Stanford Stadium – Sunday, June 30th – San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy
I heard a rumor from an idiot at the urinal next to me that the first soccer ball San Jose Forward, Steven Lenhart ever saw, he ate. I slapped the idiot a high-five and then washed my hands with soap. It was the start of a promising night at Stanford Stadium that soon turned terrible for me and all Galaxy fans.
The home supporters were strangely restless from the start. Would they regret spending their money and screaming all night just to go to bed angry and set their workweek off into a tailspin? I wanted all of those things to happen to them. And it looked like they would.
The game was ripe for the taking in the first half with Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan schooling San Jose’s defenders but producing very little – a detail that would haunt them when San Jose finally took the gloves off. Still, the champs ended the half with the lead and reason to believe. But the hometown fans seemed to settle in after falling behind, like taking that first punch in boxing to clear your mind and focus your attack…
First Half: Earthquakes 0 – Galaxy 1
There’s a scene in The Avengers where Captain America gives everyone their marching orders in the face of an inter-dimensional alien invasion. Finally, he turns to the Hulk and says, “Hulk…smash.” It was a similar scene in San Jose’s locker room on Sunday. With the team trailing the Galaxy and being dominated at both ends of the pitch, Quakes coach Mark Watson had his work cut out for him… Their opponents finally had the starting 11 they wanted on the pitch together and fully fit. They had the lead and they had the swagger befitting the two-time defending champs and the most talented team in the league. But Watson knew the one thing the Galaxy didn’t have…the stomach for war – his predecessor had taught him that.
And so, with all the tactical adjustments and fine-tuning complete, Watson, sighed, slid a bucket of fish heads to the feeding slot on Steven Lenhart’s cage, and gave him the order, “Mongo…smash.” The striker’s eyes blazed with excitement and just a hint of intelligence. But in Watson’s eyes, there was only concern. Was this the only way?…What happened to the beautiful game?
As Lenhart shredded fistfuls of fish heads and Alan Gordon plucked bugs from his scalp, Watson knew…there was no going back now. For a young interim coach trying to make a name for himself, it was the only way. San Jose were mired near the bottom of the table and in desperate need of a win…at any cost…
Word out of San Jose camp just the previous week had coach Watson pushing to get Lenhart into an AYSO summer league to at least introduce him to the fundamentals of soccer and, “see what the filthy beast could do with some skill and maybe a bit of self awareness.” But out of fear for the children’s safety and of confusing Lenhart with rules and such, the idea was vetoed by ownership. Instead, they opted to stay the course and just ratchet up the voltage on his neck bolts. It’s not what Watson wanted for his team; that was Yallop’s MO and it got him just one Golden Boot winner and a ticket out of town. But this was the California Classico…
The Second Half…
Perhaps driven by Steven Lenhart’s musk, there was a mild thrill in the air as the second half started, in spite of the home team’s deficit. And much to the visible concern of Galaxy Captain Robbie Keane, the thrill actually grew stronger when Hector Jimenez extended the Galaxy lead in the 65th minute, and then…it inexplicably GREW STRONGER STILL when San Jose’s Victor Bernardez was shown red in the 77th minute after beating the stuffing out of Galaxy players in the attacking end the entire second half.
These were troubling and confusing developments for the LA Galaxy. By all rights, the crowd should have been demoralized and shuffling for the exits. But they weren’t. After the game, Galaxy goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini would relate the chilling confession that in the second half, “I felt like I was being watched…” Carlo wasn’t the only player suffering from the creeps. Landon Donovan could be seen darting glances to the nearest emergency exit and rubbing his hummingbird tattoo for comfort as the crowd swelled like a poison toad around him.
My seat at Stanford Stadium was high and towards the back – I knew from experience to keep Quakes fans in plain sight and two baseball bat lengths in front of you at all times. As word spread through the 50,000 in attendance to hold the line, I had the uneasy feeling that my time to gloat had passed. Some filthy higher power was assuring the faithful that they were in for a far more satisfying win over the champs than a one-sided drubbing. This was going to be a demoralizing come-from-behind kick-in-the-teeth, Goonies style. But first…there was the little matter of the 2-goal deficit. Not to worry…Lenhart had been softening the Galaxy defense the entire second half: rabbit punches, head butts, elbows, shoves, trips, gouges; San Jose’s marauding Yeti was cutting a bloody swath through the pathetic little “soccer players” that LA threw at him. On set pieces he would literally launch himself into the defenders like a stage diving 200-lb turkey – bug-eyed, flailing, and screeching madly. The results were terrible and of course unpunished by the referee.
The final 20 minutes of this demolition derby were the worst on record for me and for our league’s global credibility. TWO stoppage time goals and a victory by attrition for the knuckle-dragging thugs from San Jose. The final whistle unleashed a riotous celebration. The crowd’s frenzy was fed by the antics of striker Alan Gordon, howling at the moon and humping the corner pole. And of course, there was Steven Lenhart, eluding his keepers long enough to devour the game ball at midfield, all while fluids leaked from his battering ram head. It was a terrible loss that made me regret spending my money and screaming all night just to go to bed angry and set my workweek off into a tailspin.
But as much as I despise San Jose and Lenhart in particular, I’m most disgusted with the Galaxy. Yes, the Quakes should have been down to five men by the end, but at least San Jose’s antics were driven by their desire to win. The Galaxy behaved like entitled royalty, miffed by San Jose’s uncivilized resistance.
Fortunately, there’s always a next time between conference foes and to sweeten the pot, San Jose’s next visit to LA coincides with “free fan Taser night” at the StubHub Center. I’ll be there in full colors, hungry for revenge and prowling about for some creeps to Tase. I’m just not sure which team needs the jolt more.
Final: Earthquakes 3 – Galaxy 2