To put it diplomatically, DC United’s season has not gone how they’d hoped for, so they are turning back the clock, for one night at least. Saturday night in San Jose, DC will take on the Quakes, née “Clash,” in a match celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first MLS game ever. April 6, 1996 –NB: MLS will be streaming the game in its entirety on Wednesday, April 6 starting at 7:50 pm ET– when Eric Wynalda of San Jose won that first match with a late-game goal. For the fans in attendance, San Jose will give out a special Clash/Quakes 20th Anniversary gift in the form of a very 1990s color palette of celery-and-toothpaste (but hopefully not flavored) scarves. For those not in attendance, the Quakes website continues the ’90s vibe with a very fun, 8-bit look at Wynalda’s winning goal.
Recently, I took the time to watch that inaugural match and, in addition to forgetting that the Quakes played at San Jose State University for the first decade of their existence, I was reminded of the fact that the first game in league history was damn competitive. Bruce Arena’s DC squad was anchored by John Harkes, Jeff Causey and Jeff Agoos, who he coached back at University of Virginia. They played, well, college soccer. Lots of hard running. Wingbacks trying to get the ball to midfielder Marco Etcheverry, who, much like a TARDIS, is everywhere at once and yet entirely unmoveable. San Jose probably didn’t deserve to win. But John Doyle, then a center back and today the Quakes’ GM, kept Etcheverry from making that final pass. Similarly, Nigerian international Benedict Iroha bossed the midfield. And Eric Wynalda, with little time left, put Jeff Agoos on skates.
Poor Jeff Agoos, who appeared in over 200 MLS matches and has 136 caps for the USMNT, but is probably best known for being spun around by Eric Wynalda and rocketing an own goal past Brad Friedel in the 2002 World Cup. He deserves better than those bad memories. Speaking of “deserving better,” “Hi, DCU fans.” It was an awful March for the red & black, who were eviscerated by the Galaxy to start the year and an undermanned Dallas squad last week. Their attack has been insipid – Nick DeLeon is a nice player, but not terribly creative and he needs help – and the defense hasn’t always been its Ben Olsen best. But if they can scrounge points in San Jose, who definitely have their own problems generating offense, DC can get into a six-week stretch with four home games and manageable away fixtures at Chicago and Philadelphia. A little momentum is a good thing. It keeps DCU from becoming Jeff Agoos, forever on their heels in someone else’s highlight reel.
Elsewhere, New England and Red Bulls face each other in the fans-patiently-awaiting-something-anything derby. NYRB has won a game, which is more than the Revs can say even if it took a wondrous Felipe free kick to do it. New England’s hosting and simply has too much firepower to be this punchless. New York hasn’t figured out their defense yet and that should be enough to encourage the Gillette Stadium faithful. The most entertaining match of the week will probably be Sporting KC hosting Real Salt Lake. Yura Movsisyan is heating up and Joao Plata was simply sensational last week, but that’s probably not enough to take on the seemingly-invincible baby blues. I was skeptical before the season, but Graham Zusi has been a man possessed and the defense has been stout. They’re not good enough to match the 1996 LA Galaxy squad that began the season with 8 straight wins, but they’re the class of the West so far. Meanwhile, presently Galaxy’s Robbie Keane is out recovering from a knee surgery and Vancouver (Saturday, 10pm ET) is still a buzzsaw. The match won’t be quite as ugly as the point-less and pointless (zing!) Seattle Sounders, who have to host a white-hot Montreal squad, but the West Coast games could get gruesome.
Thankfully, the weekend will end with the return of Kaka to Orlando in a match against Portland (Orlando-Portland, Sunday, 8pm ET.) As fun as it is to look backwards – Celery uniforms! College tactics! – it’ll be nice to end things with the 21st century MLS. Orlando has been decent without their talisman and could be a lot more fun with him. And the Timbers are still finding their footing, sure, but there’s worse ways to stumble around than with that midfield of theirs.
20 years ago, we had Wynalda, Echevarria and Harkes and look those names aren’t going to work well with the Bob Hope pun. But who cares? This weekend, and 20 years later, we have good soccer, evolved schemes and passionate fans . And no celery uniforms.
Here’s to another 20 years and beyond, MLS.
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