The defending MLS champion San Jose Earthquakes may be stuck at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, but it's not for a lack of trying -- as seen in last weekend's match against the New England Revolution -- and it's not for a lack of star power.
Earthquakes make up nearly half of the starting lineup of Saturday's 2004 Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game, with five players from the Bay Area club slotting into the Western Conference first XI, including three players who make the wheels turn in the Quakes attack -- Landon Donovan, Brian Ching and Richard Mulrooney -- and the heart of the San Jose defense -- captain Jeff Agoos and goalkeeper Pat Onstad.
Donovan, one of the league's most recognizable stars in the United States and around the world, has been an All-Star mainstay since joining the league in 2001. He has played in the midsummer showcase in each of his four years in the league and notched game MVP honors in 2001, when he scored four goals in a 6-6 tie between the East and West All-Stars. Donovan has been one of the top performers in the league in the past few years, and the 2004 season is no different, as he has helped ignite the Quakes' attack with four goals and seven assists for 15 points.
While Donovan's streak of four straight All-Star Game appearances may seem impressive, it pales in comparison to the feat achieved by San Jose defender and captain Jeff Agoos, who will make his ninth All-Star appearance Saturday.
Agoos, the man who has more MLS championship rings than any player in the history of the league with five, is still the defensive core of the Earthquakes, as he has been since joining the club in 2001 from D.C. United. This season, Agoos has battled through his own injuries to provide consistency and leadership to a back line that has been ravaged by injuries across the board. Agoos' ability to step up and convert free kicks -- as he did on June 12 with a 25-yard, Sierra Mist Goal of the Week-winning blast -- has also proven valuable to San Jose.
Brian Ching, another valuable Earthquake, has much less All-Star experience than his veteran teammate, Agoos. The Hawaiian-born striker will make his first career All-Star appearance and start when he takes the field Saturday, and one would be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn't think Ching should be there.
With 10 tallies on the year, Ching is tied for the league lead in goals, and he is also in second place in points with 23. After suffering a season-ruining knee injury last season, Ching has bounced back in style to head the Quakes attack and allow Donovan to play an attacking midfield role.
In the defensive midfield, Richard Mulrooney has been a mainstay for the Earthquakes, and this year he's even more involved, picking up plenty of points and providing the balance point for the San Jose midfield. With 13 games left, Mulrooney is just one assist and one point shy of career highs in both categories, and his eight assists are tied for the league lead. The man who scored the MLS Cup-clinching goal in 2003 will make his second career All-Star appearance this weekend.
Closing out the Earthquakes' All-Star contingent is goalkeeper Pat Onstad, the man who may be most responsible for keeping the Quakes competitive in the early part of the season. Onstad was a rock at the back for the Quakes as head coach Dominic Kinnear tried to make the most out of an injury-riddled defense, and for his part, the 2003 Goalkeeper of the Year won the Honda MLS Player of the Week award twice in the first seven weeks of the season. Onstad will be making his first All-Star appearance and start.
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.