Donovan Fills Up San Jose's Cup
Earthquakes 4, Fire 2
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 24, 2003; Page D04
CARSON, Calif., Nov. 23 -- The champagne bubbles had been bouncing around Landon Donovan's head for some time following the San Jose Earthquakes' 4-2 MLS Cup victory over the Chicago Fire at sold-out Home Depot Center on Sunday. But between alcohol-inspired wisecracks to reporters and teasing digs at his teammates, Donovan was able to formulate a sobering critique of a wildly entertaining match that set league records amid a too-good-to-be-true setting.
"That's what you want out of a final," said Donovan, a two-goal scorer and the game's most valuable player. "What a good game. . . . You can't ask for anything else."
In the previous seven title games, MLS had been blessed with a trio of dramatic sudden-death finishes but no artistic regulation thrillers. Perhaps the low point was last year's final, a painfully drab scoreless affair that Los Angeles' Carlos Ruiz put out of its misery in overtime before 61,000 mostly unimpressed fans in Foxboro, Mass. But on Sunday, before 27,000 spectators on a cloudless day in a six-month-old stadium built for soccer, MLS got everything it could dream of in its network-televised showcase event.
MLS got Cup records for total goals and for the shortest time between goals and the first multi-goal scorer in championship history. It got three goals, an own goal and a penalty kick save in a remarkable eight-minute span early in the second half. And perhaps most importantly, it got two teams that decided to not slip into defensive postures, a strategy that has marred championship soccer games not just in MLS, but all around the world.
"On a day we kept coming," Fire Coach Dave Sarachan said, "they kept coming."
The Earthquakes, clad in Smurf-blue jerseys, went ahead in the fifth minute on Ronnie Ekelund's 22-yard free kick and made it 2-0 in the 38th minute on Donovan's first strike, set up elegantly by Jamil Walker. The Fire countered with DaMarcus Beasley's tight-angled shot in the 49th minute, but 50 seconds later, Richard Mulrooney restored the two-goal gap. In the 54th minute, the Earthquakes' Chris Roner deflected the ball into his own net to make it 3-2, and two minutes later, Roner's foul in the box handed Chicago a penalty kick. But San Jose's Pat Onstad dived to his right to smother Ante Razov's game-tying bid.
Donovan rumbled again in the 71st minute when he tapped in Dwayne De Rosario's cross.
The scoring outburst capped a remarkable postseason for the Earthquakes, who scored five goals in the finale of their two-game, total-goals first-round series against defending champion Los Angeles to overcome a four-goal overall deficit. Then in the Western Conference final against Kansas City, they came back twice to force overtime, then won it on Donovan's overtime goal.
"We just left the best for last," said San Jose Coach Frank Yallop, a former D.C. United assistant who guided the Earthquakes to their second title in three years despite numerous injury setbacks and occasional scoring funks. "You have barren spells in seasons where you don't seem to be able to find the net, you don't seem to be able to play that well and you don't know why. It took us a while to get going -- I was a little worried -- but the [five-goal] L.A. game set us on our way. It was our year."
Chicago, which had not yielded a goal in its first three playoff games, allowed a glaring amount of space in the back and couldn't stop Donovan. "You won't find anyone more composed close to the goal," Fire midfielder Chris Armas said.
Chicago's forwards were not nearly as composed. Besides the missed penalty kick, Razov couldn't finish a pair of first-half chances and botched a tap-in that would've cut the deficit to 4-3. Damani Ralph also failed in the early stages when Chicago was threatening repeatedly and inexplicably missed a short header in the closing moments. The Fire finished with lopsided advantages in shots (22-11) and corner kicks (13-3).
"I would be lying if I said we fully deserved [the victory] because they had so many more chances," Donovan said. "That being said, you've got to put them away. That's part of the game. I don't know how many chances we had -- maybe five or six -- but we scored four goals. . . . It's a great feeling right now."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company