To paraphrase a local baseball announcer from up the Peninsula, when talking about the virtue of going to the ballpark, you are bound to see something exciting and new every time you watch a live game.
Well, on Tuesday night when the San Jose Earthquakes hosted West Bromwich Albion at Buck Shaw Stadium, that notion of novelty did not disappoint. In all my years of watching soccer here in the Bay Area, I have never seen a goal quite like the stunner that goalkeeper David Bingham managed in the opening minutes against the Baggies.
For us veterans of the Buck Shaw experience on a summer evening, paying careful attention to the pre-match coin toss can be almost as riveting as the subsequent game action. Realizing that a July contest kicking off at 7:30 p.m. means that the team playing south-to-north will be staring into an unforgiving setting sun, fingers remained crossed that the home side makes the right call with the coin in the air, and breathes are held until the referee signals which team will suffer nature’s cruel disadvantage. Too often I have seen goalkeepers struggle to see the ball for the opening stanza of matches in the summer time. Sometimes wearing a hat helps, but that does little to ameliorate the blinding glare.
While Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch donned a snazzy looking trucker cap last Saturday to start the first half against the Philadelphia Union, West Brom’s Boaz Myhill was not as ably prepared to start Tuesday’s international friendly against San Jose. That decision to forego any fashion accessories ultimately caused Myhill the ultimate grief, as he appeared to lose sight of Bingham’s long kick in the glare of the sun, and stood nearly statuesque as the ball bounded over his head and into the goal. Embarrassment for the ‘keeper on one end of the pitch, and shocked enthusiasm from his counterpart on the other.
Bingham’s 90 yard, one bounce goal seemed so improbable at the time, that I begged to know whether the amazing shot had been captured on camera. I instantly knew how special the goal was, and couldn’t wait to see it again on replay. Instead, I had Charles Wollin providing the play-by-play over my earphones to share the excitement, and the mental imagery of Myhill screaming out something in slow motion as the ball drifted tantalizingly out of reach above his head. With a start like that, surely this match was going to be something special.
Friendly matches in and of themselves are seen by some to be a distraction for a team trying to stay the course over a long season, but I see them as excellent opportunities for players to try out some new skills and tactics against opponents that present a new look from the regular opposition. The Earthquakes did just that against West Brom — as the Baggies appeared to do themselves — and a wide-open affair played out in front of the Buck Shaw faithful. The Bingham goal initiated a buzz throughout the crowd, but the rest of the match proved enough to sustain the energy level for the rest of the evening.
After an entertaining 90 minutes of soccer came to a close, and the Earthquakes left the field victorious over their English Premier League opponent, I quickly sought out a video replay of the Bingham 90 yard blast. To my delight, I soon found the whole sequence posted on YouTube and proceeded to watch the goal more than a half dozen times over. The video was an instant favorite on the internet within hours of being posted, and it seemed every soccer website was linked to it before bedtime. By the following day, Bingham’s spectacular goal had been viewed over a quarter of a million times, and the number kept growing.
A select group of 6872 fans had the privilege to see it live at the stadium — a number bound to grow in legend over the years to something claimed much higher — and that memory will never fade away. The promise of the unexpected that is the hallmark of attending a live sporting event was fulfilled Tuesday night. And while a goalkeeper scoring a goal is as unusual an occurrence as you’ll ever see at a soccer game, I can’t wait to see what is in store the next time the Quakes take the field at Buck Shaw Stadium.