CenterLine Report: Earthquakes always game for an international friendly

CenterLine Report shares the club's most memorable friendlies

When the 2013 MLS regular season schedule was released back in early January, San Jose Earthquakes supporters were quick to notice a glaring void the weekend of July 20. Falling as it did in the prime window for summer international friendlies, the vacancy spurred conversation as to who the Quakes would line up as an opponent.

Many months later, the secret was revealed when it was announced that English Premier League side Norwich City FC would be traveling to the Bay Area to face the Earthquakes. The Canaries, best known in San Jose as former Quakes standout Darren Huckerby’s previous club, would mark the fourth straight summer challenger from the EPL to visit Buck Shaw Stadium.

The event has generated a tremendous amount of buzz about the Bay, and a ticket to Saturday night’s match is as hot as the summer weather. Norwich City are preparing for the third straight campaign in England’s top division and will want to show their U.S. supporters that a successful season is in the offering. Meanwhile, the Earthquakes are tuning up for a late playoff push and the start of the CONCACAF Champions League. Both teams will be primed to put on a show.

International friendlies may not count in the standings, but these matches provide an excellent barometer for how the Earthquakes compare with competition from around the world. For the early incarnation of the franchise, results were hard to come by, and San Jose saw many a Spartan Stadium guest leave victorious. They faced their only EPL competitor in those years, Aston Villa in 1997, and scratched out a 1-1 draw, but it was a sign of better times to come.

Since capturing the club’s first MLS Cup in 2001, the Earthquakes have dropped only two matches to their international opponents. And following the rebirth of the team in 2008, the Quakes are unbeaten in 6 friendly matches at Buck Shaw Stadium. Three more EPL sides have ventured to San Jose since Aston Villa’s 1997 visit, one in each of the past three seasons, and all three have failed to topple the Quakes.

From the 22 international friendlies contested by San Jose, which ones rank as the best? The short-list highlights what is great about these cosmopolitan affairs.

4) San Jose Earthquakes 4, Sporting Clube de Portugal 1 — May 12, 2004: The Quakes, fresh off winning their second MLS Cup championship, welcomed the Portuguese Primeira Liga giants to Spartan Stadium and promptly overwhelmed their guests. The Earthquakes two leading scorers of 2003, Landon Donovan and Brian Mullan, each scored twice for San Jose as rookie head coach Dominic Kinnear notched the win in his first friendly in charge of the squad.

3) San Jose Earthquakes 2, Swansea City 2 — July 31, 2012: In a season that was marked by so much Goonies magic, why should the Earthquakes 2012 summer friendly be any different. A mostly “B” side found themselves behind the eight-ball after Michael Laudrup’s Swans built a comfortable 2-0 lead midway through the second half, but that all changed when the Quakes “A” team, led by blonde haired bedlam creator Steven Lenhart, entered the match. Perhaps not prepared for the Earthquakes comeback kings, Swansea surrendered two Lenhart goals in the game’s final 10 minutes, and walked away from Buck Shaw Stadium impressed by the best team in MLS.

2) San Jose Earthquakes 2, West Bromwich Albion 1 — July 12, 2011: The Baggies visit to Buck Shaw coincided with a rough patch in the Quakes season, so a loss to their EPL opponent would have been excusable. However, back-up goalkeeper David Bingham would have nothing of that, and with one long kick, cemented himself in Earthquakes lore. While many in attendance were still finding their seats, Bingham gave them reason to keep standing when he booted a 90 yard shot that bounced over the West Brom ‘keeper and into the back of the net. Video of the goal went viral, and the feat spawned a “Boot it like Bingham” contest allowing for fans to replicate the kick to win season tickets. Not surprisingly, to date, no one has claimed the prize.

1) San Jose Earthquakes 0, Tottenham Hotspur 0 — July 17, 2010: With an international television audience tuning in and a then record 10,712 fans packed into Buck Shaw Stadium, the Earthquakes challenged their EPL partner club Tottenham to a spirited summer friendly back in 2010. Sun drenched in the stands, the standing room only crowd was treated to a back and forth affair for much of the match as the Quakes defense kept now Galaxy forward Robbie Keane at bay. Both sides wilted somewhat in the heat late in the game, but those in attendance were treated to a great celebration of soccer. The shot of confidence gained by standing up to the EPL powerhouse Spurs carried through the rest of San Jose’s season as the club qualified for its first MLS Cup playoffs since rejoining MLS three years prior.

Can the Earthquakes make it 5 games unbeaten all time against EPL competition? Find out Saturday when Norwich City visits Buck Shaw Stadium, kickoff is 7:30 p.m.

Robert Jonas is a writer for CenterLineSoccer.com and SJEarthquakes.com. Send him feedback on Twitter: @RobertJonas