Fan-favorite goalkeeper Joe Cannon had easily captured the hearts of Earthquakes fans after helping the team to its first MLS Cup in 2001 and being awarded the 2002 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year title. So after he left the Quakes following a four-year stint with the organization, his successor knew he would have a tough job to fill Cannon's shoes. But Pat Onstad wasted no time in winning over the San Jose fans and making his mark on Earthquakes goalkeeping history.
Onstad had spent seven years as a goalkeeper in the A-League as well as two years playing for the Canadian Soccer League but did not join Major League Soccer until 2003 at the age of 35. He also had over 30 appearances for the Canadian National Team. But in just his first season in MLS, Onstad made himself one of the top goalkeepers in MLS.
The Quakes were currently on a five game unbeaten streak going into their August 24, 2003 match against D.C. United at Spartan Stadium. Onstad had only allowed one goal in four straight games leading up to the D.C. game and had not lost since June 7. The Canadian goalkeeper had already led the Quakes to 10 wins and San Jose stood atop the table with the best record in MLS, 10-3-7.
The Sunday D.C. United match did not seem threatening to San Jose at first as the Quakes had only lost once in their last nine match-ups with D.C. But United threatened the Earthquakes defense and forced Onstad to be on his toes throughout the match.
The visiting team would have taken advantage of the Quakes early in the match had it not been for Onstad. A long pass fell just in front of the feet of onrushing forward Alecko Eskandarian in the middle of the penalty box, but the keeper took the chance to come off his line to scoop up the ball before Eskandarian could redirect it into the net.
The game remained scoreless through the end of the first half as neither team could break through the opponent's defense. D.C. forward Ronald Cerritos almost broke the stalemate against his former team in the 48th minute when he sent a perfect cross into Eskandarian sliding across the goalmouth. But luckily for the Earthquakes, the United forward knocked it just wide of the goal and out of danger.
The Quakes finally started penetrating the United goal with a great chance in the 62nd minute when Landon Donovan and Todd Dunivant tried to connect in front of the net, but to no avail. San Jose kept up the offensive pressure in the following minutes with shots from Chris Ronér and Ramiro Corrales, but both attempts were saved by D.C. goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
It was not until the 80th minute that the Earthquakes finally got on the board on Corrales' first goal of the season. Dwayne De Rosario carried the ball into the right of the box and sent a low cross in front of the United goal and past Rimando. Corrales was waiting wide open and redirected the ball into the net for the 1-0 lead.
But the Quakes would have to call upon Onstad before the game was over to preserve the advantage. With just a few minutes left in the match, United midfielder Ben Olsen sent a dangerous cross in towards near the San Jose goal. Onstad had to pull an acrobatic maneuver to save the shot, as he jumped backward and punched the ball over the cross bar and out of danger to solidify the Quakes victory.
"It was not the prettiest game this afternoon, but I am really proud of the guys for hanging in there and getting a result at the end," said former Quakes head coach Frank Yallop. "It was a good win for us, we need to keep on getting as many points as we can."
The 1-0 win in the final ten minutes of the game against D.C. United preserved the Quakes best record in Major League Soccer and extended their unbeaten streak to six games. But more importantly, Pat Onstad earned his ninth shutout of the season, breaking an Earthquakes club record for shutouts.
"Anytime you can set a record it is a good feeling," commented Pat after the game. "Like I've said before, I really feel that this is a team record. To get nine shutouts just shows you how well the team has been playing in front of me. I am proud to be the goalkeeper that was able to get to nine, because I have just been able to take advantage of how well the back four and the entire team have been playing."
Yallop, however, attributed more of the record to Onstad himself. "Pat performed really well today, as he has all season. He always comes up with the saves at the right moments. Overall, he has had a great season, and I am not at all surprised to see him break the shutout record today."
Not only did he break the Earthquakes record in shutouts with nine, but Onstad's 2003 inaugural year in MLS ended up being the greatest season of goalkeeping in San Jose history. The then-35 year old Canadian international also set the club record in wins (14), catch/punches (117), games played in goal in a single season (27), and in goals against average (1.04), all of which still stand today.
As Onstad is now in his third season with the Earthquakes, he is adding to his goalkeeping totals every game and continuing to make a place for himself in team history.