An Oral History of our Club’s First MLS Win

With 17 minutes left in the game between the MetroStars and Tampa Bay Mutiny, Giovanni Savarese came onto the pitch when the MetroStars were down 3-0. And then, in a span of three minutes between the 72nd and 75th minute, the MetroStars scored three times. After full time, the game finished 3-3, leading the game to shootouts, where the MetroStars won 2-1, thanks to Tab Ramos’ and Rubén Darío Hernández’s conversions. 

In what became the first home win for the club, the events that took place before, during and after the game are memories that will be stored in the minds of many. 

Through the memories of Ramos, Savarese and Hernández, let’s relive a game that holds a special place in club history. 

The Game

Tab Ramos: I remember that the game against Tampa is perhaps the first important game that I had a chance to play for the MetroStars because I remember at the time that Tampa Bay had a great team, with good players, in particular Valderrama, Lassiter, Martín Vásquez and Cle Kooiman. They were established players, and well the game, at that time felt important and was a beautiful one to be part of. 

Giovanni Savarese: That game became a very special one because from what I remember, that was the fourth game of the 1996 season. We came into the game with three consecutive defeats suffered against Galaxy, Columbus and New England. We were winless, and also that game saw the return of Tab Ramos and Donadoni, so it was a game where we hoped on getting the result. I think the stadium had around 40,000 fans, and the right atmosphere for a great day. I remember I started that game on the bench and the start to it wasn’t positive. Tampa dominated and went ahead 3-0. From the bench, I was anxious to participate and be part of the game, thinking on how I could help the team in that moment. I remember talking with Tony Meola, who was on the bench because he was injured, and telling him, “Tony if they put me in and I score, I’ll run and give you a hug,” he then told me, “Alright, I’ll wait for you.”

Rubén Darío Hernández: Even before the game, you could feel the great atmosphere because you could tell that the people wanted to see Pibe and me because we were footballers that at that moment were very representative of Colombian football for what we had done at the national team level and club level. So I do feel that those were ingredients that made MLS capture more boom, more power, and it made the people cheer on. I remember a press conference prior to the game, and it was great to see Pibe. We talked about football, about our country and sharing moments with the Colombian fans that came to see us. It’s one of the reasons why the game was so nice really, on the pitch and in the stands.

MetroStars’ starting XI: Thornton, Vermes, Zaun, Knowles, Joseph, Harty (Savarese 63’), Caricola, Ramos, Kydes, Donadoni, Hernández. 

Referee: Esse Baharmast 

Pibe Valderrama’s Tampa Bay

Ramos: I did feel that we were playing pretty well, but of course, Tampa Bay had a dangerous team that could score on you in any second, and that’s what happened. They got ahead in the score, but the team kept playing the same way throughout the whole game, always pushing forward, and I think that’s what gave us the opportunity to score the first goal. It came off a corner kick play, where we had a bit of luck, but that gave us the possibility to get in the game, and from that point on, the game turned into one of the most exciting I’ve ever played.

Savarese: Tampa Bay was an amazing team. It was one of the best teams in that first year, and watch out if there were doubters that this team didn’t have enough quality to reach the final with Roy Lassiter, who scored a lot of goals, with Valderrama, whose quality was amazing for MLS. I remember that that year Giuseppe Galderisi, Italian and World Cup player, was also with them. They had an extraordinary group of players. The team had everything for a deep run, but that day we were able to comeback from a complicated result, one that looked insurmountable, down 3-0. Not just because we were losing, but we were having a tough time finding that first goal. We couldn’t catch a break, but thank God, in the end, we tied and won in the shootouts.

Hernández: It took us by surprise. Tampa Bay had great players, especially a fast striker in Lassiter, who facilitated Pibe Valderrama’s game. Valderrama was in a great moment, sending through passes and passes into open space. It was spectacular. To see Pibe play, and the fans enjoy his game was something great to see, and that’s why we started losing that game in the first minutes, mainly because of how well Tampa controlled the midfield.

Mutiny’s starting XI: Dougherty, Kooiman, McKinley, Pittman, Wise (Backman 85’), Yallop, Ralston, Vásquez, Valderrama, Lassiter, Viera (Diffley 65’) 

Roberto Donadoni’s Debut

Ramos: Definitely, Donadoni was a player with a lot of class, I do think it was his first game, but the truth is that at that moment, we were lucky to play alongside a player with lots of quality.

Hernández: Roberto was an extraordinary player, with a sheer force in his long passes that was incredible, his precision in switching the game. Indeed, it’s something that I was able to take advantage of because Roberto Donadoni would always find me when moving the ball forward. I always found the right positioning in the flank, so he could spot me, and that really gave a boost to our team.

The Chilena

Ramos: Yeah I remember that Giovanni in the first four, five or six games, it felt that every time he touched the ball, he scored. Normally he would come off the bench, but when he came in, he always made the difference.

Hernández: That’s a spectacular goal, I don’t remember if they selected that goal as the Goal of the Year or Goal of the Month. I don’t know, but it was a goal that had a hint of spectacular in various aspects because what happened before the goal was wonderful. I remember that I started dribbling on the left side, at that time we called it left end, nowadays, left flank. I escaped like three or four players and reached the end line. I saw that Gio was well positioned and sent him a precise pass, very precise, a floater, a cross that took a mid-level trajectory, but more towards the back post so he could attempt a bycicle kick. I thought he was going to try a scissors kick, but he succeeded with a bycicle kick. It was a spectacular goal.

Savarese: Every time I had the opportunity to enter the game, whether at the start, at the end, in the middle, whenever, I always wanted to enter and change the game, help my team and convince my group, so we could work hard to get the results and score goals. In that moment during that play, Rubencho was a great player, he had a lot of quality. He didn’t have luck to score, but you could see the quality and he came with an extraordinary pedigree. He dribbled one player right on the edge of the box, and he faked that he was going to cross, but he turned, and once again escaped his marker and close to the end line, he sent a perfect cross. I made the movement, and I made my decision to attempt the chilena. I remember that the movement was instantaneous, like instinctive, then in the end, I connected the ball and saw it in the back of the net. Top quality from Rubencho.  

Shootouts

Ramos: In particular, I’m not going to say that I liked it. In general, I feel I was accustomed because since I was little we saw the Cosmos at Giants Stadium, and how they ended the game with shootouts. Personally, I was used to that way of living games. Perhaps for me it didn’t feel strange compared to the players that came from abroad. 

Hernández: It was something very precise for my football, what they called the shootout because it was an action where you started from the halfway point of the field, and within a determined time you faced the goalkeeper, and that was one of my best abilities - my speed, technique and change of pace in the one v ones. Against goalkeepers, I was unstoppable. Indeed, I was always one of the first ones in the shootouts because I never missed one. I never missed because one of my marquee abilities was to always succeed against goalkeepers in one v ones. I remember that in many shootouts, I always finished them with time in the clock because of my speed and change of pace. I always tried to trick the goalkeeper; I never liked to finish the play before facing him. I wanted to be spontaneous and dribble off the goalkeeper.

Savarese: We ended up winning our first game, and for me the explosion of the crowd, the joy, and the way the atmosphere of the crowd changed in those 17 minutes allowed me to connect with the fans. For the team, it allowed us to get the win we had been wanting. It was an important result that allowed us to go back home with a smile after living moments in the game that made us think that things weren’t going to go our way. So for me that game is a special memory.

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