Few moments in Metro history live on as much as the day 16-year old Eddie Gaven scored a game-winning goal at RFK Stadium with an unforgettable asterisk.
The Hamilton Township native became the youngest player in league history (in a short-lived pre-Freddy Adu era) when was drafted by MetroStars as a teenager in 2003 by then-head coach Bob Bradley. While Gaven was considered a long-term project in his rookie season, Bradley used him more immediately to take advantage of a new rule that won him the game.
It was 4th of July weekend 2003 as the league’s biggest East Coast rivals met. Metro had been reeling after an eight goal draw at Giants Stadium against San Jose, but the weekend match had more thrills in store.
After the match ended in regulation time with a two-goal draw, the game entered the then-current format of golden goal overtime. But at the same time, there was a new rule added by the league allowing a fourth substitution for goalkeepers only, allowing teams to cover for injuries at the specialized position.
That’s when Bob Bradley took advantage of this rule and decided to use Eddie Gaven as the guinea pig to have him come into the match as a goalkeeper, while Tim Howard would switch jerseys as a field player.
The broadcast team for MLS Soccer on ESPN was Rob Stone as play-by-play and analysts Ty Keough with Eric Wynalda. Rob Stone didn’t mince his words about the shenanigans that Bradley was doing with this new substitution rule.
“I think this is cheating, just cheating. But it’s in there. What they did was make a temporary goalkeeping substitution. Putting Tim Howard into the middle of the field as a field player. So at least they will have Eddie Gaven play a minute in the net, so when the ball is cleared, they can switch back.”
With Metro already playing a man down following Kenny Arena’s second yellow in the summer heat of Washington, getting Gaven on the pitch gave the team the needed legs to push for a winner.
As the second half of golden goal extra time was ticking away, Howard made a huge point-blank save on the DC United attacker, then started a break for the Metros as Gaven was running down the near side heading for goal. As soon as he saw Nick Rimando off his line with enough space, he chipped it past Rimando and tucked it inside the far side netting.
It was an improbable goal and a huge three points on the road. Now since then, MLS has removed that goalkeeper only substitution rule and we are back to three. But of course, since then FIFA has allowed a fourth sub to be used, only if matches go into extra time in elimination matches like the US Open Cup or knockout stage games like the World Cup, UEFA Champions League, and so on.
But with the current public health situation halting the world’s favorite game, FIFA has deemed temporarily to allow five substitutions with international dates being hampered as well for World Cup Qualifying. Perhaps some clever coaches looking for a new edge around the globe will be looking back at what happened that summer afternoon at RFK.