In the past eight years, I’ve attended over 100 San Jose Earthquakes soccer matches. I have attended many other soccer matches and I have watched hundreds, if not thousands, of other soccer matches on TV. I have attended many baseball games and a handful of football, hockey, and basketball games. I have watched untold numbers of baseball, basketball, football, soccer, hockey, volleyball, rugby, Australian Rules Football, hurling, tennis, racketball, squash, and “name a sport and I bet I’ve watched it” games on TV. More than my mother should ever know about.
None of those matches compares to the match I witnessed in person tonight between the San Jose Earthquakes and the Los Angeles Galaxy at San Jose’s Spartan Stadium. More coverage here, here, here, and here.
In the first round of the MLS playoffs, the teams that are matched up play one game at home and one away. The team with the better regular season record gets to play the second game at home. The team with the greatest aggregate score after the two games moves on to the next round.
This is a great system for a lot of reasons. The teams are motivated to score a lot of goals in the first game. In previous years, once a team went ahead, they often bunkered down and played boring, defensive soccer. Since a one goal lead isn’t much advantage going into the second leg, teams will push harder to build a bigger lead.
In the SJ-LA series, LA won their home game 2-0. SJ was faced with needing to win by two goals on a wet field, just to tie the series. In the event of a tie, a 30 minute golden goal (first goal wins) game is immediately played. That is followed, if necessary, by a penalty kick shootout to determine the winner.
Thirteen minutes into tonight’s game, LA had scored two goals. Now, with the aggregate score 4-0, SJ needed four goals to force the extra game. For American football fans, a comparable situation would be a team needing to come from behind by about fifty points to win.
Since SJ and LA had finished the regular season with home and away matches, this was the fourth game in a row in which they played each other. In these games, San Jose had scored only one goal in nearly 300 minutes of play. Now they needed four goals in less than 80 minutes. Impossible? I and many other Quakes fans feared so.
By halftime, the Quakes had leveled the score at 2-2, bringing them back to the initial two goal aggregate deficit. The momentum shifted back to San Jose, and they dominated LA throughout almost the entire remainder of the match. A few minutes into the second half, SJ scored again. With only a few minutes left to play, the coach brought on Chris Ronér, a former UC Berkeley soccer star. Ronér headed in Richard Mulrooney’s cross to bring the match score to 4-2 and the aggregate score to a 4-4 tie. The crowd had already been going crazy, but they (and I) started screaming even louder.
The game ended at 4-2 and the exhausted players took a ten minute break before the extra game. The LA Galaxy players looked crushed as they headed for their bench just below my section. They couldn’t believe they had given up a four goal lead.
The SJ coach, Frank Yallop (my candidate for a MacArthur genius grant), had already brought on Rodrigo Faria late in the second half as a substitute. Faria was picked up late in the season to replace Brian Ching, who went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Faria had been in Brazil dealing with the death of his father before the Quakes signed him. After arriving, he seemed slow to return to the form he had shown with one of his previous teams, and was starting to spend more time on the bench.
Six minutes into the extra game, Ian Russell played a ball forward to Landon Donovan. Tyrone Marshall was mesmerized by the ball at Landon’s foot and apparently forgot he was supposed to be marking Faria. Donovan sent a perfect through ball past Marshall into the path of Faria. Faria calmly slid the ball to the far post past a diving Kevin Hartman (this being the same Kevin Hartman who was beaten in overtime by the Quakes’ Dwayne DeRosario when the SJ beat LA in the 2001 MLS Cup).
Unbelievable. I hope my throat recovers this week from all the yelling. I think that even sports fans who hate soccer would have had to admit that this was an incredibly entertaining game to watch. Life is good, justice was served, I’ll always remember this match, and the Earthquakes move on to face Kansas City in San Jose next Saturday night.