Nov. 24, 2003
CARSON, Calif. - The San Jose Earthquakes defeated the Chicago Fire 4-2 in the 2003 MLS Cup Championship match Sunday afternoon in front of a capacity crowd at The Home Depot Center in Carson, California. With the win, San Jose joins D.C. United as only the second team in MLS history to earn multiple MLS Cup titles, hoisting the Alan I. Rothenberg trophy for the second time in three seasons.
San Jose forward Landon Donovan recorded two goals in the match, earning the Honda MLS Cup Most Valuable Player award. Goalkeeper Pat Onstad made a critical play for the Earthquakes in the second half, knocking away an Ante Razov penalty kick attempt in the 55th minute to hold the San Jose lead.
San Jose Head Coach Frank Yallop (2001, `03) is the first coach since United's Bruce Arena (1996, `97) to lead his team to two MLS Cup titles. San Jose defender and team captain Jeff Agoos records his fifth career MLS Cup title, winning the Championship three times with United (1996, `97, `99) and twice with the Earthquakes (2001, `03).
The Earthquakes jumped out to an early lead when midfielder Ronnie Ekelund drove home a free kick in the fifth minute for the 1-0 lead. Jamil Walker was clipped by the Fire's Jesse Marsch at the top of the penalty arc, disrupting the San Jose advance and drawing the foul. On the restart, defender Jeff Agoos lured the defensive wall with a convincing dummy run to the ball, opening a gap in the wall and exposing the far side of the net. Ekelund teed up a strong right-footed blast to the upper corner, putting the shot through the hands of a diving Zach Thornton.
Ekelund's goal ties former Los Angeles Galaxy forward Eduardo Hurtado for the fastest goal in an MLS Cup Championship match. Hurtado opened the scoring in the 1996 MLS Cup final, where the Galaxy fell to D.C. United 3-2 in overtime.
Landon Donovan doubled the San Jose lead in the 38th minute, breaking in behind Fire defender Carlos Bocanegra to connect with Jamil Walker's well-timed diagonal ball into the box. Donovan made his run to the near post, drawing Thornton off of his line to cut down the shooting angle. As Thornton committed, Donovan slotted the shot underneath the `keeper's arm for his ninth career playoff tally and his third in the 2003 postseason.
Both sides recorded some quality chances in the first half of play. Gatorade Rookie of the Year Damani Ralph gave San Jose a scare in the 33rd minute when he kept his feet after absorbing a hard challenge from Eddie Robinson. Outracing defender Craig Waibel, Ralph was in prime position to score, but a poor touch on the ball left an easy save for goalkeeper Pat Onstad. Moments later, Ralph got another short-range crack on goal, but Onstad was in position to bat it down.
Manny Lagos elicited a roar from the crowd with his 37th minute attempt, making a lunging volley attempt to get under a Brian Mullan pass from the flank. Lagos made good contact with the ball, but Thornton was in excellent position to cover the play.
Neither side wasted any time opening the scoring in the second half, as Chicago made it a one-goal game in the 49th minute. Andy Williams laid off a short pass behind the San Jose defense, springing midfielder DaMarcus Beasley down the near side of the box. Beasley rushed the net, beating Onstad cleanly and hitting the far side netting.
The Fire's celebration was short-lived however, as Richard Mulrooney found the back of the net directly off the restart. Craig Waibel sent the ball downfield, exposing the Fire backs as Mulrooney raced down the flank. Allowing the ball to settle, Mulrooney picked out his spot on the far side of the goal, putting it out of the reach of Thornton. The tally was Mulrooney's first career postseason goal.
San Jose defender Chris Roner, entering the game in the second half, narrowed his own team's lead with a 54th minute own goal. Chicago's Evan Whitfield chased down the ball at the far side end line, hustling back to send a dangerous cross in front of the net. Roner's attempt to head the ball over the crossbar went awry, however, as he nodded the ball back into the net.
Roner's nightmare stretch continued, as a 55th minute challenge on Damani Ralph drew a whistle and a penalty kick for the Fire. Ralph was taken down from behind near the end line as he turned the corner to head towards the near post. Forward Ante Razov went to the spot for Chicago, attempting to convert the first penalty kick in MLS Cup history. Razov's strike was well read by Onstad, who dove to his right to smother the ball on the goal line.
Razov came within inches of scoring for the Fire in the 58th minute, taking a one-time strike from the top of the box that grazed the outside of upper corner of the net.
Donovan scored his second goal of the match in the 71st minute, easily tapping home the ball to extend the Quakes' lead to 4-2. Forward Dwayne DeRosario, who came in for an injured Jamil Walker at the hour mark, was afforded space and time on the near flank. DeRosario slipped the cross to the end of Donovan's near-post run. With defender Jim Curtin and Thornton trailing behind, Donovan was able to tap the ball into the gaping net.
The goal marked a new high-scoring mark in MLS Cup History, as the two sides became the first to combine for more than five goals in the Championship match. The previous record was set in MLS Cup 1996.
Razov had another golden chance to score for Chicago in the 82nd minute, but missed the play by inches. Ralph weaved through the San Jose defense again on the near side, outpacing the Roner to slip a dangerous ball across the box and into the path of an onrushing Razov. Razov got a step on his defender and attempted to slide in and touch the ball home, but fell just short as the ball rolled out of danger.
San Jose took a hard road to the MLS Cup title, coming from behind in both the Conference Semifinals and the Conference Championship to book passage to the title match. In the first round of the playoffs, San Jose overcame a four-goal aggregate deficit to put away defending Champion Los Angeles in overtime. Then, in the single elimination Conference Final at Spartan Stadium, the `Quakes came from behind twice to earn the golden goal victory.
The Fire miss out on the domestic treble, having already won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the Supporters Shield for the League's best regular season record. Chicago became the first team to advance to the MLS Cup final without allowing a single goal in the postseason. Chicago defeated the MetroStars 4-0 on aggregate in the opening round before dispatching New England 1-0 at Soldier Field.