With Major League Soccer’s 25th season temporarily on hold, there is no better time to cast a fond look back at the greatest moments and stories in Sporting Kansas City history. As a proud charter member of MLS and one of the league’s most successful teams, Sporting has been graced by numerous stars whose colossal impacts on the pitch still resonate to this day.
Among the unsung heroes of Kansas City’s 2000 championship team was former defender Brandon Prideaux, who spent his college career in his native Seattle at the University of Washington before finding his way to Kansas City and embarking on a long MLS career that later included stints with D.C. United and the Chicago Fire.
SportingKC.com caught up with Prideaux this week for a Q&A that covered his experience in Kansas City and his lasting thoughts of the 2000 MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield winners.
Before winding up in Kansas City, you began your professional career in your hometown with the Seattle Sounders when they were still a second-division team. What’s the story behind how you joined the Wizards?
Back in 1999, MLS had their normal draft for college players and a supplemental draft for pros who were in the (second division) A-League. I remember getting a phone call during the supplemental draft, and I was actually asleep. I was on West Coast time in Seattle, but the draft was already happening, and my mom came and woke me up. She handed me the phone and it was the Wizards calling me to say they’d drafted me. I had heard the Colorado Rapids were interested in drafting me as well, so I was a little surprised.
Being from Seattle, Kansas City was a long way from home. I’d never been there and I’d never spent any time in the Midwest, so there was an initial shock to what was going on. But one of the guys I played against in college was Chris Brown. He played at the University of Portland, and he and I competed against each other for three years in high school. He was a year younger than me and had been drafted by Kansas City. So it was neat for me to head there with someone I knew, and from that point forward it was just an adventure.
What were your first impressions of Kansas City and which teammates did you live with?
It was a great experience. In Kansas City, what makes the town so great is the people. From day one, they were always so welcoming and so kind. Chris (Brown), Michael Green and I got an apartment in Overland Park at 119th and Quivira. It was a brand-new place at the time—we were the first people to live in our apartment. That was our bachelor pad back in 1999. I do remember the heat being ridiculous. The heat in the summertime was a shock to the system—absolutely brutal.
What did you take away from your first year in Kansas City and how did it serve as a springboard into your breakout campaign in 2000?
Going back to college at the University of Washington, I wasn’t highly recruited. After my college career, I was drafted by an MLS team and needed to have a good season in the A-League to get my chance. When I think back to 2000, I feel proud to have been a key contributor to that team. I put a tremendous amount of effort into preparing for that season. I can actually remember at the end of the 1999 season when Bob Gansler told me that he wasn’t sure if he saw me as a starter. It kind of lit a fire under me during that offseason.
I spent the offseason back in Seattle, and there was a recreation center that had indoor soccer fields. I went there every day of the week to work on my game. But the fitness I did on the treadmill and running outside was pretty extensive. Every day was a combination of cardio, playing with the ball and lifting weights. It was a lot and I worked really hard, so when I came into preseason, I was super fit and ready to go—probably the most fit I’ve ever been in my career. So I just hit the ground running and didn’t look back.
The Wizards went from worst to first in the space of one single season. What made this transformation possible in your mind?
It was a team that had a lot of big personalities. There was Preki, Mo Johnston, Tony Meola, Alexi Lalas—lots of big, strong personalities and veteran experience. It didn’t quite gel my first year there, but Bob Gansler had become head coach at the end of 1999. Going into 2000, we really upgraded the roster. Peter Vermes, Kerry Zavagnin, Nick Garcia, Matt McKeon and Miklos Molnar all came into the team, so the personnel really improved. I swear, Molnar scored in every game he played in that year.
