May 4, 1996
Earthquakes acquire 1996 team MVP Missael Espinoza
After beginning their history with a 1-0 win over D.C. United in the first-ever MLS match on April 6, 1996, the San Jose Clash (as the Earthquakes were known until 2000) proceeded to lose their next three matches to drop their record to 1-3.
San Jose was tied for fourth place in the Western Conference, as the season was not getting off to the kind of start that the team had envisioned. But help was on the way. On Saturday, May 4 before the Clash took the field at Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts against the New England Revolution, the club made one of its biggest announcements ever.
The club acquired Mexican soccer legend Missael Espinoza as a league-allocated player, immediately changing the mood and dynamic of the team.
"I think almost everyone was happy to have Missael here," said Earthquakes defender Troy Dayak, who played with Espinoza in 1996. "He was such a classy player; he fit right in here."
Perhaps inspired by Espinoza's arrival, the Clash defeated New England 2-1 on May 4, and then four days later downed the Colorado Rapids 3-1 in Espinoza's first game. The Mexican national team star played all 90 minutes of the Clash win, something that would become commonplace throughout the season.
"He was just a dynamic player," former Clash defender and current Earthquakes assistant coach John Doyle said. "Especially on the wings with the ball, he was just so good on the ball. He was a legend [in Mexico], and the fans loved him up here too."
Espinoza came to San Jose already established as a star in the Mexican League and on the Mexican national team. He began his career with Monterrey in 1984 and later played for Club Deportivo (Chivas) Guadalajara. Espinoza quickly made an impact in San Jose, as many of his countrymen came to Spartan Stadium to see their fútbol legend up close.
Espinoza registered his first MLS assist on June 1 against Columbus and notched the first of his 10 goals on June 8 in a 4-1 loss to Dallas. He would also finish the year with five assists. The midfield magician showed his explosive firepower in a 6-1 win over New England on August 11 with two goals, and he then helped to power the Clash to their first playoff appearance ever with a four-game scoring streak in which he scored five goals from Aug. 25-Sept. 11.
"He was a special player," Dayak said. "His work ethic and hard work were contagious. He was just a joy to play with and remains one of my favorite players who has ever worn a Clash/Earthquakes uniform."
Doyle agrees with his former teammate's assessment of the Clash's first-ever Most Valuable Player.
"I really think that he was one of the best players to ever play in this league," Doyle said. "He was just a great player; he was one of the best."
Espinoza's stint in MLS would last just 26 games, the remainder of the 1996 season. A contract dispute sent Espinoza back to the Mexican First Division, where he continued to dominate for years, helping Leon, Necaxa, Guadalajara and Monterrey to victories throughout the years.
"In my opinion, it was a major mistake for our team and our league to lose him and let him go back to Mexico," Dayak said. "I obviously don't know the details of what went on, but we missed him and would have loved to keep him here; he was a true fan favorite."
Espinoza has remained a fan favorite, finishing his career in the Mexico's top league in February 2005 with Monterrey.