It was an exciting day: for the first time in history, San Jose went to their home opener as the reigning Major League Soccer champions. Now it’s up to them to prove to everyone that last year’s worst-to-first wasn’t just a fluke. Before the game, the players were presented their Championship rings (the first 10,000 fans received replicas, which are pretty cool, if I do say so myself). A first for me is that I bought season tickets this year, so I didn’t have to wait in line at the entrance. Very cool.
The game itself was great: the Quakes were facing the Revolution, who had a horrible season last year, but with consolidation in the league ended up with five All-Stars on this year’s team! But San Jose put a damper on NE’s enthusiasm just 92 seconds in when a little feed by Ariel Graziani put Manny Lagos in on goal by himself and he first-timed it past Jurgen Summer to give the Quakes the lead. That started a trend of total Quake domination. They had about 70% possession for most of the first half and chance after chance on goal, looking extremely dangerous. New England could barely complete a single pass, giving up the ball right and left. I counted at least twice where every single player on their team was in their own half of the field! The Revs almost had a goal when a frantic clearance by Jimmy Conrad almost put the ball into his own net, but it hit the post. Joe Cannon was forced to make a save or two, but it was mostly all San Jose. A bit later, Ekelund made a terrific block to stop a shot, and I remarked to the guy sitting near me, “Look at that: New England almost got a shot on goal. Can’t have that.” Still, as the half drew to a close and San Jose hadn’t increased their lead, I grew worried. They were easing up on possession, letting the Revs have more of the ball, and they were starting to actually connect a few passes and gain confidence. With their dangerous strikers, I worried that a slight mistake could let them in, and sure enough, late in the first half, Senegalese strike “Big Mama” Mamadou Diallo took a through-ball that gave him a slight opening and he finished it cleanly into the far post beating Cannon. It was a good goal, but it was still depressing and a little unfair considering how much the Quakes had dominated.
In the second half, New England played better, starting to look like a real team. But San Jose played excellent, controlling things well, though still unable to score. Finally, in the 77th minute, substitute Dewayne Derosario bolted aggressively up the right side and played a ball to Landon Donovan in the penalty box. Though Landon had his back to goal and was tightly marked, he still managed to control the ball, the slide it over to an on-rushing Ronnie Ekelund who side-footed it into the back of the goal. It was Ronnie’s first MLS goal, which was great to see (last season he had assists, but no goals). That was the game winner, as New England was pretty much dead after that. San Jose kept up the pressure, looking for another goal and keeping the Revs afraid of leaving their half of the field, but mostly the Quakes intelligently kept the ball, knowing the other team can’t score without it. Good game with a great result, though I’d certainly like to see Landon a little more involved with creative play, and the Quakes need to finish more their chances. I don’t like games like their last one against Colorado where they dominated play but couldn’t finish and lost. But this win does give them a 2-1-0 record (win/loss/draw) for the season, which is an excellent start. New England’s lost both of their games, so they’re starting to feel the pressure. Final: 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes.
[Click for full view of the Championship Ring presentation]