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Team Spirit Guides Dallas to 1997 Open Cup Title


Jorge Rodriguez was more than capable during his pro soccer years in Dallas. The versatile defender and midfielder could certainly hold his own, even if he wasn’t necessarily a game-changer or head-turner.

So how ironic that perhaps the most important kick in more than two decades of professional soccer in Dallas came off this Salvadorian international’s right foot. His well-placed penalty kick almost 20 years ago was the clincher of the 1997 U.S. Open Cup, the fifth successful conversion as the Dallas Burn took down a far more heralded D.C. United bunch at a neutral site on a cold Indiana night in November.

Who knew back then that it would be the only championship this club, rebranded as FC Dallas in 2004, would earn during its first two decades? That could change Tuesday night in the northern Dallas suburb of Frisco, where a stadium built by the same man for whom the tournament is now named, domestic soccer pioneer Lamar Hunt, hosts the U.S. Open Cup final.


Jorge Rodriguez converted the deciding penalty kick to deliver the '97 Open Cup title to Dallas.

The 1997 U.S. Open Cup files are thick with backstories from competitors on both sides of that cold night at the Carroll Stadium on IUPUI’s campus. For Dallas, the emotion of the evening was all about the thrill of the only professional soccer final in which many of the players would participate. And also about helping a teammate through some very hard times.

“It was definitely a very emotional night,” said Dante Washington, who scored 52 goals over 9 MLS seasons and helped Dallas lift the trophy that night.

Washington remained active in MLS circles after retirement as a broadcaster, but he’s hardly the most familiar name from coach Dave Dir’s hand-picked, tight-knit group. Most prominent was Jason Kreis, who would go on to be the youngest MLS Cup-winning manager, claiming Major League Soccer’s ultimate prize in 2009.

Garth Lagerwey, the front office architect of those successful RSL teams and now GM with the Seattle Sounders, was a backup goalkeeper on that 1997 team. So was Jeff Cassar, now RSL’s manager, who was injured and not available for the Open Cup final. Also on that team were current RSL assistant Ted Eck and Vancouver Whitecaps director of soccer operations Tom Soehn, himself a former MLS manager.

Kreis was on his way to becoming Major League Soccer’s original 100-goal scorer. (Great trivia: he is the only player to have hit the inaugural goal for two MLS franchises, doing so for Dallas in 1996 and Real Salt Lake in 2005.) Two years after that Open Cup championship Kreis became the first American-born player voted league MVP, doing so with the first 15-goal, 15-assist season in league history. He would be named an MLS All-Star five times.

But team-wise, the list of achievement was far shorter. A few of those of the early Dallas Burn men had come with Dir from the Colorado Foxes, having won two championships in the early 1990s in the old A-League. But for Kreis and quite a few others, their personal list of professional championships begins and ends with the Dewar Cup hoist that night in Indiana.

“That’s one of the fondest memories I have as a player,” Kreis said as he and others recalled the 1997 crown. “It’s the only trophy I ever won as player. In fact, it was the only final I ever got to play in.”


Jason Kreis was pivotal to the Dallas Burn in its run to the 1997 U.S. Open Cup title.

He recalled not starting for much of the 1997 season, but that he “did start in all the Open Cup matches, and felt like I had a big hand in getting our team to the final.”

There was actually a little more to it. Kreis, now manager at Orlando City SC, had come into the club as a rookie playmaking midfielder in 1996 and had big plans for 1997. But the club added blue chip Swiss international Alain Sutter, who pushed a young and brooding Kreis to the bench. (The next year, Dir moved Kreis ahead in the formation to striker to get both players on the field, which proved a master stroke that benefitted manager and player.)

The club was lucky to have Sutter, a Bundesliga vet and previously a driving force on a strong Swiss side in the 1994 World Cup. He was influential in getting the Burn into the MLS playoffs but also a big reason why the Burn crashed out. Sutter had been terrific in eliminating the LA Galaxy in the first round but developed a stomach bug and was ineffective as the team lost to Colorado in the conference finals.

