With only a few days to go before the 2011 MLS Cup in sunny Los Angeles, we take a look back seven years ago, to when the 2004 MLS Cup was also held in Southern California at the then-recently opened Home Depot Center. D.C. United won their fourth MLS Cup that season beating out the Kansas City Wizards 3-2 in a thrilling back-and-forth match.
Two current Portland Timbers had a hand in those teams in Jack Jewsbury—who was a second-year midfielder for KC—and goalkeeper Troy Perkins—who as a rookie split time between the posts with Nick Rimando for United.
“The experience itself was probably one of the best memories I’ve had in my career,” remembers Jewsbury (above, right). “Even though we did end up losing the game.”
For Perkins, 2004 was his first in MLS. While he did not start in the final, he did play 16 games for United over the season and picked up three shutouts. He remembers how the team came together that year at just the right time.
“I think you’ve got to start with good chemistry,” said Perkins. “And then you just need that belief at that certain point in the season where you’re going to say, ‘Okay. We’re going to do it. I really think we can do it.’ If you get enough guys starting to believe that, then it’s contagious.”
For Jewsbury, the 2004 season was memorable in part as the Wizards won the U.S. Open Cup and led the Western Conference. Though the midfielder started and played 64 minutes in the final in Carson, his memories of the specifics of the match are somewhat hazy.
“For whatever reason, I don’t know if I tried to block some of it out because we didn’t end up winning the game,” he said.
To summarize, the Wizards went up early on a Jose Burciaga, Jr. bomb from distance in the sixth minute that was recently marked as #29 in the Top 50 MLS Cup Moments from MLSsoccer.com.
“[Burciaga] was playing actually behind me, I was playing wide midfield at the time and it felt like an unbelievable start,” said Jewsbury.
He remembers thinking, “You know, could it be we’re going to win both the Open Cup and the MLS Cup in the same year?”
DCU stormed back with two goals from forward Alecko Eskandarian—the second of which involved a controversial handball that fell his way and that hit #32 on the Top 50 MLS Cup Moments. Three minutes after that goal via, in Jewsbury's words, "the little chicken wing," the Wizards gave up an own goal to find themselves down 3-1 in what MLSsoccer.com's Top 50 #17 Moment called a "bull rush."
Though United's Dema Kovalenko picked up the first red card in MLS Cup history blocking a KC shot at the goal line with his arm and Josh Wolff was able to convert the ensuing Wizards' penalty kick, it was not quite enough.
“It ended up being a great game which we lost by one so great memories and some sour moments there that kind of spoil as well,” lamented Jewsbury. “But overall it was a great season individually and collectively—a team that will always be bonded by both [the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup] games.”
Now both veterans and teammates on the Timbers, both Jewsbury and Perkins played important roles in the squad’s 2011 inaugural MLS season. Perkins had a career high nine shutouts and Jewsbury hit career highs in goals (7), assists (8), and minutes played all while being named Portland’s first-ever MLS captain—an honor given to him within a few weeks of being acquired from Kansas City. Perkins was voted the Supporters’ Player of the Year and Jewsbury received the honor of the Players’ Player of the Year.
Given the pair’s experiences and clear respect from both teammates and fans alike, it should come as no surprise that they have a clear perspective on what it takes to build a winning mentality that can push a team deep into the playoffs. In regards to KC’s 2004 run, Jewsbury explains, “I think from the standpoint of that team and that season, consistency was the one thing that kept us going.”
“It was the competition day-in-day-out for guys to be not only in the starting XI, but to be in the traveling 18,” he said. “It made everybody come in and be as sharp as possible every day. To me, when you have those environments in training, it makes the games on the weekend that much easier.”
Building on the importance of team chemistry that Perkins spoke of before, Jewsbury believes the foundation has been laid here in Portland for further success.
“I think that in tribute to the coaching staff here, the training sessions are very intense and duplicate the games on the weekend as best you can,” he said. “[That environment] helps everyone whether you’re Number 28 on the roster or Number 1. That’s something we had on that 2004 team.”