With overtime about to begin and the game on the line, Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid sent Alexi Lalas into the U.S. Open Cup final against the New England Revolution on Saturday afternoon.
“Bringing in Alexi drew a little bit of attention away,” Schmid said. “They had to decide who was more dangerous. We used ‘Big Red’ as a decoy.”
It worked. While the Revolution was focusing on “Big Red,” “Big Blue” sneaked in and scored the game-winner.
Danny Califf, the defender from Orange--it was a colorful afternoon--who had dyed his hair an electric blue just for Saturday’s match, headed in Cobi Jones’ corner kick 1:53 into overtime to give the Galaxy a 2-1 victory and its second title of the season.
In January, Los Angeles won the CONCACAF Champions Cup. Last Sunday, the Galaxy was defeated, 2-1 in overtime, by the San Jose Earthquakes in Major League Soccer’s championship game in Columbus, Ohio.
Having endured that loss, the players were not about to let the nation’s oldest soccer trophy escape them.
“For Danny, it was a big goal,” Schmid said. “I thought it was pretty much a game that we dominated from start to finish. To be in three finals in one season, I don’t know if people truly appreciate what this team accomplished this year.
“We didn’t do anything the easy way all year. We didn’t win this one the easy way, either. But I think this team has shown a lot of guts, a lot of character throughout the year. To be in three finals and to win two of them is a great season.”
For Califf, it was redemption of sorts. In the loss to the Earthquakes, he had not played his best game of the season and, stranded one on one, he had been burned on Dwayne DeRosario’s overtime goal that gave San Jose the MLS title.
Small wonder Califf raced over to the corner flag after scoring and joyously slapped it about in his trademark celebration, with Jones whooping and hollering nearby.
“It’s a great way to win in overtime,” he said. “He [Cobi] and I have a pretty good connection. We’ve scored a couple of goals like that this year and last year. It’s a play that we run.”
The run of play went against the Galaxy in the first half and Los Angeles still was trailing, 1-0, after more than an hour.
The Revolution took the lead in the 30th minute when Wolde Harris slammed a free kick through the Los Angeles defensive wall, the ball deflecting off Galaxy forward Sasha Victorine’s leg and sneaking in at the right post.
Goalkeeper Kevin Hartman was fooled by the deflection and, covering the initial shot, had no chance to reach the ball.
The free kick had been awarded after midfielder Peter Vagenas fouled Cate, New England’s Brazilian playmaker, about 30 yards out from the net.
After applying most of the pressure on offense, the Galaxy tied it in the 70th minute. Ezra Hendrickson took a pass from Greg Vanney and fired a half-shot, half-cross from an acute angle on the right that somehow eluded Revolution goalkeeper Jose Fernandez.
The goal came exactly six minutes after Schmid had signaled an end to defender Paul Caligiuri’s professional career by taking him off and replacing him with forward Brian Mullan in an effort to boost the offense.
Caligiuri, 37, came off the field to loud applause from the 4,195 fans at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Stadium.
Revolution Coach Fernando Clavijo, who played alongside Caligiuri on the U.S. 1994 World Cup team, made a point of walking over to shake his hand.
Hendrickson had another idea. After scoring, the ripped off his jersey--revealing once again the black Bob Marley T-shirt he displays when scoring--raced over to the Galaxy bench and handed the jersey to Caligiuri.
“Ezra’s gesture was tremendous,” Caligiuri said. “I’ve never received a more special gift in my life. It’s incredible. I’ll cherish that and remember that for the rest of my life.”
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The performance of the Galaxy in the finals of cup competitions:
1996 MLS Cup
Oct. 20 at Foxboro, Mass.
Lost to D.C. United, 3-2, in overtime. The Galaxy squandered a 2-0 lead and lost on Eddie Pope’s goal.
1999 MLS Cup
Nov. 21 at Foxboro, Mass.
Lost to D.C. United, 2-0. After losing captain Robin Fraser to an injury in the seventh minute, the Galaxy managed only three shots on goal.
Jan. 21 at the Coliseum
Defeated Olimpia of Honduras, 3-2. Ezra Hendrickson scored two goals, including game-winner in 78th minute.
2001 MLS Cup
Oct. 21 at Columbus, Ohio
Lost to San Jose, 2-1, in overtime. Dwayne DeRosario won the game with a goal six minutes into overtime.
2001 U.S. Open Cup
Oct. 27 at Fullerton
Defeated New England, 2-1, in overtime. Danny Califf scored the winning goal on a header in the 92nd minute.