With Thursday’s Knockout Round resulting in a 2-1 victory for the LA Galaxy over Vancouver Whitecaps FC, the march to the MLS Cup begins in earnest. For the San Jose Earthquakes, the 2012 postseason marks the eighth appearance by the club in the 17 years the league has existed. And coming off a spectacular Supporters’ Shield capturing season, the Quakes enter the playoffs aiming to win their third MLS Cup.
Looking back on the top five moments in Earthquakes playoffs history, which certainly includes those two championships, provides a wonderful opportunity to relish in the club’s success. The list also highlights just how intertwined the histories of San Jose and Los Angeles are when it comes to the MLS postseason, as the stretch of meetings that spanned from 2001 to 2005 remains the high-water mark in the rivalry. With another two MLS Cup Playoff California Clasicos on tap, a new chapter in the rich history between the two sides is sure to unfold.
As for the top five all-time Quakes playoffs moments, sure, the triumphs of twice winning the MLS Cup are at the top of the list. However, the other three matches were every bit as exciting, and give a peak into the heart and character of the club. In fact, if you thought that the “Goonies never say die” attitude that has been a hallmark of the 2012 team is new for San Jose, keep reading to learn even more about a Quakes club that always gives its very best to the very end.
No. 1: Earthquakes defeat Galaxy 2-1 to capture 2001 MLS Cup championship
That the Earthquakes had to face the Galaxy en route to the club’s first MLS Cup seemed appropriate in a season that saw the two sides finish at the top of the Western Conference. With a pair of late season Clasicos cancelled due to the tragic events of 9/11, the rivals would have to wait until the final match of the year to settle which team was truly the best. And so, in front of a capacity crowd at Crew Stadium – the first MLS Cup Final contested in a soccer specific stadium – first-year head coach Frank Yallop led his charges against LA.
After falling behind early, the Earthquakes rallied to draw level just before halftime as blond-haired rookie Landon Donovan scored his fifth goal of the postseason to equalize. A tense second half elapsed, and the teams were still deadlocked after 90 minutes had been completed – bonus soccer was at hand as the match entered sudden-death overtime.
But fans had precious little squeaky-bum time to endure, as just six minutes into overtime, Dwayne De Rosario curled a shot off the inside of the post following a beautiful individual effort on the ball and scored the most important goal in the club’s history. De Ro’s Golden Goal completed a journey for the Earthquakes that began with a last place finish in 2000 and finished with the hoisting of the Alan I. Rothenberg trophy as the 2001 MLS Cup Champions.
No. 2: Earthquakes defeat Fire 4-2 to capture 2003 MLS Cup championship
Two years on from their first championship, the Earthquakes returned the MLS Cup Final with a renewed purpose and a sense of destiny. An epic comeback against the Galaxy in the first round of the playoffs (see moment No. 3 below) had given the team an aura of invincibility, and so facing the Supporters’ Shield winning Chicago Fire for the championship was not at all intimidating for “We Believe” San Jose.
The Earthquakes had become Landon Donovan’s team, and the budding U.S. international did not disappoint against the Fire in scoring a brace and earning MVP honors for the match. San Jose also saw goals from Ronnie Ekelund – a free kick stunner in the fifth minute – and Richard Mulrooney – the official game-winning goal – in an offensive outburst that late afternoon at the newly minted jewel of soccer-specific stadiums, The Home Depot Center. With MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Pat Onstad between the posts – whose penalty save early in the second half preserved a 3-2 San Jose lead – the defense did enough against the potent Chicago attack to quash the Fire and earn the Earthquakes their second MLS Cup.
No. 3: Earthquakes defeat Galaxy 5-2 (5-4 on aggregate) to advance in 2003 MLS Cup playoffs
The biggest comeback in MLS Cup Playoff history was completed by the Earthquakes against their hated rivals the Galaxy in the first round of the 2003 MLS Cup playoffs. After losing the first leg of the series in LA by a score of 2-0, Western Conference topping San Jose fell behind by two more goals early in the second leg match at Spartan Stadium. Down 4-0 on aggregate, the Earthquakes playoffs future looked bleak.
However, with a renewed vigor that even the 2012 Earthquakes have yet to display, the team fought back to level the score in the 90th-minute and send the two-match series into sudden-death overtime. And then, with only 6 minutes elapsed off the clock, the fairy-tale ending was completed when Rodrigo Faria scored the game winner. The Earthquakes never looked back through the rest of that postseason, and two weeks later celebrated their second MLS Cup.
No. 4: Earthquakes defeat Red Bulls 3-1 (3-2 on aggregate) to advance in 2010 MLS Playoffs
The 2010 regular season was an up-and-down affair for the Earthquakes, but a late season surge, led by Budweiser Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski, helped the team squeak into the postseason. Their first opponent was none other than the New York Red Bulls – the top team from the Eastern Conference.
After disappointingly losing the first leg of the series 1-0 at an electric Buck Shaw Stadium, the Earthquakes had to travel clear across the country to face New York in their palace for soccer, Red Bull Arena. Not intimidated by the superior-on-paper opponent. San Jose struck quickly through a Bobby Convey goal to equalize the series. The teams battled back and forth for long stretches of the match until a 5-minute sequence late in the second half determined the playoffs fate of both sides.
Convey, playing up to the big game atmosphere, delivered again with a powerful shot in the 76th minute. The stunned Red Bulls pulled one back two minutes later through lethal striker Juan Pablo Angel. The stage was set for team MVP Wondolowski to play hero, as his header 10 minutes from time restored the Earthquakes’ aggregate lead in the series. Goalkeeper Jon Busch and the San Jose defense repelled a furious New York comeback, and the Earthquakes celebrated a huge win over the highly favored Red Bulls.
No. 5: Earthquakes defeat Fusion 1-0 to claim 2001 MLS Cup Playoffs semifinal series
Back in the early years of MLS, the playoff structure seemed to change every season. In 2001, the semifinal round consisted of a best-of-three series, and the Earthquakes were matched up against the Supporters’ Shield winning Miami Fusion. Both teams won their home legs in convincing fashion, setting up a winner-take-all third match at Lockhart Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
A tense 90 minutes of regulation finished scoreless, and the Fusion and Earthquakes readied themselves for an epic overtime. But the home side never had a chance as San Jose struck early for the match winner. A corner kick in the 93rd minute was sent into the mixer, where a contested clearance was redirected back into the 6-yard box. None other than Earthquakes hall-of-famer Troy Dayak rose high into the air to snap a header past goalkeeper Nick Rimando and send the worst-to-first Quakes to their first ever MLS Cup Final.
The Earthquakes open their MLS Cup Playoff series on Sunday against the LA Galaxy at The Home Depot Center and continue on Wednesday at Buck Shaw Stadium. Don’t miss a single minute of the action, as perhaps the Earthquakes will add another memorable moment to their list.