Seven years later, the legend of Jamil Walker still resounds for San Jose Earthquakes fans.
Walker was a rookie forward in 2003, watching and learning during the regular season while the Quakes piled up 45 goals and a Western Conference regular-season title behind a striker pairing of Landon Donovan and Dwayne De Rosario.
Walker had clocked 365 minutes, all as a substitute, when De Rosario went down with a strained hamstring in the first half of an away-and-home Western Conference semifinal series against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Quakes coach Frank Yallop tabbed Walker to start the home leg of that series, and he provided an assist and a goal as San Jose scored five times in 75 minutes to pull out a shock 5-4 aggregate victory. He went on to start the Quakes’ Western Conference final win against Kansas City and provided an assist in San Jose’s 4-2 MLS Cup victory against Chicago.
That said, Scott Sealy is no Jamil Walker.
As in 2003, Yallop has made a critical switch to his playoff roster, inserting Sealy – who recorded just five starts and 520 minutes during the regular season – at the playmaking point of his 4-4-2 diamond midfield in place of Khari Stephenson. Sealy started there in the first leg of San Jose's Eastern Conference semifinal series against New York on Saturday, which they lost, 1-0.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: SJ 0, NY 1
The difference? This move isn’t caused by injury, but simply because Sealy has forced his way into the lineup, in Yallop’s view.
“In the last little bit [of the regular season], he’s showed some good tenacity in the middle of the field,” Yallop said. “I think he’s very strong at holding the ball, doesn’t give it away. And he’s got an eye for the goal. I think that Khari has just dropped down a level, and I’m trying to go with players that are in form.”
Still, the move raised eyebrows because Sealy has been known primarily in the MLS as a forward. He played mostly in the midfield, though, while toiling in Israel last season.
“I think putting Scott Sealy into the starting unit for Saturday night was not a gamble, and it proved to not be a gamble because I thought he played well,” Yallop said. “Scott did a nice job in the middle of the park.”
For his part, Sealy feels that fans who remember him from his 2008 stint with the Quakes haven’t got a chance to see his true game this season, thanks to thigh and groin strains that slowed him for much of the year.
“I’m very happy [to be playing],” Sealy told MLSsoccer.com. “As we all know, my year has been very up and down, inconsistent because of the injuries, but I always felt when I was healthy and 100 percent fit, I could help this team. I think if it wasn’t for the injuries, I would have been in there more.”
Although Joel Lindpere and Mehdi Ballouchy caused problems to the Quakes’ defense, Sealy did a credible job of keeping Red Bulls star Rafa Márquez from orchestrating things in midfield as he ordinarily does.
“He wasn’t able to spray balls like he usually does and I think it’s because I didn’t give him time to do so,” Sealy said. “Any time he had the ball, I was up onto him. My main thing playing [in] midfield is to be good on both sides of the ball. Playing forward most of my career, being defensively 100 percent committed is what I’m personally concerned about.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . On Twitter: @sjquakes