While it might have seemed logical to assume that the chance to watch the San Jose Earthquakes play in this MLS postseason ended many weeks ago, a gentle bending of the rules to allow former Quakes to be counted resulted in a bevy of viewing opportunities this past weekend. For as it turned out, of the four teams that battled for the two MLS Conference Championships, no less than 10 players who once donned the Blue-and-Black were represented.
Starting in the Sunday afternoon appetizer otherwise known as the "Leastern" Conference Final, Sporting Kansas City counted Kei Kamara as their lone ex-Earthquakes player. Incidentally, the Sierra Leone native also spent time wearing the colors of his opponent that day, the Houston Dynamo; however, he will always be known more in San Jose as the mercurial forward that ex-teammate Nick Garcia once referred to as a "mental midget" due to his penchant to melt under pressure. Kamara has matured a great deal from those early days with the Quakes, though he still can be a young man who wears his heart of his sleeve, and is now flourishing under the tutelage of Sporting head coach Peter Vermes.
Lining up opposite Sporting KC were the men in orange — known simply as the Zombie-Quakes by many Buck Shaw denizens — from Houston. With San Jose’s fingerprints all over the former franchise that called the Bay Area home before AEG spirited them away to South Texas following the 2005 season, one might want to believe that longtime fans of the Earthquakes would find it in their hearts to bleed a little orange. Quite simply, that was never going to happen, and so former Quakes Brian Ching, Eddie Robinson, Brad Davis, and Cam Weaver have traded in the plaudits of Quakes fans for pithy comments about their mothers. Still, a sentimental tinge of watching "what could have been" play out on the LIVESTRONG Sporting Park pitch brought home the fact that the Dynamo were one victory away from contesting for their third MLS Cup championship.
Like a big old fashioned Sunday family dinner, the nightcap match last Sunday featured two of the more satisfying clubs in MLS facing off in the Western Conference Final and resulted in everyone leaving the table fully satiated. Providing the meat for the hosts at The Home Depot Center were former Earthquakes Todd Dunivant, Jovan Kirovski, and Landon Donovan. And while Kirovski has been more or less reduced to role-playing as a Galaxy cheerleader this season, the other two ex-San Jose players are crucial pieces in the Los Angeles 2011 juggernaut. Love him for his U.S. National Team play and hate him for his club affiliation, Donovan, like no other player in Earthquakes franchise history, stirs the emotions of Nor Cal soccer fans. Some even see the former Quakes wunderkind as little more worthy of attention than being fashioned as a piñata.
Over on the visitors bench Sunday evening, donning the Claret-and-Cobalt of Real Salt Lake, were a couple of recent Earthquakes — Arturo Alvarez and Ned Grabavoy. The former, with a forgettable first season with the Utah club now mercifully behind him, never quite reached the high level of expectations that were rested on his lethal left foot in his limited stay at Buck Shaw Stadium, and many were glad to unload him in last year’s expansion draft. The latter, a goal scoring hero for RSL in their quarterfinal triumph over the Seattle Sounders, seemed to fade away from Quakes fans’ consciousnesses after a solid, but not spectacular 2008 campaign. But there they were, two members of head coach Jason Kreis’s roster, part of MLS’s model franchise, with a shot of earning their second MLS Cup in three seasons.
The results on the night favored the Houston Dynamo in the East (of the Rocky Mountain, not the Mississippi River) and the Los Angeles Galaxy in the West — by no sheer coincidence, the two teams with the most ex-Earthquakes on their rosters. Good luck charms outside of the Bay Area, these former San Jose players will now clash in Los Angeles in just over a week’s time in a race for their respective side’s third ever MLS Cup title. If banking on the magic of the Quakes to lead your team to that glorious spot on the winners’ stage counts for anything, the club that will take home the 2011 Championship will be Forever Orange.
Special thanks to Jay Hipps, my colleague at Center Line Soccer, for first pointing out the information behind this story. You can follow him on Twitter @jayhipps