Moments before the opening kickoff Saturday night against nemesis Los Angeles, the Mutiny players huddled just outside the box for some final words.
Words like retribution and respect.
They got a little of both with a come-from-behind 4-3 win _ that after squandering a 2-0 lead _ before 13,131 at Tampa Stadium.
"It was very important, not only for me and the team but for the fans," said Mutiny co-captain Carlos Valderrama, who had an assist and scored the team's final two goals on penalty kicks. "The fans have been great for us. This is the best thing we could do for them."
The Eastern Conference-leading Mutiny (12-8) concluded its regular-season series with the Western Conference-leading Galaxy (13-5).
Tampa Bay lost the first two meetings. The Galaxy won 2-1 in Tampa on June 1, then 3-2 in a shootout before a record 92,216 at the Rose Bowl on June 16.
"Everybody's talking about these two teams facing each other (in the MLS championship) in Boston," coach Thomas Rongen said, "so we wanted to make a statement."
"We felt hungry," defender Cle Kooiman added. "Everybody was pretty tired physically, but we got psyched up. We came out flying."
Despite playing for the fourth time in 10 days, Tampa Bay stunned the top defensive team in the league with two goals in the first six minutes.
Kooiman, off a free kick from Valderrama, scored the game's first goal _ his first of the season _ in the fifth minute. Kooiman, chiefly responsible for marking L.A. star forward Eduardo Hurtado, only had two shots all season. But a minute later, he shot again. This time, keeper David Kramer deflected it but let it slip away.
Forward Giuseppe Galderisi, who along with Valderrama, Martin Vasquez and Steve Pittman sat out Thursday's loss at Columbus, was camped out at Kramer's fingertips and tapped in the loose ball for a 2-0 Mutiny lead. The Galaxy (13-5) entered the game allowing 1.4 goals a game.
Kramer was making his third consecutive start in place of Jorge Campos, who is playing for Mexico's Olympic team.
"We were still in the dressing room the first 10 minutes," Galaxy coach Lothar Osiander said. "Then we tried to make up for it."
U.S. national team star Cobi Jones, who usually plays on the right side of midfield but was up front to play off Hurtado, tried to make up for his team's sluggish start. (L.A.'s Mauricio Cienfuegos also missed a penalty kick in the 22nd minute.)
Jones scored in the 32nd minute off a feed from Hurtado, then the two hooked up in the 60th minute to tie the score. Jones completed the hat trick in the 69th minute for a 3-2 Galaxy lead.
"I said it before: Sometimes the shots go in and sometimes they don't," Jones said. "Today, I was fortunate enough to have them go in."
Defender Manny Motajo fouled Mutiny midfielder Steve Ralston just inside the 18-yard box, giving the Mutiny a penalty kick in the 73rd minute.
Valderrama converted to tie it.
"Being down in the score didn't stop us," Valderrama said.
Seconds later, Valderrama was again standing over the ball at the penalty spot. All-Star defender Dan Calichman tackled Roy Lassiter from behind to stop a one-on-one. Until Valderrama lined up for his shot, that is. And again, he converted to give the Mutiny the win.
"Every time there's some adversity, we seem to respond," Rongen said. "We showed true grit in the last 20 minutes. We could have used the fourth game in 10 days as an excuse. We didn't. That's the mark of a champion."
NOTES: Left wing Evans Wise, who severely sprained an ankle Thursday, is expected to be out 2-3 weeks. The Mutiny's midfield should be bolstered by the addition of two U.S. Olympians, Frankie Hejduk and Nelson Vargas. They are scheduled to report Saturday and be available to play Aug. 7 against Washington D.C. United. The United's coach, Bruce Arena, was their Olympic coach.