So Dir and his men definitely felt that “something to prove” pressure. Andy Swift, working then in media relations but later the team’s GM and now executive director of the Dr Pepper Dallas Cup, explained it like this:

“The Open Cup final was an opportunity to play MLS Cup champion D.C. United, who they would have played in MLS Cup, and who they generally felt they had a good chance of beating, provided Sutter was healthy.” Swift said. “So within the team, the game was an important opportunity to show they were as good as a two-time MLS champ.”


The Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas) hoist the 1997 U.S. Open Cup trophy.

United was a fantastic team, blessed with individuals who would become MLS legends, Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno and Raul Diaz Arce foremost among them. Directed by Bruce Arena, they had won a second MLS Cup just days before the Open Cup final (which was played back then at a neutral site).

“I really feel like that was one of the best teams I have ever played on in terms of the talent we had,” Washington said. “We were really disappointed in how things worked out against Colorado and felt like we should have been in MLS Cup [against D.C. United]. So it was great that we got to meet D.C. for this title.”

A testament to the talent and close-nit nature of that team is the astonishing fact that the Burn captured the ’97 Open Cup title without playing a single home game the entire tournament and remains the only team to have achieved that feat in the competition’s modern era (1995-present).

Washington pointed out there’s a little more going on in today’s domestic soccer scene. In addition to MLS Cup and the Open Cup, there are CONCACAF Champions League positions at stake. And Supporters Shield today is a bigger deal now than it was in those earliest MLS campaigns.

“It’s a title, you know? Any title is a big deal, of course,” he said. “But back then it was pretty much MLS Cup and the Open Cup, and that was it.”

The disappointment of a previous playoff ouster wasn’t only motivation driving the team. Dir had been careful to place the right people inside that barebones locker room at the old Cotton Bowl on the State Fair of Texas grounds, a roster full of “givers” rather than “takers,” as current national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann would say it. So the players were generally quite close, and it hit everyone hard when goalkeeper Mark Dodd’s mother died unexpectedly just days before the Open Cup final.

“We weren't sure if he was going to play, or even make the trip,” Swift said. “But once he decided to play, it became another rallying cry for the team, to win it for Mark.”

“To this day, I don’t know how Mark held it together for that match,” Washington said “It meant so much to all of us, to be able to give him just a little bit, even just an ounce of happiness after all the stuff he had gone through that week.”

The match was even, with United generating a slight edge in shots (18-14) but each goalkeeper claiming five saves. Both teams hit the post; Dallas did so twice, including once in the 30-minute overtime. (Highlights are here.) In the end, the teams played 120 scoreless minutes before Dallas prevailed in penalty kicks.

“I still have that medal,” said Lagerwey, who recalled picking up injured teammate Mark Santel and carrying him onto the field to be part of the post-game dog-pile and celebration. “It still means a lot. It’s still the only championship I won as a player, and it was a pretty cool moment to be part of that.”


US Soccer

Sigi Schmid: A Coach, A Teacher, A Gentleman, A Friend

Touching tributes poured in on social media from all corners of the soccer community as news spread that Hall of Fame coach Sigi Schmid had passed away on Christmas Day 2018. And amid the sadness shared by so many who knew him, the messages also provided the rest of us a glimpse into the kind of man that Sigi was, and reminded everyone of the influence Sigi had on the American soccer landscape.

For newer fans of the game, Sigi will be remembered as one of the greatest of MLS coaches, leading the Columbus Crew, Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy to multiple trophies each. Older fans may recall the soccer factory he created while coaching UCLA to numerous NCAA Championships in the 1980 and ‘90s, churning out future U.S. Soccer legends like Cobi Jones, Brad Friedel, Paul Caligiuri, Joe Max-Moore, Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Lewis and Chris Henderson, among others.

Sigi Schmid

It’s also important to highlight the impact he had with two teams he coached for shorter time frames: the U.S. U-20 MNTs that participated in the 1999 and 2005 FIFA U-20 World Youth Championships, each time advancing to the knockout stage while facing the likes of Argentina, England, Germany, Spain and Italy.

