18 November 2011

Gambia: Uncap Kandji's Ultimate Sacrifice

Gambia-hopeful Mac Kandji knew his leg was going to get crushed. But it was extra time of MLS Cup 2010. Self-preservation was not the first thought running through the mind of the Colorado attacker as he lunged to beat FC Dallas defender Ugo Ihemelu to a ball in the box.

"The reason why you bring a guy like Mac on is because you know he is going to create a goal," says Rapids midfield leader Jeff Larentowicz. "His job when he came on was to take players on."

Kandji's move paid off. The ball caromed off FC Dallas' George John and past goalkeeper Kevin Hartman for the eventual game-winner. And while his teammates mobbed him in celebration Kandji struggled to get up. Dallas players protested, believing he was feigning injury. Little did anyone know he tore his left ACL.

"At first I thought I broke my leg," Kandji said after the match. "I thought I will see my bone popping out. Thank God it's not that."

The injury forced Kandji out of the match, only nine minutes after coming on for another injured Rapids forward, Omar Cummings. He would join his teammates for the trophy celebration on crutches.

"If you look at the replay, his leg bows and it almost breaks," Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens said at the time. "I thought he broke his leg."

"I had to look away," Larentowicz said from the victorious locker room. "I thought he broke his femur. The way he kept falling down, I thought it must be broken or something must be wrong. But we're all happy he did exactly what he did."

The injury cost Kandji nine months of action, and he only returned to competitive league action in August.

And while Rapids fans will always celebrate Kandji's heroic feat, FC Dallas players are still seething about the goal, claiming that the play should have been whistled dead after Kandji used his arms to get around Dallas left back Jair Benítez.

"To me, honestly, that was a foul. It shouldn't have been a goal," says 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira. "The Colorado player grabs our player and throws him to the ground. It's the referee's mistake. But that's in the past now, we can't do anything about it. History says 'Colorado 2, FC Dallas 1.'"

It may not have been the prettiest of goals - "It's not something that when Mac was running around the backyard as a kid, he was thinking about scoring a goal like that in the final," Larentowicz said - and Dallas believe it shouldn't even have been allowed.

But Kandji's sacrifice will remain indelible in MLS Cup lore for quite a very long time

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