It is sometimes hard to keep up with everything that goes on during a soccer weekend. With so many different leagues, games, and different stakes at play it is near difficult to catch every important moment. Hell, I had to miss El Classico so that I could spend some time writing on college soccer. But as fans we always try to prioritize certain games over others because of the impact a game has on our lives. Some chose to watch El Classico this weekend. Others took time away from The Walking Dead and Game 4 of the World Series to watch the Seattle Sounders and the Los Angeles Galaxy. I pulled myself out of a Robotussin nap to say goodbye to the last MLS original, Ramiro Corrales as his team the San Jose Earthquakes played F.C. Dallas.
It may seem crazy on a weekend where pretty much every game except for this game had playoff implications that I would be watching this particular match. But I had felt like hell all day, a bad mixture of working two jobs and waking up at 5am morning to get to work, and this was the only match that really mattered to me. I have been watching this league since day one, match one and for me it was important to see the last MLS original retire and end a generation of soccer that made me follow the game and ultimately want to write about it. Although it is not the Free Beer Movement, a bottle of robotussin, a solid 20 tissues, and a warm blanket make for a pretty damn good soccer experience.
I think the real reason why this game mattered so much to me was because the first ever D.C. United match was against Mr. Corrales’ San Jose Clash. Now if you ask me if I remember if Corrales played in this match, I do not. I have not checked the box score nor scoured the internet to find out if he actually played in that match. It would not matter. Being able to draw back upon that first game as a kid, when I was able to watch the likes of Eric Wynalda, John Harkes, and of course my favorite player as a kid, Marco Etcheverry, live in person is an experience that still to this day shapes me as a journalist and as a fan of this crazy, wonderful game.
What is even more amazing is looking back what a great player Corrales has been, not only as a member of the Earthquakes but for U.S. Soccer as well. A two- time MLS Champion with the original San Jose Earthquakes, Corrales has tallied over 17 goals in parts of 13 seasons in Major League Soccer. Having had the chance to watch him play over the years he has always been a very good possession midfielder, able to deliver precise passes to out to the likes of Landon Donovan, Marvin Chavez, and Chris Wondolowski.
As the game wore on, it became more apparent of what this match truly meant not only to the people of San Jose but to the league itself. I remember watching games 16 years ago and seeing fans not able to really understand what it is like to be a supporter. I saw a league that relied on gimmicks like reverse clock and running penalty kicks to get the American audience in. There was a presumption that American fans would never get soccer, that we needed some homegrown, that was fast, violent, and required people over intercoms to tell us what to do. Although American fans are still learning about the nuances of the game, at least now the game finally has found its roots.
I always like to remind fans of teams like Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland that while may have brought the spark to this league, the brick and mortar come from the MLS originals and the original teams D.C. United, the Columbus Crew, Sporting Kansas City, F.C. Dallas, the Colorado Rapids, the New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls, and the Los Angeles Galaxy because they had to fight for their existence. It is not measure of disrespect, but a simple tip of the cap to those who laid the groundwork for the league. There would be no 70,000 in Seattle if players like Ramiro Corrales did not have to scrap and fight to draw to 2,000 people in 1999.
In the 71st minute when the camera pointed to the fourth official and Corrales’ number was shown on the screen as he was being substituted, I got a bit choked up. Not necessarily because I had any sort of personal ties in this match, but because I was witnessing the end of a generation in MLS. Although part of me thought it was sad, I was also kind of relieved. It had not really hit me but it finally felt like the league had made it. I am sure the MLS office feels the same way about itself back then. To have one player who has seen the early ups, the very bad downs, and now the good times over such a long period is a pretty amazing thing and something that very few leagues have seen.
Although 16 years is a very long time for one player, it is a relatively short lifespan of a league. Building a product from rubble, like Ramiro and the rest of the MLS originals did has not been easy. Teams have been lost, money has been squandered on players that were only interested in profit, and soccer had to find its identity in American culture. And it is by no means solved. Ratings are still poor, ownership in Chivas USA and D.C. United have brought down two promising teams, and the civil war between American ideals and European traditions still exist within this game.
But American soccer fans are too dour and don’t look at some of the positives. In politics we use a term called Tragedy of the Commons, which is the idea that it is the parents desire not to leave their children’s future worse than theirs. If you look at the league that Sporting Kansas City forward Teal Bunbury plays in, it is a much different league than the one his father Alex played in years earlier. New teams will be added in Atlanta, Orlando, and New York City proper within the next few years. Attendance is up throughout the league, as are player’s salaries, and D.C. United may finally be getting a new stadium.
At the end of the game, Corrales ended the night on a very touching note saying, “They [San Jose Earthquakes] made me feel very special tonight. I’ll never forget this.”
Ramiro, we won’t forget you. Thank you for help build this league and for working towards building American soccer into what it is today.