Seven players from those U-20 teams would go on to represent the MNT at senior FIFA World Cups, while many others also had solid pro careers. And if not for Schmid, we may never have known some of those players. We caught up with a few from each team:

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1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup Championship:

While at UCLA, Sigi also assisted the MNT at 1994 FIFA World Cup and coached the following year’s Pan-American Games. In 1997, he was also coaching the U-18 MNT when he went to scout a player who had just played in the U-17 FIFA World Youth Championship and was playing for his high school in Southern California. However, as Carlos Bocanegra tells it, there was a mistake on the published schedule and the team that Sigi went to see was not playing. Sigi stuck around anyway, and watched the promising football wide receiver, Bocanegra, play soccer for his Alta Loma High School.

“I think about that all the time,” the two-time World Cup veteran Bocanegra told ussoccer.com this week. “That was my break. That was my chance. He gave me the opportunity and I was able to take that opportunity. That’s how I was able to kick-start my soccer career – pure coincidence that he was watching my game that got mixed up and he saw me play.”

Schmid invited Bocanegra, a junior at the time, to a U-18 camp. The next year he continued his pursuit of the talented defender and recruited Bocanegra to join him at UCLA. Their bond strengthened when Schmid took over the U-20 MNT and made Bocanegra a key member of the USA’s 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship side in Nigeria.

That team also included fellow future senior World Cup players Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Nick Rimando and Chris Albright, as well as long-time pros Danny Califf, Nick Garcia, Cory Gibbs, John Thorrington and Taylor Twellman, who became one of the most prolific American goalscorers in the pro ranks.

“That World Cup, playing with Sigi, had a massive impact on me and ultimately convinced me that I needed to go pro,” said Twellman, who at the time was also contemplating if his future would be in baseball, where he also excelled.

At the tournament, the USA defeated an England side that featured Ashley Cole and Peter Crouch, fell to Shinji Ono’s Japan, and defeated Cameroon in group play before falling by a score of 3-2 in the Round of 16 to eventual champions Spain that included Iker Casillas and Xavi.

In the lead up to that tournament, Sigi broke from the past and brought the team overseas for training, including to Morocco for two games and on a two-week fitness camp in Germany, where the team stayed at a bed-and-breakfast.


Bocanegra in action vs. Argentina in 2003, a few short years after graduating from Schmid's tutelage. 

“He really tried to give us good experiences that he thought would help us later in our career,” said Bocanegra. “He always tried to set trips up around where we could watch games at a higher level and get experiences to challenge ourselves in different ways than was maybe common practice. He always wanted the best for the group and to give us the best experiences to try to better ourselves, not only on the field but in life and to become well-rounded in the game.”

As a reward for the hard work in Germany, Sigi brought the U20s to France to attend the 1998 World Cup match between the USA and Germany.

“Sigi had such a feel for the game of soccer, domestically and globally,” said Chris Albright. “He always communicated that we were putting on our nations colors and flag, representing the country. He drilled that in us that this was not to take it for granted, that it was not to be taken lightly.”

Like Bocanegra, Sigi introduced Albright to the National Team scene. Later he helped pick him up when things were not going well at D.C., trading for him in LA. At the suggestion of then MNT coach Bruce Arena, Sigi helped convert Albright from a forward into a defender, a move that later landed Chris on the 2006 World Cup team.

“He had an excellent ability to teach multiple positions; he could make me a better forward, wide midfielder, defender,” Albright said. “He could teach principles of different positions to help each player grow, and that teaching element in developing us at that time was unique.”

Twellman scored four goals in the tournament, good for third overall, thus becoming the first American to capture a scoring award (Bronze Boot) in a FIFA World Youth Championship.


Twellman accepts the Bronze Boot alongside then U.S. Soccer president Dr. Robert S. Contiguglia.

“When people talk about Sigi, they talk about his love of the game,” Twellman said, who a few months later would leave Maryland to sign with 1860 Munich in Germany. “But he was also a gentleman and was kind off the field. Every single one of us on that team, if we saw Sigi 3-4-5-10 years down the road…he always watched our games, even when he was not our coach. He was always willing to talk to us, showed interested in us, asked us about our lives.”

