SANTA CLARA, Calif. – In a locker room already soaked with bubbly early on Sunday evening, San Jose Earthquakes defender Jason Hernandez called for a momentary truce in the back-and-forth spray-downs.
“Enjoy tonight,” said Hernandez, one of only two current Quakes who have been with the team since its re-establishment as an expansion club in 2008. “Tomorrow, let’s get ready for the playoffs.”
With that, the champagne once again started to fly.
It will go down as the Quakes’ second Supporters’ Shield, but as with the two stars on their jerseys – denoting MLS Cup triumphs in 2001 and 2003 – that first Shield was won by a team that moved following the 2005 season to Houston.
This, then, represents the first piece of silverware won in their current incarnation. And it’s a sweet reward for a club that slid to an unhappy 8-12-14 last year.
“It’s a season’s worth of celebration,” said forward Chris Wondolowski, who might get his own personal drenching next weekend if he ties or breaks Roy Lassiter’s all-time single-season MLS scoring record in the Quakes’ regular-season finale. “The fact that we finished best in the league in the regular season says a lot about this team. It’s a hard thing to do. I’m proud of these guys.”
The partying began as soon as the Quakes came off the field, and it kept restarting as late-comers, such as coach Frank Yallop, midfielder Marvin Chávez and captain Ramiro Corrales – the only other player along with Hernandez to have spent five seasons with the new Quakes – entered the firing range. Forward Alan Gordon made sure to blast media types who were waiting for a break in the action to gather quotes.
The timing was a trifle off-kilter since San Jose actually clinched first place in the overall standings when Sporting Kansas City drew 0-0 against New York Red Bulls on Saturday. And the Quakes looked like they might be suffering from a hangover during a mostly lifeless first half against LA on Sunday. But San Jose recovered to score a pair of equalizers in a 2-2 tie with the Galaxy.
“Winning the Shield last night was great, and as you saw, we were very proud of it,” goalkeeper Jon Busch said.
Some detractors – including most recently LA coach Bruce Arena – argue that because the league imposed an unbalanced schedule this season, there is no true Supporters’ Shield winner.
But the Quakes were almost equally as proficient against playoff teams (33 points from 17 matches for a 1.94 per-game average) as they were against non-qualifiers (32 points in 16 matches, 2.00 per-game average). And San Jose fended off all challengers to hold first place for the final four months of the regular season.
In short, the Quakes were having none of it.
“Unless you win it, there’ll be the critics going out there, saying you didn’t deserve to win it,” San Jose head coach Frank Yallop said. “Everyone started with the same rules when we started [the season] in March.”
Said Corrales: “Obviously, coaches or other players are going to say whatever they want to say, but we’ve proven throughout the season that we’re best team in the league. We’ve just got to prove it again in the playoffs.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.