Like everyone else that's emotionally invested in the Quakes, I'm watching the Audi 2017 MLS playoffs and thinking "We could be here. We beat that team. We..." It's an exercise in the obviously incorrect (we lost in the knockout round, might I remind you), but it speaks to the fact that there was no weaning period for Quakes fans, no controlled detox. We went from the highest of highs after Minnesota, and then had it all ripped away just days later by Vancouver. So I'm here to look back at some of the moments from the season that you may have forgotten in the afterglow (or after burn) of the past few weeks. Let's go month by month.
Massively outscored, still in the hunt.
In the month of October, the Earthquakes suffered some bad defeats. They went into Toronto and were smashed by a Toronto team that was playing their best soccer of the season, and in the eyes of some, the best soccer the league has ever seen. I don't know if either of those statements are hyperbolic, but they did drop the hammer on San Jose 4-0. The next road roasting was in our nation's capital where the Quakes helped the United give their run at RFK another moment of glory with Patrick Mullins scoring all four goals in a 4-0 win. Then it was a Wednesday night at Avaya, Chicago in town, and a 4-1 loss to the Fire that had one Bay Area scribe calling the morgue prematurely, declaring the Quakes' playoff hopes were dead. At that point, the claim didn't seem outlandish, but the nature of the Quakes, where the bad performances failed to permeate the morale of the team proved itself at the other moments of truth in September at Avaya Stadium
I going to be very clear on this: I am a big Rolling Stones fan. I will argue that they are better than the Beatles any day of the week, underrated despite their massive acclaim, and they have, in my mind, the anthem of Avaya. Even though a harder rock sound will bounce around our home at the start of the second half, I hear the opening guitar riff of Gimme Shelter, underscoring the gravity of necessity the Quakes had to treat their home matches in 2017. The song might not pump up the crowd, but that's what Avaya had become in 2017: not the fortress, or castle, but the shelter. Blasted 4-0 on the road? Come back to Avaya and win 2-1, 1-0, whatever it takes to get three points. Despite what the Fire did on one night, Avaya is no fun for the opposition, as the Dynamo and Portland both learned in the month of September. Both teams came into Avaya needing points to solidify their standings in a very tight Western Conference, and both teams walked away with ZERO points from their late season appearances at Avaya. "The flood is threat'nin' my very life today. Gimme, gimme shelter, or I'm gonna fade away." If that's not the most appropriate lyrical representation of Avaya, I don't know what is.
As the year went on, Vako got better and better and better for the San Jose Earthquakes. When all was said and done, over 13 appearances he had five goals and two assists, extrapolated over a full season, that's a Designated Player and a half in every sense of the label. None of his goals were as big as the one he notched late in the second half in Vancouver in the penultimate match of the year, with the Quakes needing a point to be in control of their own destiny. This, by the way, was no given. San Jose, from July on, got blasted on the road left and right. The idea of the Quakes going into the house of the then-West-leading 'Caps and getting a point was a bit ridiculous but that's exactly what happened. They kept themselves within a score of Vancouver, and when Vako took a ball in the 18 off a beautiful back-heel from Wondo and leveled the score at 1-1, it was the biggest moment of the season up to that point. The Quakes were above the playoff line in the West and in control of their destiny heading into the final match of the season. Not to be overlooked, however, was an incredible performance from Andrew Tarbell. He was the man of the match, and if you have forgotten how good he was on that day, please, go watch the highlights. He was masterful, incendiary, a wall.
The greatest game ever played at Avaya Stadium.
Ok, the stadium is only three years old, it's not that wild of a claim to make, but what transpired on the final day of the 2017 season at Avaya Stadium would've made for historical note at whatever venue it was played at, and I still get chills thinking about it. Hoesen's early breakthrough goal relieved a lot of tension. We know goals don't come easy for San Jose, but to see things clicking so early was a positive sign: 1-0 San Jose in the 15th minute.
I had hoped that the Quakes would just pour it on from there, and win going away, but it's never going to be that easy, it never is. That's part of what being the Earthquakes is all about. It isn't about the dominance or the beauty, it's about the grind, and flipping the middle finger to convention, whether it's aggregate comebacks, comeback wins when you're down a man, or sending yourself to the playoffs in the final moments of the season. It wasn't easy, and Minnesota tied the match with a beautiful back-post curler from Thiesson.
In the 55th minute, captain Chris Wondolowski gave SJ a 2-1 lead taking a ball back post from Danny Hoesen and smashing it in with the expert precision that he is known for. It was Wondo's 13th goal, and that moved him into a tie for second all-time on Major League Soccer's all-time goal-scoring list, but it would not be yet another game-winner for Wondo.
The captain for Minnesota, Francicso Calvo would add a goal of his own in the 81st minutes on a header off a corner kick to suck the life out of the building and tie the game at two. I was stunned (and said as much in the call).
It did not look good. A draw, in any other situation, would not have been the worst end-result, but in this specific situation, it would have literally been the worst result. If they had relinquished two leads to walk away with a draw when a win was the only result that would've sent them on to the playoffs? Wow, it would have been bad, and it felt like that was what we were barreling towards; disappointment, anguish, "what if." Instead, the entirety of the team combined for "The Moment” (and yes, I'm coining that, because it was a moment that signaled our return to the postseason, and it was about so much more than Ureña's goal.) Bernardez, a center back playing center forward, taking a long pass on top of the 18, chesting and heading it in the moving path of Quincy Amarikwa, who had subbed on just minutes previously and had since gone full wrecking ball on the Minnesota defenders. Quincy quickly turned and put a good shot on goal that was blocked by Shuttleworth. The carom found Wondolowski, who took it from the byline, and put in the path of Ureña, who peppered it into the net with a little help from a deflection. 3-2 San Jose. Final. Playoff bound. Pandemonium.
An appropriate ending.
The Quakes were most definitely knocked out in the Knockout Round of the playoffs. They lost 5-0 to Vancouver, and headed back to the Bay Area to face the offseason. It didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. Although I thought the team could make the conference semis, this was not a championship-caliber team. I thought the end result in Vancouver simply made it known that the team needed to be better going forward, and I don't think that's something anyone within the Front Office would disagree with. In the days after the loss, they spoke of building upon the core and bringing in the right players to complement and supplement the roster as it is currently constructed. That seems right. I felt, and still feel, that 2017 was the start of something big, not the end of something brief, and even though I wasn't as crushed by the playoff loss as I thought I would have been, I would give just about anything to be preparing for another Quakes playoff game, or any Quakes game at all. Now, it's just the long, long wait for the 2018 season, but its seeds are being planted right now. Let's till the field together, Forward As One. Go Quakes.