Soccer: MLS: New York Metrostars at San Jose Earthquakes
Fantastic game! I knew it was going to be good when, while walking to my seat, I got a free T-shirt. Being in the front row I never get one as the rally team always throws them behind me. But tonight an errant throw meant it hit a slew of outstretched hands and bounced into the open path, right in front of me. I snatched it! When I got to my seat, a whole girl's team (the "Salinas Kiwis") was sitting right behind me and they were delightful, with constant chants, songs, and ear-piercing screams. They knew their soccer, too, understanding what was happening on the field. Great to see such energetic fans and they attracted a lot of attention in the whole area. It made the game so much more fun. In fact, the security guard sitting right in front of me with his back to the field toward the end of the game had gotten so into he said he wanted to take off his yellow jacket and sit next to me and enjoy the game!
The game itself was important, as the Quakes were missing several key players (DeRosario, Onstad, and Donovan) to international call-ups. How would we play? New York was even more depleted, missing seven key players. No way this was going to be another 5-5 shootout! The Quakes dominated from the start, but it took a while to get things going. The ref was throwing out yellow cards right and left, for niggling fouls in some cases, and not even calling fouls for some rough play. It made for an uneven match. The side refs weren't much better, with a number of blown offside calls. Once again, weak officiating in MLS. But the Quakes battled on, dominating play but not able to connect with the final ball in the box. Finally first blood was drawn when a free kick was given at the corner of the box. Captain Jeff Agoos was brilliant: his pin-point placement of the curling shot could not have been stopped by any keeper; it was just a couple inches inside the far post and driven so hard the keeper could only watch it score. In the second half, the Quakes dominated even more, with a number of great chances that were blocked or missed. Then, against the run of play, the ref called a ridiculous foul on Richard Mulrooney. Richard isn't a big guy but he got up and headed the ball away on a clearance but collided with a NY player on the way down. Ref called a foul and gave Murooney a yellow card! Absurd. But worse was to come on the resulting play when New York's shot made it through the Quake wall and was well-blocked by backup keeper Jon Conway. Unfortunately, the rebound hit Goose and bounced up and hit the crossbar. It was just bad luck that it fell right to a Metrostar who easily headed it into the goal. The game was tied. The crowd was not at all happy with the ref, who was booed constantly after that, but the game continued. Again, a number of great chances for the Quakes as they got into dangerous situations in New York's box. There were at least two cases for penalty kicks, a blatant one on Ching and a potential one on Mullan, but the ref gave neither. Finally the Quakes broke through when a long ball over the back line was chested down by Ching (there was some question it might have struck his hand, but it didn't look intentional to me on the replay). Ching was alone in the box with only the keeper to beat. He deked left, foiling the keeper, but the ball got a little away from him and it looked like he was going to lose it as a defender was arriving. But Ching brilliantly pulled the ball back, shielding it from the oncoming defender with his foot, then, falling away from the goal, turned and flipped the ball into the open net! An awesome goal, totally done with heart and determination and not giving up on the play. Sweet! With only a few minutes left the game was iced when the other Brian (Mullan) proved he can be brilliant as well. He dribbled past a couple defenders into New York area and was double-teamed. A slick move split the defenders and he broke between them and onto the ball. However one of the defenders appeared to foul him in the box and Mullan went down. The defender backed away, not wanting to be called for a penalty kick, and with the ball right near Mullan the ref waved play on. Brian saw that and leaped to his feet and began dribbling. He ran along a whole line of white Metrostar defenders before suddenly turning and driving the ball back in the direction he'd come, into the corner of the goal. The NY keeper didn't even move! Brilliant goal, just totally awesome.
With the game now 3-1, the fans went nuts. I don't know who started it, but tonight being seat cushion night, someone in the West stands (where I am) threw their cushion onto the field. Instantly it was joined by a dozen others. Within seconds there were twenty, thirty, fifty, over a hundred seat cushions flying through the air. It was spontaneous and amazing. Both sides of the stadium were throwing their cushions and the field was covered with them! The sky was filled with them! It was incredible, very exciting and wild. Of course you're not supposed to throw things on the field and the game was delayed while the field was cleared, but it was fun. The ref tried to punish San Jose by adding a whopping five minutes of extra time at the end (clearing the cushions took maybe three minutes), but the defense held strong (Jon Conway had an excellent game, strong and confident, making only a few saves but lots of important catches and punches to defuse threatening attacks). The Quakes win! Terrific game, great performance without some key players. Everyone stepped up and worked hard. What a great team. A championship team. Final: 3-1 San Jose Earthquakes.