As the Best of 2012 series continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 12 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. We'll take a look at one story per day from Dec. 19 until Dec. 30, when we unveil what our panel of 20 editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists voted as the Story of the Year in MLS in 2012.
New media editor Nicholas Rosano looks at story No. 6, the San Jose Earthquakes' dramatic and dominant run to the Supporters' Shield. Armed with an MVP in Chris Wondolowski and a supporting cast that almost never failed to disappoint, the Quakes made it clear that leaving Buck Shaw Stadium early was the worst mistake you could make in 2012.
Heroes to some, villains to others, there can be little doubt about one thing: the San Jose Earthquakes will go down as one of the most memorable Supporters’ Shield winning teams in history.
Sure, the award is a significant in its own right, but with the late comebacks, the ‘Goonies’ vibe and Chris Wondolowski’s historic goal haul, the Quakes took the drama to a whole other level.
by Merritt Paulson
The Timbers win the Cascadia Cup
I was flying in from a wedding in San Diego and the plane was delayed several hours. I landed in Vancouver right at kick off time, and got a cab driver who was a big soccer fan and who had played soccer in India. He sped me to the game … it usually takes about half an hour from the airport to BC Place, and he got me there in 15 minutes, max. I felt lucky to get out of the car in one piece.
I was sitting by myself in a suite behind the goal that Jack scored on. I’m not normally overly demonstrative and I had Vancouver fans on both sides of me, but I gave a little celebration when that went in. There was never any doubt from the moment the ball left his foot, from where my vantage point. It was such a pretty, pretty goal.
The Cascadia Cup is real. People in New York can talk about whether or not the fan derby is important, but if it’s important to the fans, then it’s important. Show me a real Sounders, Whitecaps or Timbers fan who doesn’t care about the Cascadia Cup. They don’t exist. It was a goal for us this year, and we achieved that goal. We won it. We won it fair and square.
The biggest question people will ask, though is, ‘Where did this team come from?’
After all, this was a team that had seen playoff action in just one of four seasons and endured a miserable 2011 in which they finished 11 points out of a playoff spot.
As MLSsoccer.com’s Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle argued, though, the signs of San Jose's ascendance were there for all to see.
Honduras international Victor Bernárdez came in and proved huge in stopping the kinds of late goals that killed the Quakes in 2011, while the service to Wondolowski was much improved thanks to the additions of Marvin Chávez and Shea Salinas. Defenders Steven Beitashour and Jusin Morrow earned All-Star nods during breakthrough years for both, and Sam Cronin proved himself as one of the most underrated but reliable talents in the league.
Of course, career years from Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart didn’t hurt either, and even with the scoring support, Wondolowski managed to equal Roy Lassiter’s single-season scoring record with 27 goals.
With 50 goals from that front three of Wondolowski, Gordon and Lenhart, plus 22 goals from the rest of the team (good for 2.12 goals per game), the Quakes firmly set their place in league lore, throwing up a formidable plus-29 goal differential and becoming the first team since 1999 to score more than 70 goals.
And not only did the Quakes score a lot, they did it in some of the most thrilling situations possible, whether it was the 5-3 barnburner against D.C. United in May, two separate comebacks from two goals down against Galaxy in the span of a month and a half. Or you can simply look at their 11 goals scored in the 90th minute of a game or later (including playoffs) as a testament to the resilience and drive that propelled the Earthquakes to the second Supporters’ Shield in franchise history.
Safe to say, it was no ordinary season. Still, there were those who did not put a whole lot of stock into the Quakes’ Shield win, most notably LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, who argued that the unbalanced schedule diminished the significance of the Supporters’ Shield compared to years past.
“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,” Quakes captain Ramiro Corrales pointed out after the team clinched the Shield.
And though the Earthquakes eventually fell in the playoffs in a memorable series with the Galaxy, head coach Frank Yallop was not about to let the elimination take the luster off his team’s accomplishment.
“To go 34 games, get that many points, score that many goals, it’s no fluke. It’s proven that, with the longevity of the season, it’s the hardest thing, to keep going,” he explained in a Q&A with MLSsoccer.com. “We were excellent. For me, it’s a big, big plus and a big success. I don’t look at as a failure at all.”
And though the postseason did not exactly go as planned, the Quakes are looking to keep the gang together, so don’t be surprised if you’re reading this story again at the end of 2013.