20 Years Later: The Curse Of Caricola

It was April 20, 1996 when the upstart NY/NJ MetroStars first-ever home match at Giants Stadium went up in smoke, a last-second own goal that New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch remembers to this day.

There was tremendous anticipation for that home debut, a game where Meadowlands authorities opened up the massive NFL stadium’s third-tier for the expected crowd. It was a rather dour match between two teams looking to gel and playing rather tentatively. The MetroStars were without Roberto Donadoni and Tab Ramos, two midfielders who would be the spine of a team that eventually rallied from a sluggish start to finish third in the Eastern Conference.

What was going to be an unforgettable game instead ended when Nicola Caricola, an Italian central defender, made a play that would become legendary for all the wrong reasons. Inexplicably, Caricola chipped a Darren Sawatzky cross right past a helpless Tony Meola in the MetroStars goal with just moments left in the match. A game headed for overtime instead ended up being destined for a curse.

The MetroStars, later bought and rebranded as the New York Red Bulls, wouldn’t win a trophy until they captured the MLS regular season in 2013 to take the Supporters’ Shield. For years, whether as Red Bull or ‘Metro’ it seemed that the team would start the year with hopes and expectations of a championship, only for the inexplicable to happen. Caricola was always to blame. That’s so Metro.

And after winning the Supporters’ Shield again last year, this year’s Red Bulls squad now has just one win in seven games. For Marsch, who in 1996 was one of the league’s original players with D.C. United and became head coach of the Red Bulls last year, there’s a sense of history about the MetroStars first home game having been played 20 years ago this week. The Red Bulls will remember the team this Sunday night before their home match against Orlando City SC.

History that even he admits – with a smirk on his face – sometimes seems to repeat itself.

“I remember watching. Isn’t it they say the ‘Curse of Caricola?’ It feels like a curse right now,” Marsch said on Wednesday. “You know what, I actually thought about it last year, after the game last year against Columbus when it hit the post and didn’t go in.”

“I don’t believe in curses and luck, I don’t,” he continued. “But, you can’t help but wonder at certain moments wonder why certain things happen. Regardless, it will be a great chance to think back to 20 years ago.”

The match that Marsch referred to was the second leg of the Eastern Conference finals a season ago against the Columbus Crew. In the final moments of stoppage time, Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips hit the post on what would have been the goal to send the team to MLS Cup.

Caricola, who played just a single season in MLS with the MetroStars, strikes again.

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For his part, Marsch, who had a long and successful career in MLS and was named the league’s coach of the year last season, remembers games against the MetroStars in 1996 as being “highly emotional, I think that rivalry started from the get-go.”

“It’s fun to see that this league actually has history now,” Marsch said.