The San Jose Earthquakes’ natural rival is without a doubt the LA Galaxy, but casting a wider net over the MLS landscape ensnares another team that Quakes supporters and players alike can’t wait to face. Tonight at Buck Shaw Stadium, the star-studded New York Red Bulls arrive in town for a showdown between the Big Apple and Silicon Valley.
Both clubs can point to their origins in the league’s inaugural season of 1996, though then they both sported different monikers and arguably uglier jerseys. The two teams are known for engineering the first player transaction in MLS history, as prior to the 1996 season local hero Troy Dayak was traded to San Jose. Current Quakes Ramiro Corrales and Jason Hernandez both spent time wearing the Black and Red of the MetroStars. And in 33 meetings between them, only three goals separate the two sides.
Those MetroStars and Clash teams clashed 11 times during the first four years of MLS, with San Jose collecting 7 wins over the Beast from the East. Notable victories in that stretch came on September 6, 1997 (4-0) and August 9, 1998 (5-1), with the latter kicking off a 10-game unbeaten streak against New York that would stretch until 2003. From cavernous Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands to bowling alley thin Spartan Stadium in the South Bay, the Clash/Quakes racked up an even dozen wins against the MetroStars.
With San Jose flexing its dominance over New York, the intensity of the rivalry went down a notch. However, in the year of the Earthquakes second MLS Cup championship — New York has never won a trophy in the club’s 18 year existence — and again the following season, two of the greatest MLS games of all time were contested between the two sides.
On July 2, 2003 in a game befitting the impending Independence Day tradition, fireworks in the form of dramatic goals filled Giants Stadium. After 90 minutes of end to end soccer, with both teams netting three goals apiece, including a brace from Brian Ching, and following a sideline fracas involving a certain towel whipping Corrales, the match crept into stoppage time. Almost immediately, New York grabbed the lead through Clint Mathis, but the Earthquakes equalized through Landon Donovan. And after a tense overtime period — yes, MLS games used to go to overtime — the teams settled for a 4-4 draw.
Not quite a year later, on May 8, 2004 the rivals topped themselves in another scoring fest. At home in Spartan Stadium, the Earthquakes battled the MetroStars through a first half that ended 3-3. In the match’s second stanza, the home side collected two quick goals from Ronnie Ekelund and Craig Waibel to put the visitors on their back heels. However, after the MetroStarts pulled one goal back, forward Cornell Glen making his first start for New York completed the comeback in the last minute of regulation to consign the match to a 5-5 result. To this day, the 10 goals scored in the match marks a high watermark for a MLS regular season draw.
The rivalry between the two clubs went on hiatus after the Quakes were relocated to Houston, but it came back with a vengeance with the reformed Earthquakes and the rebranded Red Bulls in the 2008 season. A sellout Buck Shaw Stadium crowd saw a Ryan Johnson penalty kick goal mark the only difference between the two teams in a tense affair in October 2009. And on May 8, 2010, after Red Bulls defender Luke Sassano was shown a red card only 13 minutes into the game, San Jose reeled off a very comfortable 4-0 victory behind goals from four different Earthquakes — including former defender Bobby Burling’s only ever MLS goal.
By season’s end, with New York at the top of the Eastern Conference and San Jose sneaking into the postseason as the lowest ranked team, the Red Bulls and Quakes faced off in a two leg playoff series that was every bit a David versus Goliath encounter. Following a disheartening 1-0 loss at home to New York, the Earthquakes headed east to Red Bull Arena with dreams of advancing in the playoffs. Behind two wonder strikes from Bobby Convey and a late header from Chris Wondolowski, it was mission accomplished for San Jose in earning a 3-2 aggregate score series victory. The Red Bulls, looking that season like a team that could contend for their first MLS Cup championship, went home empty handed for a 15th straight MLS season.
The last two meetings between the teams have ended with the same 2-2 score line, but each match was memorable in its own way. On July 2, 2011 in front of over 41,000 fans at Stanford Stadium, a pair of Joel Lindpere goals sandwiched strikes from Khari Stephenson and Steven Lenhart in the highly entertaining match. Last year on April 14 at Red Bull Arena, the Earthquakes twice came back from a goal down to earn a valuable point on the road. More notable than the result that evening was the brutal takedown of Shea Salinas by New York defender Rafa Marquez that left the Quakes winger with a broken shoulder, a moment that neither he nor his teammates will forget.
17 seasons and 33 games later, New York and San Jose again prepare to do battle. Great moments from the past have set the stage for Sunday’s match, and players from both sides will surely want to put one past their rivals. And no matter what happens this time around, the event will surely be entertaining.