April 28, 2001
San Jose Earthquakes 0-0 Kansas City Wizards
Exactly four years ago, the San Jose Earthquakes were definitely not considered a threat to the league or a top team in the Western Conference, let alone potential two-time MLS Cup Champions. After starting off the 2001 season with a 1-2 record, there was a sense that this could be another lost season amongst the San Jose faithful. But things were about to change for the Quakes, starting on April 28, 2001.
There were positives and negatives for the Quakes going into the weekend match against Kansas City. Bad news first: the Quakes would be playing in Arrowhead Stadium, a venue that had hardly been kind to the visiting San Jose squad in the past. Also, starting forward and team point leader Dwayne De Rosario would be coming into the game exhausted from traveling with the Canadian national team. However, on the brighter side, two new, energetic faces would appear on the Quakes' side of the field for the game against the Wizards. Nineteen-year-old Landon Donovan would make his first MLS career start in Kansas City alongside Danish star Ronnie Ekelund, who was making his first appearance for the club.
The Earthquakes had recently completed the 2000 season finishing in last place in the Western Conference with a 7-17-8 record. Starting the new year with just one win and two losses, the team wasn't looking much better. Traveling to Arrowhead Stadium to face the defending Major League Soccer champion Wizards wasn't a very promising prospect either, especially with the Quakes' past track record in Kansas City. San Jose held a 4-6 away record against the Wizards, but had only earned two regulation time wins in Arrowhead Stadium over five years.
Despite having all odds against them, the Earthquakes players went into the April 28, 2001 match in Kansas City with hope for success.
"Even though our record wasn't great, we knew we had a good team, a much better team than we had the last year," said midfielder Ian Russell, who played in the match four years ago.
Newcomers Ekelund and Donovan both had a huge impact on the Quakes' offensive campaign from the start. San Jose was already putting on the pressure in just the second minute when Ekelund sent a long pass down the left sideline to a streaking Russell, who crossed a dangerous ball to Landon Donovan waiting in the middle of the penalty area. But the Wizards defense cleared the ball before the young forward could get it under control. Donovan once again threatened the Wizards goal in the 21st minute. Defender Zak Ibsen lobbed a ball to the open forward standing in the middle of the box. Donovan volleyed the ball in front of the lone goalkeeper, but his shot sailed over the cross bar. Donovan completed his first MLS start with a team-high three shots in regulation time, while Ekelund finished his debut with one shot.
"I specifically remember that game because it was Landon's first game and there was a lot of hype coming into it," recalls Russell. "And we got a glimpse of Landon, seeing how dangerous he can be up front for us. The whole team felt good coming out of that match."
De Rosario, who was subbed into the game for Ekelund in the 80th minute, will never forget the April 28 game either, but for different reasons. Due to traveling with the national team, the Canadian international did not arrive in Kansas City until midnight the night before the game. De Rosario had flown to and from Cairo, Egypt to play against the Egyptian and Iranian national teams that week. He managed to make the first game against Egypt despite a flight delay, getting to the stadium just one hour before kickoff.
"You just have to forget that you just flew half way around the world and get out there because it's your job to play," said De Rosario.
As if the flight to Egypt was not stressful enough, De Rosario headed back to the airport straight from the Canadians' 1-0 win over Iran on Thursday to make it to the Quakes game on Saturday, not arriving in Kansas City until late Friday night.
"Believe it or not, I've had some even wilder soccer traveling experiences," smiled the 2004 MLS Goal of the Year winner. But De Rosario will be the first to admit that traveling with the national team can be a strenuous physical toll on players. Despite the fact that he came off the bench and took four solid shots for the Quakes, De Rosario's body was definitely hurting during the Kansas City game.
"I was completely exhausted," remembered the Quakes forward. "I started walking out on the field and I was already sweating. I was so tired, my legs just didn't want to go anymore."
The April 28, 2001 game had another funny twist to it toward the end of the second half. Wizard Nick Garcia crossed a corner kick into the box, where the ball was deflected to Mo Johnston at the back of the penalty area. The Kansas City forward headed the ball to Wizard defender Andrew Gregor at the 18-yard line. Gregor drilled a line drive shot toward the goal, but ended up nailing referee Roger Sill in the head.
"The ref got hit so hard, he just dropped. I thought he got knocked out," said Russell. "People really didn't know what to do because the ref was down. We didn't know if we were supposed to keep on playing or what. That was pretty funny actually...you don't see that happen much. That play even made it on SportsCenter!"
Even after a hard fought 90 minutes and overtime, the Wizards and Quakes had to settle with a 0-0 final, giving goalkeeper Joe Cannon his first shutout of the 2001 season with five saves. Cannon would eventually finish off the year with seven shutouts and only a 1.09 goals against average. The game in Kansas City seemed insignificant at the time, but the tie to the Wizards would mark the beginning of a turnaround for the previously unsuccessful San Jose team. The Quakes began a 12-game unbeaten streak on April 28, 2001, holding strong through July 4 with a 7-0-5 record and sitting at the top of the Western Conference table for 17 straight games.
"With the streak, everyone just grew in confidence and finally felt that the team was actually good," said head coach Dominic Kinnear, who was the Quakes' assistant coach in 2001. "At first it was kind of in question whether or not we'd be good that season, but then everyone started believing in each other. That was key."
Midfielder Russell also remembers what those 12 games felt like. "Our winning streak was huge for the team because we were finally getting respect. We didn't feel like we could lose. Everything was clicking. It was just awesome."