thought it was hilarious. It was amazing because we hadn’t seen that much stoppage time all season, and then to see it in the final was definitely a moment where we just had to say, “Okay boys, let’s lock it down for six more minutes.”

Meola: The six minutes for me actually went by pretty fast because I had plenty to do. Stoichkov hit a side-volley right at me that actually tore my glove. That was the first time that had happened in my career. I was yelling to the sideline to get me new gloves, because I couldn’t play with the glove I had on.

Henderson: When I saw six minutes of stoppage time, all I could think about was preseason at the beginning of that year. We went down to Bolivia and played a game in higher altitude than Mexico City. The altitude we played in for this preseason game—we didn’t even know how high we were playing. And during those six minutes of extra time, all I was thinking was, this moment is why we went down to Bolivia to play in altitude. Bolivia was the moment we deposited the Cup in the bank, and this was the moment we were collecting.

With 96 minutes on the clock, Paul Tamberino blew his whistle for full time. The Kansas City Wizards won the match, completing a remarkable turnaround that saw the club go from 8-24 in 1999 to Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup champions in 2000.

Henderson: The final whistle was elation. Everyone piled on Tony and Peter and Preki and Mo. It was just one big celebration and everyone had put in so much effort.

Zavagnin: Regardless of what has happened since this day, I will always remember the feeling of that final whistle. As a player, you are fortunate to experience this feeling once in your career.

Molnar: To score in my last game and win is, of course, top of the list of great moments in my football career. It was definitely easy to retire after that. It would have probably been easier to persuade me to play one more year if we had lost.

McKeon: It was kind of emblematic of our whole season. We defended really well and we didn’t give up a goal. It was bend but don’t break. It’s the number one moment in my career.

Henderson: When we went into the locker room after we won, they had switched the Frosted Flakes banner to our team.

Vermes: I remember after the game going into the locker room, and I was always about getting something into my stomach as soon as I entered the locker room. I can remember sitting at my locker just completely depleted, eating an energy bar and drinking a Gatorade, thinking about how exhausted I was—but then thinking how much worse it would have been had we lost.

Meola: All I could think about after the game was seeing my dad. I got to the party at the hotel after the game and he wasn’t there. I learned shortly after that he just couldn’t make it—they had to get him into the car and back home… Nonetheless, it was a blast and there were memories I won’t forget.

Klein: It certainly tops the list of moments in my career. We do what we do—we play soccer—to win championships. To win that game for Kansas City and the Hunt family and Bob Gansler—that was really special.

Henderson: I work with Ante Razov now in Seattle, and he’s still bitter about that season because we also beat them in the Supporters’ Shield on goal differential. Then we beat them on a Miklos Molnar goal that goes off his shin, Tony Meola played amazing in goal, Chicago hit the crossbar… It was just one of those days that you knew was meant for Kansas City to win the Cup.

Garcia: Winning that game probably hit me the hardest when Frosted Flakes had come out with a new box later that year. It had me, Chris Henderson and Tony on there and a picture of our team as MLS champions on the back. It was kind of like, “Hey, you guys have really done it.”

Molnar: It was very emotional because I knew it was probably my last game. My family had traveled to the United States to share the last game with me. My father did a painting of a photograph that was taken seconds after the final whistle. To me, that says it all.

Gansler: I was disappointed in 1996 when the league started that I wasn’t one of the 10 coaches in the 10-team league. I thought I had the wherewithal to be among that select 10 to start with. I knew I was good enough, and it was fantastic to get the opportunity through the Hunt family in 1999 to take over that franchise. So in the end it worked out wonderfully, and I am thankful for the opportunity.

Henderson: I’m looking in my office right now and I have two pictures from that day—one of me holding the Cup and then another of our starting XI. It stays with you forever. It’s something you experienced with a group of guys that when you see them, you always take yourself back to that moment when you won it together.

Vermes: That game and that season showed that when you have a hungry group of guys like that, it doesn’t matter how good the individuals are. It matters what the collective group can do. That collective group had the ability to close games out. It was a tremendous team that had a lot of intelligence and knew how to win.