When the history of the Earthquakes 2004 season is written, Saturday night's 2-0 win over D.C. United may be one of the most important chapters.
Four days after playing 120 minutes and penalty kicks in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup win in St. Paul, Minn., and playing without Landon Donovan and Troy Dayak - both suspended for indiscretions, perceived and real, against New England on July 24 - the Quakes dominated D.C. from one end of the field to the other, and from minute one to minute 90. And they did so in front of nearly 20,000 fans, their biggest home crowd of the year.
While a good number of the fans showed up to see D.C. United's 15-year-old wunderkind Freddy Adu (who played a generally unspectacular 17 minutes), they all saw the Quakes at their entertaining best. Those who stayed until the end saw one of the great goals of the season, an 82nd-minute 17-yard volley from Dwayne De Rosario.
No Donovan. No worries.
"It was one of those kinds of goals you dream about," said coach Dominic Kinnear. "If he keeps scoring goals like that, it's hard to keep him out of this team."
It's hard to keep De Rosario out of the lineup, and hard to get him in it. Donovan (four goals, seven assists) and Brian Ching (10 goals, three assists) have struck up a solid and successful relationship up front. So when Dwayne gets a start, he makes the best of it.
"The one thing that Dwayne doesn't get credit for is his attitude when he steps on the field," Kinnear said. "He's always ready."
"It's very difficult, it's very frustrating," says De Rosario about being a spot starter, though he has been in the starting lineup in 11 of the 16 MLS games he's played this year. "It's not what I like doing, but I'm a team player. I'm not an individual player. If the team needs me, I'll do what's best for the team. If I'm not playing, that's between me and the coach."
A rather omen-like 6-6-6 after 18 games, the defending champs are two points from a tie for third, though still in last place in the Western Conference. It has been that kind of mixed-message season. With the good and the bad, there has often been the ugly.
Not on this Saturday night, though.
While they had a chance to score three or four more goals, Kinnear was more pleased that D.C. United didn't really have many chances to get one past goalkeeper Pat Onstad, who managed his second shutout of the season.
"The zero makes me happy," he said. "And it creates a sense of pride in the locker room."
And it keeps the team going during a very difficult stretch, coming after the U.S. Open Cup trip to Minnesota and before the team travels this week for a pair of MLS games on the road, in Chicago Wednesday night and Kansas City Saturday afternoon.
"We try to come out with the same kind of effort every night," said Richard Mulrooney, part of a midfield that dominated D.C. "Tonight we played hard and things just really seemed to go our way, especially on the scoreboard. This was a big game for us, if we had lost we would have been in a dire situation, but we have been playing better and it was great to get the two goals tonight."
Said Kinnear: "The resilience the guys showed tonight was very professional."
It is resiliency they will need to survive even more of the scheduling madness, beginning Wed., Aug. 11 in Chicago: five games in 18 days, three of them on the road (including two trips to Kansas City, one of them a U.S. Open Cup semi-final game).
"It comes with the territory," says midfielder Brian Mullan, who scored one goal and set up the other Saturday against D.C.
One thing's for sure, despite their disappointment at being in last place, the Quakes proved Saturday night they are not history yet.
John Shrader has been the voice of the Earthquakes since 1996 and has worked in television and radio in the Bay Area for the past 20 years.