MLSsoccer.com polled 20 of our editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists to bring you the Best of 2013, running Dec. 23 through Jan. 1. Each day, we'll hand out an award in a variety of categories culled from the storylines of MLS, including Biggest Controversy, Gaffe of the Year and, via fan vote revealed on Dec. 30, the Moment of the Year.
San Jose Earthquakes beat writer Geoff Lepper continues the series with a look at the Gaffe of the Year, which goes to the San Jose Earthquakes and their costly decision to have two players change cleats at the same time.
It all started with Sam Cronin going down to the pitch.
There was just more than an hour gone in the San Jose Earthquakes’ match against the Vancouver Whitecaps on April 6, with the Quakes holding onto a 1-0 lead through Chris Wondolowski’s 18th-minute strike. And as Cronin, the Quakes’ midfield quarterback, leaned forward to stretch out his calves while waiting for athletic trainer Brian Lee to arrive, teammates Victor Bernardez and Alan Gordon both moved towards the sideline to change out their cleats on a slick night at Buck Shaw Stadium.
But Lee was never allowed on the pitch, Bernardez and Gordon were both told to get off of the field to make their joint pit stop, and suddenly the Whitecaps were enjoying an 11-on-9 advantage while the Quakes’ players waited for a stoppage in play to rejoin the action. Unfortunately for San Jose, the ball didn’t stop pinging around until it landed at the feet of Vancouver forward Corey Hertzog, who took a deflected shot from teammate Daigo Kobayashi and beat helpless goalkeeper Jon Busch.
“It was really disappointing,” Gordon said at the time. “I thought we had a great performance tonight and that’s what’s going to stick out. We lost a few points there because ... it was a mistake.
“I take full responsibility for that. I feel like I let the team down, left them without two guys. They took advantage of it and we got punished.”
- BEST OF 2013: Catch the complete Stories of the Year
Gordon claimed that he and Bernardez – who originally started to change shoes on the field – were forced to the sideline by the officiating crew. The Quakes still on the pitch were obviously livid, gesturing at referee Fotis Bazakos even as play continued.
For his part, Bazakos told a pool reporter from MLSsoccer.com via a written statement that once the players left the pitch, his hands were tied under the sixth clause of Law 4 in FIFA’s Laws of the Game, which mandates players leaving for equipment fixes cannot simply be waved on during the run of play.
“It’s just one of those nights that frustrates the team and frustrates me as a head coach,” then-boss Frank Yallop told reporters in the aftermath.
- VOTE: The Moment of the Year
It was a stunning turn of events for the Quakes which epitomized the struggles the 2012 Supporters’ Shield winners faced to start this season. Several of San Jose’s stars – such as Gordon, Steven Beitashour, Marvin Chavez and Steven Lenhart – came into 2013 nursing injuries, some of which dated back to the previous campaign. (In fact, Gordon needed to change his boots because he had switched at halftime but found the new pair irritated the bottom of his left foot, where he had a nerve removed during the offseason.)
The Quakes will never know what a win would have done in terms of changing the trajectory of their season. Instead, they only have this historical record: They won just one of their next nine matches, at which point Yallop and the club abruptly parted ways, and despite a late-season surge under interim coach Mark Watson, the Quakes were aced out of a playoff spot by Colorado on a tie-breaker.
2. Ceus botches loose ball – Steward Ceus was the Colorado Rapids' go-to man in place of Matt Pickens early this season, but this play against FC Dallas likely made the Rapids coaching staff think twice. Two weeks later, it was Clint Irwin who got the call in place of injured Pickens, and he held onto the starting job the rest of the year. The club cut Ceus after the season.
3. De Luna heads it into his own net – Not much to say about this one, other than it was a microcosm of 2013 for Chivas USA. Always fun to watch.