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The best that never won: 2010 San Jose Earthquakes

Just one game from MLS Cup glory.

MLS Playoffs - Eastern Conference Finals - San Jose Earthquakes v Colorado Rapids Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

This week, SB Nation has asked the sites around the network which team they cover was the best edition to have never won? The parameters of this question are a bit flexible, but I think I have an answer.

There are a few options for the San Jose Earthquakes over the years. One could argue the 2006 and 2007 Houston Dynamo are the very best candidates, those MLS Cup-winning teams basically the Quakes squad brought over when the club moved to Texas.

But aside from that giant caveat, among the teams that had the Quakes’ crest on the jersey, I’m going to zig a bit and claim the 2010 Quakes side was the best that never won, for contextual reasons. The easy answer would be the 2002 San Jose side that was sandwiched by MLS Cup title wins, but I’m not going easy here.

In 2010, the Earthquakes were solid but not world beaters. They finished in the sixth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, in fact the last team in the league to get in.

But you have to remember back in those days, MLS didn’t give an even number of teams in each conference a playoff berth — instead, it was flexible based on record. In 2010, six of eight Western Conference teams went to the playoffs, while only two of the Eastern Conference teams made the postseason. As a result, San Jose went into the Eastern bracket, along with the Colorado Rapids.

That last point is crucial, because that’s where my argument lies. After the Quakes beat the New York Red Bulls 3-2 in a two-legged series to open the postseason, they faced the Rapids in the “Eastern Conference Final,” a one-off round with the winner moving to MLS Cup.

The game was in Colorado, on a bitterly cold November night, and San Jose fell 1-0 behind a goal by Kosuke Kimura just before halftime. It should be noted, it was a total bloop goal, Kimura’s looping cross from the sideline eluding everyone, including his teammates, as it bounced into the net.

Why is this game so crucial? If you know your MLS Cup history, you’ll probably get the rest here. The 2010 MLS Cup final, held in Toronto between Colorado and FC Dallas, is generally regarded as the worst MLS Cup game ever, with the Rapids, who won on an own goal in extra time, regarded as “technically” an MLS Cup champ, but kind of with an asterisk for somehow squeezing through to win.

And that means the Quakes probably had a terrific chance to win MLS Cup themselves that year. Had they gotten past the Rapids, FC Dallas weren’t exactly world-beaters in MLS Cup. They could have done it!

Who was on the Quakes squad in 2010? Chris Wondolowski began his long period of dominance in this season, having a breakthrough year with 18 regular-season goals. Young Justin Morrow, Steven Beitashour, and Ike Opara were on the squad, the goalkeepers were the tag team of Joe Cannon and Jon Busch. Ramiro Corrales was the captain, with Khari Stephenson, Scott Sealy, Bobby Convey, Arturo Alvarez, Sam Cronin, Jason Hernandez, Brandon McDonald, Ryan Johnson. Yes, they had noted Designated Player failure Geovanni as well, but you win some and you lose some, right?

In comparison, the Quakes roster matched up fairly well with the Rapids’ roster. Conor Casey and Omar Cummings were at the peak of their powers up top, and Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni, and Marvell Wynne before he came to San Jose, but there wasn’t a lot between these teams, frankly. Even if San Jose didn’t look like top-tier contenders in 2010, they absolutely could have gotten past Colorado in this one game and then possibly FC Dallas to lift their third MLS Cup.

And who knows what might have happened from there? There was the 2012 Supporters’ Shield team, yes, and with much of the same cast that was present in 2010. You could argue they were getting the reps in together to set up the magical Goonies season.

But maybe with another MLS Cup, the Quakes would have played the margins just a little better, picked up another player or two intrigued by their title success, and made the 2010s far more successful than they ended up being. Or maybe nothing would have changed, except for that third MLS Cup title, which isn’t bad in itself.

What do you think? Do you agree with my assessment of the 2010 team? Have a better candidate in mind? Leave a comment below, let’s chat.