Let's play three! Recalling the fun – and flaws – of MLS' original playoff format
Kansas City and Los Angeles draw, 4 points - 4 points: Kansas City advances in extra time
Kansas City won the Supporters' Shield primarily through defense, and the drive to its first MLS Cup championship wasn't all that different. The Wizards, who with MVP Tony Meola in the nets and Defender of the Year Peter Vermes anchoring the backline posted shutouts in 16 regular-season games and five in seven playoff outings, twice against LA. They still needed an extra session to reach the title game.
After 1996, the higher seed got the first and third games at home, but Kansas City couldn't hit the net in the opener and the teams headed to Pasadena on even terms. LA pulled out game two, 2-1, on Danny Califf's extra-time strike. That meant the Wizards had to win in Game 3 just to force an extra period, and they did, the 1-0 triumph fueled by Miklos Molnar's first-half penalty kick. There were only 8,320 on hand to see it and the extra session that followed.
That added time would go on for less than six minutes, with Molnar tallying again to send Kansas City to the final, where it would edge the Chicago Fire, 1-0.
Los Angeles and New York draw, 4 points - 4 points: Los Angeles advances in extra time
The Galaxy endured heartbreak at the hands of Dwayne De Rosario in the 2001 MLS Cup final, and almost didn’t get that far. LA was fortunate to even survive a quarterfinal against the MetroStars.
Sigi Schmid’s side managed just a 1-1 draw at home in the first game, with Paul Caligiuri's second-half goal answering Rodrigo Faria's in the opening half, and then the MetroStars scored four times over a dozen minutes late in the second match to overcome Sasha Victorine's early strike.
LA had to win the third game just to force extra time, and Victorine provided a 2-0 edge by the 33rd minute, to the joy of just 6,154 fans and the silence of 86,000 empty seats. The MetroStars fought back through Petter Villegas, who halved the deficit four minutes into the second half and again in the 60th after Adam Frye tallied for the Galaxy.
LA held on to even the series, and Mauricio Cienfuegos delivered the knockout punch in the extra period. Cobi Jones was fouled just outside the MetroStars' box, and Cienfuegos' free kick into the wall glanced off Mark Chung's chest and beat Tim Howard to the lower left corner.
Los Angeles defeats Chicago, 7 points - 1 point
The next series wasn't all that much simpler for the Galaxy, although it might look as such from the surface. LA claimed points in every game, two of them in Chicago, to advance to MLS Cup, but it just as easily could have been finished off in two games.
LA played the Fire tight in the Soldier Field opener, with Luis Hernandez answering Eric Wynalda's strike just before halftime in a 1-1 draw, and the Galaxy pulled out Game 2 at the Rose Bowl, winning, 1-0, on Peter Vagenas' extra-time goal.
The teams returned to Soldier Field for the finale, which the Fire needed to win to force a 20-minute tiebreaker. DaMarcus Beasley provided a lead a half-hour in, but Danny Califf equalized just before halftime, and it was still 1-1 when the final whistle blew. That meant overtime, and the Fire pressed from the start, looking for the goal that would lead to another, more vital overtime period.
Mauricio Cienfuegos again played hero, taking a touch from Brian Mullan after Cobi Jones forced a turnover off a Chicago throw-in, then arcing a 35-yard, left-footed shot over Zach Thornton, off the right post and into the net. LA was headed to its fourth title game in six years, and its fourth title-game defeat.