Now the Technical Director of MLS Cup champion Atlanta United, Bocanegra draws from those early experiences under Schmid.

“Even though we were young, he really tried to instill the professionalism in us,” Bocanegra said. “The detail, structure, organization – challenging us. He always made time to make people feel important. He never stopped, through college, through pros, was always available. He was pretty special.”

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2005 Under-20 World Youth Championship

A week after that 1999 U-20 tournament came to an end for the USA, Sigi also began his pro career, taking the helm of his hometown LA Galaxy for the next five seasons.

He returned to coach the  U-20 MNT in October 2014, having only a couple months to scout and prep players for January’s U-20 Concacaf Championship.

Two years earlier, Schmid’s Galaxy had eliminated Kansas City and veteran National Team player Peter Vermes from the MLS Cup Playoffs. After the game, Vermes recalled this week, Schmid approached him and told him he’d like to have him on his staff one day.

Fast-forward to fall 2014, a since-retired Vermes called Sigi and reminded him of that conversation. Schmid held true and invited Vermes to a three-week U-20 camp. After a week of evaluating, Schmid told Vermes he had earned one of the assistant coach positions.

“It was a great opportunity for me just to be around somebody like him with as much knowledge and experience that he had,” Vermes said, who enters the 2019 season as the longest tenured MLS coach, having taken the reigns of Sporting KC in 2009. “I already knew I wanted to coach for a long time, but what those experiences give you is like anything – when you first want to do something, you’re excited, you’re ambitious, you’re motivated, you’re all those things. But sometimes you lack the confidence. For me, Sigi gave me a direction that I felt comfortable with because I had gotten a chance to see a lot of different things that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t get that chance to be with him and spend all that time, and the preparation, and everything. It was a great experience.”

Schmid’s first friendly was in November in Ft. Lauderdale. Due to College Cup, some would-be regulars were not available, so Schmid called in four new players, including UCLA speedster Marvell Wynne, who had never been called to any YNT camp before.

“I think I should have been more in the moment with everything that happened,” Wynne admits. “When I got called in I remember thinking ‘these guys are way better than me.’ But Sigi kept calling me back. When he said I made the team, I was definitely shocked.”

For a mid-December camp Schmid called in 30 players, including UCLA walk-on midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who also had never been on any Youth National Team. Like Wynne, Feilhaber also made a formidable impression.

Wynne and Feilhaber were instrumental in helping the USA qualify for the

2005 FIFA U-20 World Youth Championship three weeks later.

Let’s back up for a second. Sigi’s sons also played college soccer in the LA area around that era. And, family man that he was, he would always attend their games, first Kurt’s at UCLA, and later Kyle’s at UC-Irvine.

“It’s what jump-started my entire career,” said newly retired 12-year pro Brad Evans. “The only reason I made that U-20 team is because Kyle Schmid transferred to UC Irvine. Without Kyle transferring there was absolutely no reason for Sigi to come watch UCI play.”

Schmid had spotted Evans that fall at UCI, but it wasn’t until after the U-20s had qualified for the World Cup that he called in the versatile player to his first National Team camp at any level.   

Vermes explained how Sigi gave the preliminary roster to rest of the coaching staff and told them that they could each make a case for one player to either be replaced or be added. 

“A lot of guys in that position would never consult the rest of staff,” Vermes said. “I thought that showed a lot of security and confidence on his part, to know what his decisions were but also want to know what his staff’s decisions were, and ultimately to make the best decision. There’s no doubt that that has helped me, and I would say that a lot of the players that were identified are players that are still playing or who had great careers because they were identified correctly.”

Wynne, Feilhaber and Evans were on the final 21-player roster, along with Jonathan Spector, Sacha Kljestan, Lee Nguyen, Freddy Adu, Chad Barret and Eddie Gaven, among others who also had solid pro careers.

The team shocked the world in the tournament opener, defeating Argentina 1-0 thanks to a Barrett goal assisted by Wynne. It would be the only loss and shutout suffered by the South Americans, who won their next six matches en route the lifting the championship trophy with future international stars Sergio Aguero, Lucas Biglia, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando Gago and Golden Ball and Golden Boot winner, Lionel Messi.

