The San Jose Earthquakes Friday went through their final workout before Saturday's 2004 home opener against the Chicago Fire at 1:00 p.m. PT at Spartan Stadium. The Quakes are looking to rebound from a tough first game that saw them fall 1-0 to D.C. United on the road. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.
"Obviously, this is a big game for us because we don't want to start off in a six-point hole," Earthquakes defender Eddie Robinson said. "We don't ever want to start off the season with two straight losses, and I think we are going to come out there and really play one of our better games."
The Quakes are familiar with the Fire, as they defeated Chicago 4-2 in the 2003 MLS Cup Championship game on Nov. 23. With the Quakes championship season being honored prior to the game Saturday night, the Fire are sure to have a little extra motivation.
"I am sure that is something that they are going to be thinking about," Earthquakes forward Jamil Walker said. "Obviously, we beat them in the final and we know that they are going to be fired up against us on Saturday. But, we are going to be at home, so we are just going to have ride it out."
The Fire arrived in San Jose late Thursday night and trained Friday afternoon at Spartan Stadium also hoping to get their first win of the season on Saturday. The Fire tied Kansas City 0-0 in their opener on April 3.
"Chicago is a dangerous team," Earthquakes captain Jeff Agoos said. "They have a lot of weapons up front with [Ante] Razov, [Damani] Ralph and DaMarcus [Beasley]. It is going to have to take all eleven guys to defend against a team with firepower like that."
The Fire exhibited their offensive strength to the Spartan Stadium crowd last season in a 4-1 win on May 31, 2003. The Fire won the 2003 regular season series 1-0-2.
To avoid a repeat performance at Spartan, Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear will need a sterling performance from a defensive four that allowed United several scoring opportunities in the season opener.
"We got a little lucky last week, because D.C. had some chances that they just missed," Kinnear said. Kinnear and the Quakes will be without the services of defender Craig Waibel, who received a red card on Saturday for a hard tackle and is suspended for the match. Wes Hart will most likely get his first career start for the Quakes in his place since coming over from the Colorado Rapids in a preseason trade. Hart is an experienced five-year veteran who started 29 games at right back for the Rapids in 2003.
"I'm excited to get out there and help the team," Hart said. "Since I joined the Quakes I have just wanted to be a good teammate and help out in anyway that I can. I hope to do that tomorrow."
Hart is likely to be joined on defense in the middle by Eddie Robinson and Troy Dayak. Robinson is still feeling his way from a pre-season knee injury, and Dayak is making his first start of 2004 after not traveling to D.C. last week due to an injured neck.
"I am ready," Dayak said. "I feel pretty good and I am just excited to be back and playing in front of the fans in San Jose."
With Dayak and Robinson pairing in the middle, Agoos will likely move to the left defender position, an alignment the Quakes used to great success in the 2003 MLS Playoffs and in the championship game vs. the Fire.
"I think that with Eddie and Troy in the middle of the defense, they are a big physical presence for Chicago to go up against," Kinnear said. "Eddie and Troy are both tough and physical type of players."
Ramiro Corrales is cleared to play and will return to the left midfield position after playing a game on defense. Corrales will play with the Quakes usual midfield combination of Richard Mulrooney, Ronnie Ekelund and Brian Mullan, one of the best in the league.
"I believe that Ramiro is too good of a soccer player to just play in the back," Kinnear said. "He holds the ball well and with Brian [Mullan] running wide on the right, I think that Ramiro can give us some good balance."
Landon Donovan and Dwayne De Rosario are likely to start at the forward position against a Chicago Fire defense that has been re-tooled, but is still formidable. Gone are imposing goalkeeper Zach Thornton and defender Carlos Bocanegra. The Fire is expected to start long-time back-up Henry Ring in the nets and a three-man backline of Evan Whitfield, Jim Curtin and Kelly Gray. The Fire's Jesse Marsch and Orlando Perez are both out with injuries.
"Chicago is tough," Mullan said. "We know all about problems they can create for us. Especially since we beat them in the MLS Cup, I'm sure that it is going to be a really hard game."
It will be another challenge for the Quakes as they attempt to help Dominic Kinnear earn his first MLS head coaching victory. According to Mulrooney, it won't be easy.
"I don't really think that there is an easy game in MLS," Mulrooney said. "For us, I guess we kind of have an 'X' on our backs because we are the champions, but I really don't think there are any easy games in this league. Every team, even one that is having a down year is capable of beating anyone else."
With a raucous crowd expected for the Quakes home opener, San Jose is hoping to teach that lesson once again to the Fire.