By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Jones Was The Navigator On The Path To Galaxy’s Title
LOS ANGELES — Cobi Jones was standing in the locker room, arms folded across his chest, dreadlocks framing a grin from here to Frisco, Texas.
The Galaxy had just won its second Major League Soccer championship in four years, defeating the New England Revolution, 1-0 in overtime, on Sunday evening, and Jones was basking in the moment.
He, more than anyone, knew what it had taken to get this far.
Thirty-two regular-season games and four playoff games separated the April 2 season-opener from the Nov. 13 MLS Cup final — more than seven turbulent months in which the Galaxy rode a frequently shaky roller-coaster, the wheels sometimes threatening to leave the track altogether.
By the end of the regular season, the Galaxy had flattened out into a .500 team, one that finished in fourth place in the West at 13-13-6. To even the most optimistic observer, it seemed an unlikely title contender.
How, then, to explain the championship?
“This team coming together toward the end of the season, that was it,” Jones said “I think you have to look at our whole playoff run. We came together and we played, I think, pretty amazingly. We were tough. We did what we needed to do.”
Playoff victories over the league’s top two teams in 2005 — the two-time champion San Jose Earthquakes in the first round and the Revolution in the final — proved that point.
“We didn’t think we were a fourth-place team,” Jones said. “For us to beat the first-place team in the West and the first-place team in the East shows the dedication and determination that we had, and that we believed in ourselves.”
Believing had only one source: Jones.
He and Landon Donovan were the architects of the 2005 title, the twin pillars upon which the championship was built.
It is not too much of a stretch to say that while Donovan shouldered much of the brick-and-mortar work on the field, Jones, who did his share, was the one who made sure the blueprints were followed.
As the oldest player on the team at 35 and as the only player who has been with the Galaxy since its 1996 launch, he had experience no one else could match.
When leadership, direction and inspiration were needed, Jones provided them.
“Really, when Cobi decides that he wants to lift this team and insist that this team play better, or have more concentration, or train better, he’s the one who’s getting it done,” said Galaxy Coach Steve Sampson.
“When Cobi speaks, this team listens, and that goes for this coach.”
Jones shrugged off such talk.
“That’s one of my jobs, just trying to do what I can to help this team out as much as possible,” he said.
“I’ve seen a lot of things, a lot of highs and a lot of lows, with this team, and one thing that I’ve learned is that even though you have lows, you’re not going to have them forever, so you’ve got to keep fighting.
“I knew we had the opportunity to turn things around and win a championship.”
It was Jones’ fifth trophy with the Galaxy, one to put alongside the 2002 MLS Cup, the 2001 and 2005 U.S. Open Cups and the 2003 CONCACAF Champions Cup.
Two things made this triumph even more satisfying. First, it came as part of a “double,” the Galaxy having also won the U.S. Open Cup this season to become only the third team after D.C. United in 1996 and the Chicago Fire in 1998 to win both the MLS Cup and the Open Cup in the same year.
Then, too, Sunday’s league championship qualified the Galaxy for the 2006 CONCACAF Champions Cup, the regional championship for club teams in soccer’s North and Central American and Caribbean (CONCACAF) region.
That tournament, which starts in February, will send its winner to the next FIFA World Club Championship, in Tokyo at the end of 2006.
The MLS Cup victory also means the Galaxy will be taking part in next year’s Copa Sudamericana, a South American tournament that begins in the spring.
Small wonder the Galaxy is celebrating.
Jones was a television guest on FSNW Tuesday night before the Clippers-Milwaukee Bucks game. Tonight, Donovan and team captain Peter Vagenas are scheduled to be the pre-game guests before the Lakers-New York Knicks game. On Thursday, the entire Galaxy team — minus Costa Rican defender Michael Umana, who was waived Tuesday — will be at Staples Center to be honored during an intermission at the Kings-Vancouver Canucks game.
And on Sunday, the team will celebrate its “double-winning” season with a 3 p.m. bash at the Home Depot Center that is open free to the public.
Of course, it was more than simply Jones and Donovan who made 2005 special, it was all 28 players and the coaching and support staffs, but for Donovan, who in the spring left Germany to return to MLS, it was an especially satisfying year.
A miserable time in the Bundesliga turned into a memorable season in MLS, and for Donovan that is important.
“Without getting too deep, it’s about having fun,” he said.
“I know a lot of people didn’t understand why I came back, and people are still going to say it was stupid and it was the wrong decision.
“But I’m happy, and I have been happy this year. Even when things were bad I could go home every day and my life was good at home.
“This has been my most satisfying, my most gratifying, my most content year, and to culminate this way is perfection.”