2005 U-20 MNT vs. Argentina
2005 U-20 MNT vs. Argentina
2005 U-20 MNT vs. Argentina
2005 U-20 MNT vs. Argentina
2005 U-20 MNT vs. Argentina
Chad Barrett, who would go on to play professionally under Schmid in MLS, scored the game-winner vs. Argentina at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship.

The 20s then played Germany to a scoreless draw and defeated Egypt 1-0 before losing 3-1 to Italy in the Round of 16. The experience and exposure provided opportunities to a number of players.

Feilhaber would soon sign with Hamburg, and later would score one of the best goals of the USA’s rivalry against Mexico, helping the MNT win the 2007 Gold Cup. And despite interest from international clubs, Wynne and Evans returned to school. Wynne became the top pick in the next MLS SuperDraft and Evans was selected 15th overall the following year by Columbus’s new coach, Sigi Schmid.

“He means more than I can really describe,” Feilhaber said, who along with Spector also made the 2010 FIFA World Cup roster. “Getting that opportunity with the 20s led to everything else in my life. I have no idea if I would have become a pro. I know I would not have been as successful financially, [and] going to Europe that early helped me immensely as a player. I don’t know if I would have ever played on the National Team let alone in a World Cup. I’m really grateful for Sigi having that keen eye and for giving me that opportunity.”

Sigi not only gave Evans his international debut and professional debut but would also bring him to Seattle on their way to spending 10 pro seasons together.

“He was the pivot for me in my entire career,” Evans said. “You have youth coaches, parents, but if you want to talk about the person who I’m able to talk about 12 years later and say I played professionally because of them…yes, it comes from within, but you have to have someone who pushes you and really believed in you, and Sigi was the guy for me.”

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REFLECTIONS:

Sigi’s memorial took place on Friday, Jan. 18 in Los Angeles.

In March 2017, after more than 300 MLS games and having also represented the USA in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 Confederations Cup, Wynne’s career came to an end after undergoing a heart procedure.

When he came to from the operation, one of the first voicemails he listened to was from Sigi Schmid.

“Sigi was the reason I became a pro,” Wynne said. “He got me on to the scene, kept me there, had confidence in me and he kept me going. In terms of coaching, it was more, ‘get the basics right and perfect them.’ He was the first one to hammer that home, and if you ever saw my career, it was basic.”

A reflective Wynne made a special trip to an LA Galaxy game last year to meet up with his former coach.

“We talked about my heart situation, and caught up about everything,” Wynne said. “And I told him, ‘you’re the reason I went pro.’ I was able to tell him face to face, but I hoped he knew.”

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“Yea, the opportunity, experience and all those other things were great, but the best thing for me, to be honest, was that he and I became friends after that 2005 Youth Championship,” Vermes said. “We always, always talked and kept in touch and spent time with each other. We had a very good relationship.”

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“I sense that he knew what he meant to me,” Feilhaber said. “The way that we spoke was not in a way that most coaches to ex-players do. We were friends - he understood how much of an influence he had on me. We had respect for each other, and I’m going to miss him a lot, but it’s so important to have these memories about him.”

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“We talk about a coaching tree a lot, but Sigi’s got the player tree, the coaching tree, the soccer tree really,” Bocanegra said. “So many people spiraled off the opportunities he gave them. Through soccer he gave so many people their start. But the biggest part that everybody remembers is that he cared about each and every person. He wanted to get the best out of them, and did not give up. He would give second chances, third chances - if you were his guys, and you worked for him he was going to his damndest to get the best out of you and make you a better player or person in general.”

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“When I think back on it, especially the last couple of weeks, we always talked about getting the ‘Sigi shirt-tug,’” Evans reminisced. “Once he got a hold of your shirt and put his arm around you, there was no getting away from it. But I remember him being very honest with me in everything. He never blew smoke up my tail or thought that I was better or worse than I was. He always believed in me. We really trusted each other when it came to soccer and had an unspoken relationship that just worked. It’s something that I’ll cherish and remember forever.”

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