The 1997 season was not one of the best San Jose soccer years, as the Clash finished last in MLS with a 12-20 record. May and June were some of the worst months that season. Going into the June 15 match against the Kansas City Wizards at Arrowhead Stadium, the Clash was in the midst of a six-game losing streak and a seven-game winless period. The Wizards had clobbered San Jose just a week earlier on June 8, 1997 at Spartan Stadium in a 3-2 loss as well.
So the Clash trekked out to Missouri to take on the first-place Wizards, expecting another loss. San Jose had never beaten the Wizards on Kansas City turf in the year and a half of MLS history, and had only defeated the team once after six meetings. But despite all odds, San Jose forwards Eric Wynalda and Ronald Cerritos both contributed to each of the three Clash goals to defeat the tough Wizards team 3-1.
Before a crowd of 7,431 at Arrowhead Stadium, Cerritos got the Clash on the board first in the 33rd minute on a beautiful passing sequence from midfielder Michael Emenalo and Wynalda. Emenalo crossed the ball to Wynalda, who chested the ball forward to Cerritos. The forward carried the ball, beating a Wizards defender and smashing the ball inside the far post for the first goal of the game.
"Michael hit a nice cross, and they gave me just enough space that I was able to chest it ahead to Ronald," said Wynalda after the game. "Ronald did a good job finishing, waiting for the keeper to commit himself."
Kansas City came roaring back to even the score at one just before the halftime whistle. Wizards midfielder Preki crossed the ball from a corner kick in the 43rd minute that connected with the head of KC defender Sean Bowers. Quakes midfielder Istvan Urbanyi, guarding the goal, attempted to save the shot with a bicycle kick, but the ball slammed into the inside of the crossbar and bounced down across the goal line.
"Shots off the post, deflections off the crossbar, hand balls for goals...that's the kind of luck we've had all season," said San Jose goalkeeper Dave Salzwedel following the match. "It's nice to see us come back from that and get a win."
In the 74th minute, second-half substitute Christopher Sullivan notched his first career Major League Soccer goal to put the Clash up 2-1. Cerritos and Wynalda were back in offensive action with the play. Wynalda carried the ball past two Wizards defenders on the right side before crossing it to Cerritos, who headed the ball towards the center of the goal box. Sullivan was in the perfect position to slam the ball home, and, without letting the ball touch the ground, the forward smashed the volley shot into the right corner of the goal.
"That first goal has been a long time coming, and I'm glad it came in a game like this, when we really needed it," Sullivan said at the time.
Cerritos finished off the night with his second goal of the game to solidify the Clash victory at 3-1. With the Wizards frantically trying for an equalizing goal, San Jose broke away on a counterattack in the 81st minute. Urbanyi sprinted with the ball in the center of the field before slipping it to Wynalda streaking on the left. Wynalda crossed the ball back into the middle where Cerritos intercepted it and beat Wizards goalkeeper Mike Ammann with a shot to the far post.
By the final whistle, the entire Clash squad had played spectacularly to break both San Jose's six-game losing streak and Kansas City's four game winning streak, as well as dealing the Wizards there first loss in eight Western Conference games. Individual Clash players also had stellar games. Sullivan finally managed to score his first professional soccer goal. Wynalda assisted on all three Clash goals in the June 5, 1997 game, upping his season assist total to 10, then the best in the league. He was also involved in the last eight straight Clash goals, and had either scored or assisted in 14 of the 16 Clash goals scored with Wynalda on the field. Cerritos combined for two goals and one assist for a total of five points in one match that set a personal career high in points that still stands today.
"Obviously, we really needed this one," Clash Head Coach Laurie Calloway said after the game. "Maybe we've got the monkey off our back now, maybe we can build on this. We've played in hard luck all season. Maybe it's finally turning around for us."
The Clash was not able to completely turn their whole 1997 season around, ending the year with a 12-20 record, 19 points behind Western Conference first-place Kansas City. But it's the personal records, the electrifying goals, and the victories like the June 15, 1997 win over the Kansas City Wizards that will forever make San Jose soccer moments unforgettable memories.