When it came to the coaching staff, Bob really got us organized and working hard as a collective unit. Peter Vermes also brought leadership to the backline. With Nick Garcia and myself on either side of Peter, we brought youth, endurance, speed and quickness. We complemented Peter’s strengths in many ways. In front of us, Matt McKeon and Kerry Zavagnin were great at reading the game, winning second balls and distributing passes. Chris Henderson and Chris Klein out wide were just workhorses. They just went up and down, up and down. And then you have Preki, Mo Johnston and Molnar who would create goals. Bob did a great job of organizing us and we worked really hard in training—I can remember two-and-a-half hours in the summer. We worked our butts off. We were also pretty fortunate that we didn’t have many injuries. Molnar was banged up for a little but, but we had a pretty consistent lineup throughout the season.
How did you view your role on the team?
My job first and foremost was to be a great one-on-one defender and make sure that I was shutting down whoever I was playing against. That was the most important aspect for me. Secondary to that was being a good team defender—making sure I was backing up Peter or backing up Chris Henderson in front of me on the left side. I was also always trying to find ways to get the ball to players who could make a difference and create goals—Preki, Henderson and Molnar. In training, I prided myself on working hard and ensuring that I was getting better every day.
One team that posed a tough challenge in 2000 was the LA Galaxy, a team that had already established itself as a perennial MLS Cup contender. What stuck out about your head-to-head matchups with LA?
We played the Galaxy seven times throughout the year—four in the regular season and three in the playoffs. Seven times! It was absolutely crazy, and each of those games was an absolute battle because we knew each other so well. What I remember most is I was matched up against Cobi Jones. My job was to shut him down, and I took pride in that. There was tons of competitive spirit between the two of us and between both teams. They were a really good team and very closely matched with us. In the (conference championship) it obviously came down to the mini game after the third match at Arrowhead Stadium. We tied Game 1 at home, lost Game 2 at the Rose Bowl, then won Game 3 back at home. So we went to a sudden-death mini-game and Miklos scored the golden goal to win the series. I’ll never forget that mini-game.
Many fans and pundits around the league viewed the Chicago Fire as the class of MLS in 2000. Kansas City and Chicago finished level on points at the end of the regular season, and we won the Supporters’ Shield on goal difference. Even so, Chicago was widely considered to have the league’s best roster under former head coach Bob Bradley.
Yeah, Chicago just had tons of talent. Peter Nowak, Hristo Stoichkov, Ante Razov, they were loaded. They had more talent than any other team in the league, but I don’t think they were as good of a collective team as we were. We maximized everything that we had. If you go player by player, their roster was one of the best in league history. But when you looked at our team and the way we complemented each other, we were the better group. Despite us having lots of strong personalities, we really did get along well on and off the field. That showed up with the results. We were a cohesive unit.
Did you feel like you had a chip on your shoulder going into the MLS Cup against a Chicago team that many expected would win?
We had a chip on our shoulder the whole entire season. From my personal perspective, I’ve always kind of been an underdog. We were just focused on winning, defending as well as we possibly could and finding a way to get a goal. Our strategy in the way we played was perfectly built for playoff soccer. Very rarely do you have these games that end 5-4 or 4-3 in the playoffs. We were built to defend really well and find ways to come out on top.
I remember is getting a goal very early in the game. Klein did well to run down the sideline and cross it in, and Miklos found a way to put the ball in the back of the net. From there we just battled and worked our butts off to sustain the lead. We were under lots of pressure throughout the game, and there were times where it was like, “Oh my gosh, how much longer do we have to hold on.” I remember multiple times where we would get out of danger and Peter and I would just look at each other, pick each other up and tell each other, “Hey, we got this. It’s our game.” Sure enough, we were able to see it out to the final whistle, and from the celebrations onward it was pure joy.
Where does the 2000 MLS Cup achievement rank in your career?
Every year and every team has its own special memories, but what we did in Kansas City was truly amazing. It was the culmination of so much hard work that every single player and coach put in throughout the season. I’m also grateful for the experience because it introduced me to the city of Kansas City, a place I’m still very fond of to this day. Every time I run into former teammates who were part of that championship squad, we always smile and reminisce. It was a season I’ll never forget, that’s for sure.