Richard Mulrooney - San Jose Earthquakes - 2003

Q&A: Richard Mulrooney recalls the greatest comeback in MLS history What was going through your mind when the team was down 2-0 after the first leg and you’re heading to Spartan Stadium for the second leg?

Richard Mulrooney: “We played well that first game. Looking back, the Galaxy were the reigning champs, there was a rivalry, there was a hatred between both clubs. Not many teams went into the Home Depot Center that year and got victories so it was disappointing. I think we played a lot better than being down 2-0 but that just goes to show the power of that club at the time. It was a back-and-forth game. I can’t recall when they got their goals but I know they got their second goal sometime later in the second half. I would have wanted us to be 1-0 down going into Spartan Stadium but I still had confidence. To be honest with you, after that game, [LA Galaxy player] Carlos Ruiz was rubbing it into Troy [Dayak’s] face. That set Troy off a little bit. He composed himself but I saw that and was like, give me any more fuel I need for this next game. That was the tipping point for me because I knew we were going to go into Spartan, we’ll see this out and we’re going to get rid of these pests from Southern California. After seeing Ruiz do that and having the level of a team that we had, I felt that we had this thing wrapped up. I was confident and a little pissed off so I liked our odds of coming back and getting a result.”


SJEQ: In the second leg at Spartan Stadium, the Galaxy put up 2 more goals to make it 4-0. What were your thoughts at that point?

RM: “Leaving the first game, I’m sure they felt good; they were up 2-0. They were going away from home and everyone knew that going into Spartan was a different beast in itself but they’ve gotten results there before so I think they had some self-assurance that they would win. That’s fine, you know? The game started off flying high with tackles, it was intense. We knew we had to fight back from being down 2-0 so when they got their third goal, we thought wow, did that really happen? It was against the run of play but it’s not like they were dominating us but I just remember Peter Vagenas scoring LA’s fourth goal. I was marking him and he made a great run through and finished it.

I personally felt like I let my team down; it bothered me. I thought, we’re trying to get back into the game here and I just let my guy score. I knew that gave me a different type of motivation, not only personally but now we’re down 4-0 at that point in time so everyone felt motivated. At that time, I knew exactly where the LA fans were sitting. They were sitting in the far-right diagonal corner and you would have thought that they had just won the MLS Cup with how they were celebrating. They had that confidence and I think it rubbed off on their team as well. At that point, I’m not sure if they stopped attacking but we just ramped it up that much more because they were already ahead by four goals.

I will say, if we didn’t get that first goal from Jeff [Agoos’] free kick, I’m not sure that our rally would’ve started. We needed something from our captain to kick-start things. Right before halftime, with Landon [Donovan’s] goal, you can just hear the crowd take it to another level; they were our 12th man. Saying we had it wrapped up at that point would be a lie. If you were down 4-0, nobody in their right mind would say that they would come back but with how the first half ended, it gave us belief. That’s all we needed to go into that second half. The crowd that we had was set up for something special; with that small stadium and the people that stayed to watch the game.”

SJEQ: What do you remember about that locker room at halftime?

RM: “So we tied it up to make it 2-2 so the guys were buzzing. We knew were down 4-2 [on aggregate] and knew there wasn’t going to be a moral victory if we lost but the energy in there was unbelievable. You wouldn’t have known that we just played 45 minutes of an intense match. Guys were bouncing off the wall, guys were upbeat. Personally, I was pissed at myself for allowing us to give up that second goal and that motivated me. To this day, I still wish I could change history. That’s why I decided to take more of an attacking approach in the second half in terms of getting crosses off and getting in the final third. Not only because of my mistake but to motivate our team to win.

It was fun to be there at halftime to hear the guys have a belief that we’re only down two goals when we were down by four; I thought, let’s do this. It wasn’t about making history, it was more about going against LA and that hatred between us. We were thinking, let’s not let that celebration happen on our field and have to go into the offseason with that feeling the whole time. It was a fun locker room. We had national-team players from different countries and players who I have played with and against in college. It was a locker room full of people that knew what we had to do. It was easier said than done but we believed that we could do that.”


SJEQ: Walk us through your assist that set up the Quakes’ fourth goal to make it 4-4.

RM: “We needed all 45 minutes to get those two goals so that’s why it was so important for Landon to get that second one in the first half. Going into the second half, we got our third goal to keep pushing forward but they had opportunities too so let’s not take away from the defense, Pat [Onstad] was able to come up with some great saves. As the game went on, you can see that we’re able to man-mark on our back line. It was tough for Agoos, Troy and Eddie [Robinson] to mark Ruiz and the rest of their attacking players.

When we were going for our fourth goal, it was getting to the final minutes and I remember LA was doing a good job of sitting in and breaking our attack up to clear the ball out to waste some time. I just remember the play developing on the right side, Peter was the one marking me. He was the one I let score on us so I thought, how can I make up for this? It’s funny because the play reminds you of how you would post someone up in basketball. I was near the sideline, I kept rolling the ball back and forth and I felt him slide to my right side and then I just got the angle on him. Give Frank [Yallop] and Dominic [Kinnear] credit, they had us working on crossing and finishing every practice basically and if we didn’t do it during practice, we would do it afterwards. It just came naturally. I hit probably the best cross of my life but it’s not only that. Chris [Roner] was guarded by Cobi Jones who is arguably one of the best players of all time with the [United States] national team, you have Kevin Hartman in goal and their whole back line were all-stars so for Chris to rise up that high and finish it, I couldn’t believe it happened.

If you were to see how I celebrated, you would think that I scored it. It was just such a jubilation of thinking, oh my god, we just did it, we tied it up. It was such a sense of relief. It was the greatest feeling ever. My ears rang with how loud the crowd was. My legs were cramping. I probably shouldn’t have ran down the sideline that much because I was already tired. To run down the sideline and have our players jump on me, I was on an empty tank of gas for the rest of the game. It was a self-rewarding experience when you thought about the fitness in preseason, the long games, and then to be rewarded by keeping our season alive after being down 4-0 … gives me chills just thinking about it.”


SJEQ: When the team went into overtime, what was that like?

RM: “We’re heading into overtime after we scored the fourth goal to tie it up and I just remember that the guys were tired. We looked over at their bench and they didn’t look like they had the mentality to go through what we just went through. They were tired too but mentally, they were down because they just gave up a 4-0 lead so I knew we had the advantage.

Overtime starts and you can just tell that the players are not trying to make any mistakes but we knew in our minds that Ruiz just needed one opportunity and he would’ve finished it. We knew we had players like Landon, Manny [Lagos] and Rodrigo [Fario] who had just came in; little did we know, he would get the final goal. We knew we didn’t want to do penalty kicks. I’m glad it ended it regular play because I knew a game like that shouldn’t be decided from the spot.

For the final goal, I remember Landon picking up the ball in the midfield and passing a perfect ball just like he always does. He scored a lot of goals but if you look at his assists, you can tell he probably created more chances than he scored. And then you have Rodrigo, who a lot of people didn’t know, Rookie of the Year from Chicago, probably would have started for most teams in the league but with the fire power we had up top, he came off the bench and performed his role well. He slotted it right in the corner and we all celebrated. I talked about the celebration from the fourth goal but the weight was really off our shoulders for the fifth one. We just came back from a major deficit, we felt like we were already going to the MLS Cup Final.

With it being that type of rivalry, I remember going to the LA fans to give them a little wave goodbye. Every time I took a corner by them I remember they were saying some pretty interesting things about myself and my family so I just wanted to make sure I gave them a good wave and told them to have a safe trip home.”


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