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Frank Yallop’s San Jose homecoming an emotional night for coach and former Earthquakes players

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The coach of the Earthquakes for eight-plus seasons, Frank Yallop is a legend in San Jose soccer. In his first match ever against his former club, he was appreciative of the welcome he received from former players and fans.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - As the goals poured in for the San Jose Earthquakes last Wednesday, and a giddy crowd at sold-out Buck Shaw Stadium cheered in appreciation, the mood was much different on the Chicago Fire bench. Wearing red, not the customary black and blue he wore the last time he sat on that very sideline, was former Quakes coach Frank Yallop, a mixture of disgust and frustration lining his face.

"It was a real disappointing night for our group," said Yallop at the conclusion of the Quakes 5-1 dismantling of the Fire, "not just defensively. We were flat. It was a little bit of a shock the way we played tonight."

With his team playing recreational-league level defense, Yallop was subjugated to the most ignominious homecoming he could have imagined on his return to the stadium he called home for nearly five-and-a-half seasons. Head coach for both of the club's MLS Cup championships in 2001 and 2003, Yallop had to watch his protégé Mark Watson, the man who succeeded him at the helm of San Jose, gain the spoils.

"I am pleased for Mark to get a good result tonight," said Yallop, "although, I am not happy we lost."

"It was a little different, to be honest," said Watson of seeing Yallop on the opposing bench. "Obviously, he's a great friend of mine. I've coached with him for a long time, so it was a little different. Once the game starts, though, you are focused on the team and the game and getting points. Still, it was a little bit different."

Before his abrupt departure last June, Yallop was the only coach the club had known since its resurrection ahead of the 2008 season following two seasons out of the league. He led the Quakes to the Supporters Shield in 2012 and was named the MLS Coach of the Year for his efforts. Going back to his stint in charge starting in 2001, Yallop had collected 99 career wins with San Jose, many at Buck Shaw while sitting with the home team.

"It was weird sitting on the other bench," said Yallop, "but you move on and it is what it is. I have some fantastic memories of good times here; I'll never forget those."

Many members of the current Earthquakes roster still recall fondly the time spent as charges of Yallop. The heady 2012 season, a high water mark statistically for so many San Jose players, was a result of the coach's propensity to simply roll out the ball and let them play. Yallop was a "players' manager" in every sense of the term during his San Jose run, and his impact was not forgotten in the Earthquakes locker room.

"For me, personally, I have so much respect and admiration for the guy," said Chris Wondolowski, a chief benefactor of Yallop's coaching. "He's amazing, and I will always hold a special place in my heart for him.

"I loved him as a coach," continued Wondolowski, "but I wanted to beat him tonight. It is just one of those things: on the field we are going to do our thing, and after, I gave him a hug. I will always be grateful for what he has done for me."

Wondo's feeling were echoed by teammate Shea Salinas, the club's first SuperDraft pick ahead of the 2008 season, Yallop's first back in the head coaching role in his second stint in charge. The midfielder, whose first half golazo opened the floodgates in the Quakes 5-1 victory, spoke up for many of the black and blue.

"All of us in this locker room have a tremendous respect for Frank and we loved him as a coach," said Salinas. "But during the game, you don't think about that. You're not playing Frank Yallop, you're playing the Chicago Fire and those eleven guys on the field.

"It was nice to see him and shake his hand after the game and good to talk to him for a little bit."

Having Yallop back in the stadium was emotional, but the players had a job to do, and they did it with aplomb. Goals from five different Earthquakes, including Wondolowski and Salinas, prompted a score line that could be judged as a bit harsh on their former coach, but Watson, as well as the players, checked his sentimentality at the door when the opening whistle blew.

"I kind of think two ways about it," said Watson. "I work for the Earthquakes, and that is my job to get points, so that is my main motivation. You never think the result is going to go like that, so I'll just focus on our team and a great performance. It was something we really need to keep moving forward."

The return of Yallop to San Jose was not just a reunion with Watson and former players. A very appreciative crowd paid homage to the most winning coach in club history, with the biggest show of support coming from the 1906 Ultras. Prior to the game, and throughout the first half, the Ultras displayed at the foot of Sections 108 and 109 a banner that proclaimed, "Only the best can put stars above the crest. Respect, Frank!" And the former coach took notice.

"That was nice," said Yallop with a big smile. "You never know how you are perceived by anybody, and a lot of times, especially in this day and age, you usually get criticized for most things, and don't really find out if people appreciate you. It was very nice to see that from the fans."

One of the burdens of being a head coach, in any sport, is meeting the expectations of fans every weekend, every season. Yallop's record in San Jose from 2008 to his departure in 2013 was 58 wins, 61 losses, and 54 draws - good enough for two playoff appearances in five completed seasons, but not as strong as during the championship years in 2001 and 2003. Calls to replace Yallop had surfaced periodically through his second coaching stint, but he weathered the storms and kept his head high.

"They stuck behind me through thick and thin in the years I was here," said Yallop, "and I have nothing but great things to say about this whole group of fans and the organization. It's all good memories for me."

Good memories for Yallop, good memories for his former players, and, most importantly, good memories for supporters. It won't be a homecoming that Yallop will remember fondly for the result, but one he'll always remember, nonetheless.