They thought so much of Brian Ching, the Los Angeles Galaxy put him in the starting lineup once in 2001. The Galaxy thought so much of Brian Mullan, they traded him to their rival for a draft pick. The Colorado Rapids started Wes Hart 54 times in the last two seasons and essentially gave him away in 2004, and the Earthquakes were happy to get hold of him. The Quakes acquired Craig Waibel in the waiver draft in late 2002 after he had appeared in just 23 games in three seasons (he had a brief look from the team in 2001), he has now started 26 games since the beginning of the 2003 season. Goalkeeper Jon Conway - in the net Saturday night - has three wins in his five-year career, and as much respect from his teammates as anybody on the team.
These are five of the many reasons why the Earthquakes have won two championships in the last three seasons. If you find good people, find a good place for them to play, treat them with professionalism and honesty, and ask them to work hard and play smart, good things happen.
Ching scored the 79th-minute game-winner Saturday night in the Quakes' 3-1 win over the MetroStars and now is tied for the league lead with six goals this season, despite starting only six of the team's 10 games. Mullan underscored his value to the team when he worked his way through five men late in the game, stunning Metros goalkeeper Zach Wells with one of the most compelling goals of the year, putting the game away in the 89th minute.
Waibel and Hart (two of the three Washington Huskies in the lineup - Ian Russell being the other) both played fullback, helping to hold the MetroStars to one goal. Conway battled for the starting job four years ago and lost out to Joe Cannon, then watched Cannon win the 2001 Goalkeeper of the Year award. Conway was the presumptive starter before the 2003 season when Cannon tried his hand in Europe, but he suffered a broken foot and watched Pat Onstad go on to an MLS Goalkeeper of the Year season. Conway has treated his bad luck with indifference and his role with importance.
Yesterday's journeyman is today's champion.
Talent evaluation, positional placement and team depth are the keys to success in most sports. And finding diamonds in the rough has become a hallmark of the Earthquakes since Frank Yallop and Dominic Kinnear took over the team before the 2001 season.
Also in the starting lineup Saturday night were team captain Jeff Agoos, the long-time U.S. national team player and five-time MLS Cup champion; Richard Mulrooney, a former first-round pick who has started 135 games in his six-year career; Ramiro Corrales, the "MUP" of MLS - the "Most Underrated Player"; Ian Russell, a former fifth-round pick, whose three goals and nine assists in 2001 were a major factor in the team's first title; Arturo Alvarez, barely 12 months out of high school; and Ryan Cochrane, this year's No. 1 draft pick, making his fourth MLS start.
Those out of the lineup Saturday night included 2003 MLS Cup MVP Landon Donovan, Troy Dayak, Pat Onstad, Dwayne De Rosario and Eddie Robinson.
The bottom line is this: In MLS you have a 23-man roster for a reason and it's incumbent on the coach not only to acquire good people, but to also use them properly.
Contrarily Metrostars coach Bob Bradley, the winningest coach in MLS history, had six regulars missing due to national team duty, and was forced to play a handful of players who rarely get to hear the roar of the crowd. It showed.
We're in the beginning of the 18-month long World Cup qualifying cycle. Those who survive it will be the teams that have the big picture clearly in focus.
There's a lot to be said for taking that long journey with the proper journeymen.
John Shrader has been the voice of the Earthquakes since 1996 and has worked in television and radio in the Bay Area for the past 20 years.