For most of 2012, we couldn’t explain why a team that was picked to merely contend for a playoff spot was on track for the Supporters’ Shield, eventually cruising to the honor awarded for Major League Soccer’s best record.
Match after match, the San Jose Earthquakes would spend 60 minutes flirting with mortality before proving the regular season’s best team. Frank Yallop’s squad scored 20 goals in the last 15 minutes of games. Eight times, the Earthquakes trailed heading into the last quarter hour before emerging with points. By season’s end, the surprise was gone. “Of course they came back” became the typical response when San Jose eventually performed wonders.
And they were done by Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon – good players, but not a duo you’d expect to combine for 23 goals. Similarly, Rafael Baca and Sam Cronin looked like a serviceable midfield, not one that would prove one of the league’s sturdiest tandems. Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour became all-star full backs. Add in Marvin Chavez, Simon Dawkins, and Jason Hernandez, and San Jose was improbably getting a collection simultaneous of career years. Perhaps the names on paper still didn’t scream top seed, but the Earthquakes had forged something that transcended their players’ pasts.
But of course, there were the stars. Honduran import Victor Bernardez was one of the league’s best defenders, giving Yallop an anchor as the Quakes pursued all their last gasp results. Captain Chris Wondolowski, eschewing any doubts to his place among Major League Soccer’s elite, scored 27 goals, tying a record that had stood alone since the league’s first season.
That San Jose eventually lost in the playoffs made their regular season all the more intriguing. Were the eight months that led up to November the aberration? Or had San Jose finally convinced us of their rightful place only to have their season undermined at the place they’d come to call the Goon Docks?
How you answer likely says how much you bought into the San Jose mystique – a band of Goonies brought together for a cinematic 2012. Regardless of whether you think 2013 will be a sequel, the Earthquakes success made them the most intriguing team of 2012.