As the senior member of the San Jose Earthquakes, 36-year-old Jeff Agoos is still going strong. He remains "The Rock" in the team's defense, and he continues to be a scoring threat with his swerving free kicks.
Agoos, who has appeared in 205 regular-season Major League Soccer games, including 198 starts since the league's inception in 1996, is the anchor of a defense this season that has yielded a league-low 121 shots in 10 matches. And he has accounted for three goals on free kicks.
The latest was a bending strike into the right corner of the net from just beyond the left side of the penalty box for the Quakes' first goal in Saturday's 3-1 home win over the MetroStars.
When it was suggested that he bent it like Beckham, Agoos smiled, then replied, "No, I arched it like Agoos."
Agoos also has earned assists on two curving free kicks, with fellow defenders Troy Dayak and Craig Waibel finishing on near and far post headers, respectively.
The Quakes' veteran has been the anchor in a patchwork Quakes' defense that has been shredded this season by injuries. Chris Roner (ankle surgery) was lost before the season began, Eddie Robinson suffered a season-ending ruptured hamstring tendon in the third game, Todd Dunivant has yet to play because of a quadriceps strain and Troy Dayak has missed five games, the last four with an upper back strain.
"It's really nothing new," Agoos said. "We played with a rotating back four last season because of injuries, but we still managed to win the MLS Cup. Overcoming injuries is part of the challenge for any team. The guys off the bench have to contribute for you to be successful."
The three-time MLS Best XI selection has played fewer games since his long and distinguished career with the U.S. national team ended. He has played in only one game with the national team since 2002, a friendly last year against Wales at Spartan Stadium. He has the all-time most starts with the national team (124), and is second in appearances (134) behind Galaxy forward Cobi Jones (160).
"The tough thing dividing time between my club team and the national team wasn't the playing, but the traveling," Agoos said. "So much traveling, going to so many places in the U.S. was exhausting mentally. It's nice to be able to focus entirely on playing for your club, but I do miss being on the national team."
While he would like to get another shot at playing for U.S. coach Bruce Arena, his coach previously at D.C. United and at the University of Virginia, the Quakes veteran said he feels the team is on the right track.
"They're doing great," Agoos said. "I think they'll do very well in [World Cup 2006] qualifying. I wish them luck."
Agoos, who because of a calf injury suffered in the World Cup and national team duty appeared in only 14 games for San Jose in 2002, missed only two of 34 matches last season and is one of only two Quakes to play all 900 minutes this year (midfielder Richard Mulrooney is the other).
"I'm holding up pretty good, knock on wood," Agoos said. "I've taken care of my body, doing extra things to make sure I'm physically ready for the challenge."
Agoos, who plans to play beyond this season, health permitting, believes the Quakes' best days are ahead of them in 2004 after a 4-3-3 start (15 points).
"We have been a little slow getting out of the gate compared to last season," Agoos said. "Considering we have three ties and our three losses have been by one goal, we have been very close to taking more points. I think we did a good job of getting three points Saturday against the MetroStars."
New for Agoos this season is that he is a family man. He married wife Natalie, who has a 3-year-old daughter, Violet, on New Year's Eve, 2003. The newlyweds are anticipating the birth of a daughter, Emma, in September.
"Marriage is fantastic, except maybe on game days when I get a little tense," said a grinning Agoos. "My wife will tell you that. My wife and daughter are absolutely great, and we're excited about having another daughter on the way."
Agoos said it was because of Pat Tillman that he met Natalie. Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State football star and Leland High (San Jose) football and baseball star, was killed this year while on patrol as a U.S. Army Ranger in Afghanistan.
"Natalie was a producer with ABC Sports who was [in San Jose] doing a piece on Pat and his family for the ESPY Awards," said Agoos, who has a picture of Tillman taped inside his locker at Spartan Stadium. "A friend introduced us and the rest is history. I never met Pat. I admire him; he's a hero. I've gotten to know his family very well; they're incredible."
Pat Tillman, who chose his friends carefully, would have liked Jeff Agoos.
FIRE EXTINGUISHER: Pat Onstad has been perfect against Chicago in the regular season since joining the Quakes last season. The veteran goalkeeper has three shutouts in three league games against the Fire. In the three games, however, the Quakes also were scoreless. That's right: three 0-0 ties. Onstad did yield two goals against the Fire in last year's MLS Cup Final, but the Quakes answered with four against goalkeeper Zach Thornton.
Onstad, who plays Wednesday for Canada in the second leg of a World Cup qualifier against Belize, will return to the Quakes with Canadian forward Dwayne De Rosario for Saturday's 5:30 p.m. (PT) game against Chicago at Soldier Field (TV: FSN, FSW, FSE; Radio 1590 KLIV). Onstad notched his 16th career shutout with Canada during a 4-0 win over Belize on Sunday.
The Quakes will be without forward/midfielder Landon Donovan and the Fire without forward/wing DaMarcus Beasley and midfielder/captain Chris Armas. The trio will be on the field Sunday for the U.S. national team in a second-leg World Cup road qualifier against Grenada. Beasley scored two goals and Donovan contributed an assist to a 3-0 win over Grenada on Sunday in Columbus.
Dave Payne is a freelance soccer writer. He previously covered soccer for 33 years for the San Jose Mercury News. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of Major League Soccer or its teams.