MLS Cup 2003 – the last time either the Chicago Fire or San Jose Earthquakes reached the league’s penultimate match and still a bitter memory for many of the Fire Faithful. For those that don’t remember Saturday night’s visitors came away with a 4-2 victory at the Home Depot Center that day, winning their second championship in three seasons.
Seven years on, few that took part in the highest scoring MLS Cup final still remain with their clubs. As Saturday’s match looms, the Fire’s Justin Mapp remains the only player from either side that took the field that day, joined only by San Jose Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop in playing a part in that year’s final.
A lot has happened with both teams since that day, but take a look at the flux in San Jose: Yallop took the Canadian national team job, the Earthquakes moved to Houston and became the Dynamo, Yallop returned to Major League Soccer with the Los Angeles Galaxy, the San Jose Earthquakes returned to the league in 2008 and along with their comeback was the head coach that led the club to two MLS Cups.
The ex-Ipswich Town defender reflected on the match during Friday’s training session at Toyota Park.
“Obviously it was a fantastic day but I remember Chicago had a really good team that year,” said Yallop. “We went into halftime up 2-0 but with the amount of chances they had it really should have been 6-2 to Chicago. As we know, that’s soccer. They got back into the game at 3-2 and then Pat Onstad’s penalty save spurred us on to score another goal. It was a great occasion for us but I’ve always felt the Fire were unlucky in that game.”
The youngest player on the field for either side that day, 19-year-old Justin Mapp entered the match in the 70th minute with the Fire trailing 3-2 and looking for the equalizer. Now in his eighth season with the club, the 25-year-old veteran has had plenty of time to reflect on that day.
“That was a very disappointing result,” said Mapp. “We haven’t gotten ourselves over the hump to get back since, though we’ve come close a number of times. It was my second season in MLS and it made me think ‘I’ll be back every year’. As that hasn’t happened, the attitude changes and if I get back again, I would put more thought into cherishing the moment. I don’t dwell on it now though -- it’s in the past.”
Following last Saturday’s 2-2 draw away to Colorado, the Fire come into Saturday night’s home opener seeking their first win of 2010. San Jose enters after a disappointing 3-0 home loss to reigning MLS Cup champion Real Salt Lake on March 27.
History, at least at home, heavily favors the Fire as the club is 7-1-5 all-time against San Jose in the Windy City. The lone blemish on the home record came in 1999 when the Earthquakes earned a victory by virtue of the old MLS shootout.
“We’ve had five good days of training,” said Mapp. “The guys are working hard and ready to play against someone else. We were fortunate to get a good result against Colorado last week but we’re looking for three points at home Saturday night. I think it’s been five or six months since we last played at Toyota Park and we’re all excited to get out in front of our home fans and I’m sure our supporters are more than ready to do their part on Saturday.”
When the teams line up in the tunnel at Toyota Park there’s a chance that a familiar face will be starting in the San Jose net. Former Chicago goalkeeper Jon Busch makes his return to Toyota Park three short weeks after being waived by the club. Busch joined the Earthquakes recently and will be challenging Joe Cannon for the starting role throughout the season.
“It will be a little weird seeing Buschy on the other side. He obviously was a big part of this club for the last few years and to see him back here with another team so early in the season is strange, but that’s just the nature of this business and we’re all professionals. It’ll be good to see our friend, even if he’s on the other side of things now.”