2003 Club by Club
The 2003 season saw the San Jose Earthquakes keep MLS Cup in California for a third consecutive year, winning for the second time in those three seasons when they defeated the Chicago Fire 4-2 in the MLS Cup Final.
San Jose’s run to lift the cup saw them turn into a clutch overtime team, winning in both the Western Conference semifinals and finals with a golden goal. The playoff format was also tweaked slightly. Instead of a best-of-3 series, the MLS Cup Playoffs changed so that the quarterfinals (or conference semifinals) would be a home and home aggregate series over two matches, the team with the higher seed having the home game in the second leg. The two semifinals (or conference finals) became one-match affairs instead of two legs; MLS Cup remained as a single match.
The second leg of the Western Conference semifinals was perhaps one of the greatest MLS playoff games of all time as eventual champs San Jose came back from 2-0 down in the game, and 4-0 on aggregate, to win 5-2 with a golden goal and advance 5-4 on aggregate over their in-state rival Los Angeles Galaxy.
Chris Ronér equalized against LA in the 90th minute to tie the aggregate score at 4-4 and send the game into overtime. Rodrigo Faria then scored the winning goal for San Jose to seal the 5-2 win and send his side to the conference final, that quarterfinal game was named “the greatest comeback game in MLS history.”
The 2003 season also saw Carlos Bocanegra gain more recognition as he won Defender of the Year honors for the second straight season. His Chicago side won the Supporters’ Shield with a total of 53 points and also won the U.S. Open Cup. Their clean sweep of all US domestic honors was almost complete, until they came up against San Jose in the final at The Home Depot Center.
In the title game, Ronnie Ekelund’s early goal helped to ease the Quakes nerves. Landon Donovan put San Jose 2-0 up before DaMarcus Beasley scored for the Fire to make it 2-1. Richard Mulrooney restored the Earthquakes two-goal advantage, before a Ronér own goal made it 3-2. However Donovan sealed the game for San Jose in the 71st minute, scoring his second and San Jose’s fourth to clinch the cup.
The 2003 MLS Scoring Champion race was won by Preki of the Kansas City Wizards, whose league-high 17 assists completed a 12-goal season. New England’s Taylor Twellman and the Galaxy’s Carlos Ruiz tied at the top of the goalscoring charts with 15 each. Dave Sarachan’s achievements as Chicago head coach didn’t go unnoticed, even after their MLS Cup Final defeat, as he picked up Coach of the Year honors. Young Jamaican forward Damani Ralph won the Rookie of the Year award for the Fire and U.S. national team midfielder Chris Armas won Comeback Player of the Year as he played a pivotal role in Chicago’s run to the final, scoring a golden goal winner to clinch the Eastern Conference championship.
Most Valuable Player: Preki – Kansas City Wizards
Goalkeeper of the Year: Pat Onstad – San Jose Earthquakes
Scoring Champion: Preki – Kansas City Wizards, 41 points
Rookie of the Year: Damani Ralph – Chicago Fire
Defender of the Year: Carlos Bocanegra – Chicago Fire
Goal of the Year: Damani Ralph – Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew – August 13, 2003
Coach of the Year: Dave Sarachan – Chicago Fire