After a long off-season and a nearly two-month preseason, the San Jose Earthquakes are ready to start the 2004 season and begin the defense of their MLS title.
The Earthquakes return to action to kick off the league's ninth season on Saturday, April 3 against D.C. United at 1 p.m. PT at R.F.K. Stadium in the nation's capital. The game will be broadcast live on ABC.
"I think that we are ready to go," Earthquakes goalkeeper Pat Onstad said. "We are looking forward to getting the season started."
The Quakes will be facing off against a United team that has received much hype in the days leading up to the match as 14-year-old soccer phenom Freddy Adu is set to make his first appearance.
While much of the focus has been on Adu and United, the Quakes are setting off on a journey to claim their third MLS Cup in four seasons, a feat accomplished only by D.C. United in the early years of the league.
"We are focused on what we have to do this season," Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear said. "We have been successful in the past, and I know that we will be able to continue that."
Kinnear will make his head-coaching debut on Saturday as he steps in for the departed Frank Yallop, who became the head coach of the Canadian national team. Kinnear is a familiar face for the Quakes having been the assistant coach there for the previous three seasons, and the transition has been going fine.
Kinnear and the team were focused on United as they practiced Friday at the R.F.K. Stadium Auxiliary Field in a cold, driving rain. Kinnear put the team through a light workout that saw them participate in 5 v. 2 drills, a short scrimmage and finishing drills.
"This team is ready," Kinnear said. "We really felt like in our last game in the Champions Cup we started to come together and that we were ready to start the MLS season."
The Quakes will be forced to start the season without the services of veteran defender Troy Dayak, who did not travel with the team due to a neck injury. Five-time MLS Champion Jeff Agoos also did not go through a complete workout Friday as he continues to recover from an injury to his left foot. Agoos, however, is expected to play on Saturday.
On Saturday, not only will the Quakes have to contend with the frenetic play of Adu, but D.C. provides problems with their experienced attackers like Bobby Convey, Ben Olsen, Earnie Stewart and Dema Kovalenko. The United defense is led by goalkeeper Nick Rimando and MLS All-Star Ryan Nelsen.
The Earthquakes will try to exploit the D.C. defense with their speed and look to stretch out their defenders on R.F.K. Stadium's big field.
"We have a lot of speed up front," Kinnear said. "With Landon [Donovan], Dwayne [De Rosario] and Brian Mullan, I think that we will be able to use our pace to our advantage."
"The Quakes won the season series against D.C. United last year, taking two out of three games from United, including one at R.F.K. Stadium. The entire lower bowl of the stadium will be sold out for this game, but with the Quakes bringing back the majority of their lineup from 2003, the Earthquakes are looking to ignore the hostile crowd and continue the success that they enjoyed last season.
"We know that it is going to be a tough game," Earthquakes midfielder Richard Mulrooney said. "D.C. is a good team and they have a lot of players that are dangerous. However, I think that we have the confidence in ourselves that we know we can win if we play our game and play the way that we are capable of."