Shrader: Underrated Earthquakes

If the San Jose Earthquakes are really the redheaded stepchild of Major League Soccer - as Eddie Robinson says an unnamed teammate has dubbed them - then they are doing their best to rid redheaded stepchildren everywhere of the negative stigma.

"No matter what we do," Robinson said, after the Quakes beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-1 Saturday night in Spartan Stadium. "No matter how well we play or how good we do, people don't really want to acknowledge it too much. That's fine with us."

The Quakes' win, in front of more than 24,000 fans, stretches their lead in the Western Conference to eight points over FC Dallas and nine over the Galaxy. It was a game that featured a competitive spirit and intensity found in few other places, in few other match-ups in Major League Soccer. And it started at 11:12 p.m. in the Eastern Time zone.

So it doesn't appear too many people in New York are listening when Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear says, "If you want to see the best club match in America you come to Spartan Stadium when the Galaxy take on the Earthquakes. I don't care if the crowd is zero or 25,000, I think it's the best club match and tonight was another example of that."

Not a good night for the TiVo-less among us. Though the game was on ESPN2, this should have been more of a showcase game, to show the skeptical, Fox Soccer Channel-watching, European soccer lover and average American soccer fan the kind of passion found in certain cities. Or, shall I say a certain city that has been under threat of soccer extermination for years.

"There are a lot of other stories around the league that are taking up a lot of headlines," said defender Danny Califf, who headed home the game-winner against his former team. "That's fine, because at the end of the day look who's on top. There's a long way to go, but I think we're feeling good about where we're at and the progress of our play."

This was a battle Saturday night between the haves and have-nots, no matter what anybody tells you and no matter how anybody spins it. The Galaxy have the big, new stadium and a former Earthquakes superstar, with a payroll about $1 million more than that of the Quakes. The Galaxy opened the season with a 5-1 record, while the Quakes, with a vastly re-made roster, got off to a 1-1-3 start. Since then, the Quakes are 11-3-5 and the Galaxy 5-9-4. The Quakes are in first place; the Galaxy in third.

Right now it appears they are two ships passing in the night, though it might appear, to the uninformed, that one is a catamaran and the other a yacht.

Don't let the spin-doctors confuse you.

Right now, one of them is playing like a championship contender and the other is trying to figure out when mediocrity became an aspiration.

Three of the best players on the field were, for one reason or another, Galaxy rejects: Danny Califf, Alejandro Moreno and Brian Mullan. (Another former Galaxian that is thriving in San Jose: Brian Ching.) To be sure, the former Quakes on the Galaxy, Landon Donovan and Todd Dunivant, acquitted themselves well. Donovan scored on a brilliant 22-yard strike, though he suffered the embarrassment of being jeered every time he touched the ball. Dunivant mixed it up all night, but not quite like the Aug. 24 U.S. Open Cup game when he was red-carded.

Donovan's path to Los Angeles is a story that seems to have more layers than a wedding cake. Galaxy coach Steve Sampson insists there were not underhanded dealings in the transaction that sent him from Germany to the Quakes bitterest rivals.

While Donovan joining the Galaxy garnered headlines, there was not as much attention paid to the transactions involving other former Galaxians.

"I think it was pretty clear [late last season] I wouldn't be in LA much longer," Califf said. "And I was hoping it would be here [in San Jose] after talking with other guys who had come here before me."

Another former member of the Galaxy was also happy to score against his former employer.

"I have to be honest," said Moreno, whose goal Saturday night was his team-leading sixth. "I feel that perhaps in L.A. I didn't get the opportunities I deserved. Certainly it's good to show they let a good player go."

There's plenty of business left to take care of for the Quakes. The final six-week stretch of the season begins with a game in Dallas this weekend, then a home-and-home series with the new and improved Chivas USA.

You needn't worry about the Quakes sitting on a big lead in the standings. Redheaded stepchildren don't get cocky.

"We'll just keep flying under the radar," says Robinson, "Then at the end of the year if we're holding another trophy let them go figure."

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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.