Final Answer? Still Agoos

Times Staff Writer

Painful as it might be for Galaxy fans, they're going to be seeing Jeff Agoos play in yet another Major League Soccer championship match Sunday.

The league's title game between the San Jose Earthquakes and the Chicago Fire at the Home Depot Center will mark the sixth time in the eight-year history of MLS that Agoos, 35, has appeared in the final.

He has won four championship rings -- three with D.C. United and one with San Jose, and on three of those occasions, in 1996, 1999 and 2001, the Galaxy has been the losing team.

And it was a goal by Agoos that sparked the Earthquakes' memorable five-goal surge as they overcame a four-goal aggregate deficit to knock the Galaxy out of this season's Western Conference final. That loss denied the Galaxy the chance to defend its 2002 title in its stadium.

Given that background, it is easy to understand why "Goose" is apprehensive about the reception he and the rest of the Earthquakes will receive from L.A. fans Sunday.

"If I were a betting man, I'd say they'd be against us," Agoos said. "There's quite a rivalry between us and the Galaxy just because of proximity and [because] the talent between the teams is so close.

"Playing with the national team, I'm used to playing in the United States but still having an away crowd, so it's not going to matter one way or another. We hope to have the crowd with us, but whichever way it turns out, we're still going to go out and give everything we have."

Having played more than 200 MLS games in five seasons with D.C. United and three with San Jose, defender Agoos will be the most experienced player on the field in Sunday's 12:30 p.m. final. But his value to the team is based on more than that, according to Earthquake Coach Frank Yallop.

"We tend to look at his leadership, but Jeff is a good soccer player," Yallop said. "He plays the game correctly. He plays each game like it's the last game he's ever going to play, and he trains like that.

"He's a fine example of how to look after your body, how to take every game very, very seriously, how not to get down on yourself . He never drops his head. He's our captain, so we're looking at him to pull the rest of the guys up by their bootlaces and get them going, and he does that. He did it in that game against L.A.

"It's not a surprise that he's in the final again."

Agoos' advice to the younger players on both teams is simple.

"I'm very fortunate to have been in so many finals in the short existence of this league," he said. "Really, the championship game is so completely different from any regular-season or playoff game.

"The only thing I can convey to the young players is not to worry about it, to enjoy it. How many opportunities do you get to be in a final? If you put too much stress on yourself, if you put too much pressure on yourself, you're not going to be able to perform, so go out and enjoy it."

Agoos, now in what Yallop called "the twilight of his career," plans to do just that.



MLS Cup '03

* Who: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Chicago Fire in the Major League Soccer championship game.

* When: Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

* Where: Home Depot Center

* TV: Channel 7

* How they got there: San Jose finished first in Western Conference; defeated Galaxy, 5-4 on aggregate, in conference semifinals; defeated Kansas City, 3-2, in conference final. Chicago finished first in Eastern Conference; defeated D.C. United, 4-0 on aggregate, in conference semifinals; defeated New England, 1-0, in conference final.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Sunday November 23, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction Soccer -- A caption in Friday's Sports section that accompanied an Associated Press photograph taken at the San Jose Earthquakes soccer match against D.C. United misidentified the Earthquakes' Todd Dunivant as Jeff Agoos..
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