#8. Great Western Shootout (2009)
After 120 minutes of soccer that finished 1-1 and three rounds of a penalty kick shootout, Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy were still dead even at MLS Cup 2009.
“To be honest, going into the PKs, what’s going through my head is, “We’re not supposed to be here,’” RSL netminder Nick Rimando said. “Everyone in this crowd, everyone who follows this league doesn’t think that we should be here, doesn’t think that we should win this game. This is the Galaxy’s game.”
After two rounds of penalty kicks, David Beckham and Gregg Berhalter had scored for LA. Clint Mathis and Robbie Findley replied for Real Salt Lake. But then LA’s Jovan Kirovski and RSL’s Kyle Beckerman watched their attempts saved by the goalkeepers in Round 3.
It was Landon Donovan’s turn and the LA star was as automatic as they come in these situations. In nine MLS seasons, he had converted 19 of 21 attempts and had a knack for always beating the goalkeeper to the opposite side.
“That was one I wanted to react to, I didn’t want to just guess, because he’s such a crafty, good PK taker,” Rimando said. “So I wanted to kind of beat him at his own game, make him choose a side, not let him go to the opposite side I dive to. So I stayed as long as I could and he missed.”
Said RSL’s Robbie Russell, “When Landon missed, we were kind of like, ‘Yep. Exactly,’ We saw it all falling into place. At that moment, the way the playoffs had gone, it was one of those situations where I believed we were going to win.”
After Donovan’s famous miss, RSL’s Ned Grabavoy put his club in the lead 3-2. Even when Mike Magee scored for LA in Round 5 to even it up, Andy Williams had the ball at his feet to end the match and give RSL its first title. But LA’s Josh Saunders foiled what would have been a storybook ending.
“We had chosen Andy Williams to take the kick for two reasons,” RSL manager Jason Kreis said. “The first reason is because he’s typically a very calm player in those pressure-packed situations and he’s someone you can rely on at the critical moment, and the second reason is because he had become an emotionally central figure on our team from all the difficulties he had faced with his wife that year. So I felt it would be neat to have him be the one that would win the game for us.
“To have him miss was shocking. We had kind of already started to celebrate a little bit, thinking this was meant to be.”
Knowing that a single failed conversion could prove catastrophic to either team in the sudden-death shootout rounds, both sides converted in Round 6 but fate wasn’t as kind to LA’s Edson Buddle in Round 7. Although Donovan had the most famous miss in that PK series, it was Buddle’s shot saved by Rimando which gave the game its final twist.
“We had seen him do it in training — he stops a lot of penalties — so I knew he would stop one or two,” said RSL’s Javier Morales. “He’s the one that gave us the confidence to know we had a shot of winning the title. Truth is, Nick took home all the applause.”
But even with Rimando’s save, RSL still needed one more to go in to bring the proceedings to an end. That was Robbie Russell’s task.
“I wasn’t supposed to be taking a PK. We were supposed to be done by then,” recalled Russell. “I asked Clint Mathis, ‘If I make this, does that mean we win?’ I was in the zone and oblivious to the score. He said, ‘yeah, go and do it.’”
There was likely no greater underdog in an MLS Cup final. But Russell’s conversion made sure the ‘dogs were champions on this night.
“There’s a lot of people that were talking about the fact that maybe we didn’t even deserve to be there because we were an under-.500 team,” Kreis said. “There’s a lot of non-believers, so as soon as that kick goes in, I'm doing a lot of thanking God and a lot of thinking in my mind that 'I told you so.'”
WATCH: #8 - Great Western Shootout (2009)