The CONCACAF Champions’ Cup 1997 final pitted David against Goliath. Los Angeles Galaxy were the first USA representatives to appear in the fixture, while Cruz Azul were aiming to become the outright record five-time champions by successfully defending their crown for the second time – no other team had ever retained the trophy since the competition’s 1962 inception. Furthermore, the Mexican giants’ last encounter with American opposition had resulted in a record-shattering 11-0 dismantling of Seattle Sounders in the final stage of the previous edition.
Yet a major upset appeared on the cards after 15 minutes at the RFK Memorial Stadium in Washington, D.C. Indeed, Galaxy’s Ecuadorian striker Eduardo Hurtado broke the deadlock with a delightful solo goal, before vindicating his nickname of El Tanque (The Tank) by emerging the winner from a three-man scramble for the ball and tapping it home.
With goalkeeper Jorge Campos belying his diminutive frame to boss his area, Paul Caligiuri and Greg Vanney looking formidable in defence, and the pace of Cobi Jones causing problems, optimism increased that Octavio Zambrano’s underdogs were poised to make history.
But that optimism was receded rapidly within six minutes from the half-hour. First, Benjamin Galindo rolled home a penalty, before Francisco Palencia’s flick-on allowed Johan Rodriguez to equalise and Hector Adomaitis fired them into a 3-2 advantage.
Needing to chase the game, the Galaxy repositioned Campos from between the sticks to in the attack for the second half, but his replacement Kevin Hartman was picking the ball out of the net on 62 minutes, when Carlos Hermosillo’s looping header made it 4-2. The same player then put the outcome beyond the California outfit’s reach from close range six minutes later.
The Galaxy deserved a consolation for their effort, and one arrived from the man who began the game in their gloves. Campos, now with the No9 on his back, skilfully dribbled his way past La Maquina Celeste keeper Oscar Perez – his understudy for the Mexico national team – before reducing the lead to 5-3. That was how it finished.
The Galaxy had done themselves and their country proud, but the day belonged to Cruz Azul and their legendary striker. Hermosillo, indeed, got his hands on the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup trophy for a third time – not a bad way to celebrate his 33rd birthday.