Bayer Leverkusen 4 - 3 San Jose Clash
May 26, 1996
With the inaugural Major League Soccer season well under way, the new league was faring well and gaining prestige in America. Through the San Jose club's first eight games in 1996 both on the road and at home, 190,470 fans had already watched the Clash across the country. But it was not until May 26, 1996 that MLS really started to gain international recognition. The Clash proved that American soccer could contend with famous international clubs when Bayer Leverkusen of Germany traveled to California to take on San Jose in an exhibition match at Spartan Stadium.
Former Clash defender and current Earthquakes assistant coach John Doyle remembers getting ready for the match. Having played for struggling VFB Leipzig, another German Bundesliga team, in 1994, Doyle was relieved to be playing powerhouse Leverkusen in an exhibition game at home rather than in a regular season match like he had in Germany.
"The international exhibition games are always fun for players because they get to be on the field with some of the best in the world," said Doyle. "It's a great chance to see where you stand next to foreign players and see how you fare against them."
The first 45 minutes of the match proved to be more than exciting. Leaving the field at halftime, Bayer Leverkusen and the Clash had already combined to score seven goals. Leverkusen was on the board just two minutes into the game on a goal by Paulo Sergio. The Clash quickly responded three minutes later with an unassisted goal from Jorge Rodas. The German squad stormed back with two more goals within the next eight minutes, leaving the San Jose team down 3-1.
But the Clash weren't done yet. In the 26th minute, Paul Bravo scored off an assist from Rodas to bring San Jose within one goal of tying the match. However, Bayer Leverkusen tried to shut the Clash out for good with another goal in the 37th minute. The Quakes continued to fight to match the score, but were only able to score one more goal in the 45th minute on a Ben Iroha shot.
The exhibition game remained silent after the goal-fest in the first half to give the visiting German team the 4-3 victory. Though the Clash ended up losing, the number of goals scored showed that American soccer could compete with dominant foreign clubs.
Since the May 26, 1996 game against Bayer Leverkusen, the San Jose Clash and Earthquakes have played in 13 more international exhibitions in the last decade and hold a 4-6-4 all-time record against international teams in friendly matches. Some foreign club opponents have included UNAM Pumas, Club America and Chivas of Mexico, Aston Villa of England and Sporting Club of Portugal. The Quakes even took on the national team of Canada in 2004, playing against their own forward Dwayne De Rosario and goalkeeper Pat Onstad while they trained with their country's team.
"Since there's not a lot of pressure on exhibitions because they don't affect league standings, it's a great opportunity for players to perform for foreign coaches to get their name out there on the international scene," said the Quakes assistant coach.
Throughout the years, MLS players have benefited from these exhibition games that started ten years ago when the Clash played Bayer Leverkusen so close at Spartan Stadium.
Today we can see the result of these high-quality exhibition games on the fields of MLS every week, as many MLS players recently spent time playing abroad for foreign clubs. Former Earthquakes forward Landon Donovan played with Bayer Leverkusen from 1999-2001 and returned to the German club for part of the 2005 season. Defender Wade Barrett just returned to the United States after a stint in Denmark with AGF Aarhus and Norway's Fredrikstad Football Club. Dwayne De Rosario also played abroad for FSV Zwickau of the German Second Division in 1997 and 1998.