Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: #44 Out of the Blue
|San Jose 4||Chicago 2|
Roner (OG) 54'
|Did You Know?|
|Jamil Walker ended his professional career as a Portland Timber when the team still played in the USL in 2008.|
#44. Out of the Blue (2003)
On a squad that featured all-time MLS greats Landon Donovan, Jeff Agoos, Dwayne De Rosario, Pat Onstad and Brian Ching, the most decisive player on the San Jose Earthquakes’ MLS Cup 2003 championship team may have been the rookie forward.
While the first memories of fans from that title match will likely dart to Donovan’s brace or the penalty kick saved by Onstad, it was 22-year-old Jamil Walker who left his mark on the match like few would have expected.
“I think I surprised a lot of people, but I don’t think I surprised myself,” Walker told MLSsoccer.com. “I always felt like I performed under pressure and what I was asked to do I did it well. On my team it was a little harder to break into starting lineup, but I fit in where I could and when the opportunity came I was able to do it over time and Frank was able to trust me and start.”
Walker was the team’s super sub that 2003 season, coming off the bench to impact matches, but failing to register a single start. However, with Ching out due to an Achilles injury and De Rosario nursing a hamstring tweak suffered in the first playoff match in the epic series against LA, manager Frank Yallop turned to Walker as a starting forward alongside Donovan for the rest of the playoffs. Those three straight starts included the final match at MLS Cup 2003, by which time De Rosario had already recovered.
“Any time Jamil played that year, I liked him,” Yallop said. “Jamil deserved to get the start in the final. I didn’t want to change it up. I went with the instincts you do as a coach and I’m leaving it. Jamil was fast, brave and had some good goals. He did a great job of coming in and playing like a young player should: with no thoughts about playing badly.”
Walker didn’t waste any time making an impact. He drew the foul for the free kick converted by Quakes teammate Ronnie Ekelund after five minutes and then, in the 38th minute, he led the counterattack that doubled San Jose’s lead, which he describes in his own words.
“I got the ball in midfield and I turned [Fire defender] Jim Curtin and I made a break,” Walker recounts. “It was a counterattack and [Fire defender] Carlos Bocanegra had gotten in position to block my path to goal, so I cut it back toward the middle and I saw Landon cutting across from the blind side of Bocanegra. That’s when I decided to slip it to him and with the runs he makes, it’s an easy pass and perfectly timed so he wasn’t offside.”
The fact that Walker passed the ball on the play didn’t go unnoticed by his Quakes teammates, who never saw it coming.
“No one believed I could pass like that. It was the running joke: Where did that come from?” Walker said. “My M.O. as a sub was always to be a spark and I could undo defenses with my speed. But obviously, I could pass, shoot and do all that stuff.”
“Keep it simple, Jamil — Get in the box and try to score,” Yallop said of the instructions typically given to Walker. “But that was a terrific play and a game-changer. It was kind of a bit of a surprise, but a great play. We laughed about it after.”
The Quakes were laughing in the end, going on to win 4-2 with Walker registering a 60-minute shift. He describes it as the crowning moment of a career that ultimately succumbed to injury.
First, a back injury in his second season with San Jose, which never allowed him to be fit for his move to Chivas USA, the club that picked him in the Expansion Draft. It led to a move to D.C. United, where a once-promising career was brought to an end by an Achilles tear.
Today, Walker is in the tech field. With a degree in computer science from Santa Clara University and several years doing freelance web design during his MLS days, Walker turned it into a career (check his work at www.JamilWalker.com).
Injuries may have taken away his pro ambitions, they couldn’t rob him of the MLS Cup ring he played a big part in earning.
“It was everything I could have wanted it to be — to be able to contribute and link up with some of the best players in the United States against one of the best teams in Chicago,” Walker said. “The entire playoff run in general, but the MLS Cup itself, was an out-of-body experience. It seems like it was all over in a second and we had won.”