Nov. 13, 2003
by Dwight Chapin
San Francisco Chronicle
SAN JOSE, Calif. - Imagine how Jamil Walker must have felt Sunday night.
Here he was, a Major League Soccer rookie, and not a highly sought one at that, suddenly thrust into the starting lineup for the first time in the Earthquakes' most important game of the season, a do-or-die matchup with the Los Angeles Galaxy in the playoff semifinals.
Walker, who last year at this time was winding up his college career at Santa Clara, not only stayed for the bulk of the action, he starred in what many people are calling the best game in Quakes' history, and maybe league history.
Walker assisted on one goal and scored another as the Quakes beat the Galaxy 5-2 and won the two-game, aggregate-goal series 5-4 to advance to the Western Conference championship match against the Kansas City Wizards on Saturday night at Spartan Stadium.
"I was a bit nervous in the beginning,'' Walker said, "but as the game went on, I felt more comfortable.''
Walker, who started at forward because Dwayne De Rosario was injured, assisted on the Quakes' second goal, by Landon Donovan, and scored the third, on a beautifully directed header off a Richard Mulrooney pass.
"I was running and Rich played it quick,'' Walker said. "I didn't see it until the last second, so it almost hit me right in the face. Luckily, I got down on the ball and it went right in.''
Later in the second half, Walker left the game, so he got to see the Quakes' comeback from the bench.
"It was a little hard not being in the game,'' he said, "but it was great being able to rush the field (after Rodrigo Faria scored the winning goal in overtime). That was probably the biggest game I ever played in, and the greatest feeling I ever felt playing soccer.''
Walker, a 22-year-old native of Rochester, N.Y., who lettered in track and wrestling in high school, enrolled at the Air Force Academy, in part because his older brother, Shaka, was a cadet and soccer player there. Jamil left for Santa Clara after just one year.
"Basically, I just wanted a change,'' he said. "I didn't feel like I wanted to continue on that (Air Force) route.''
"He's a walking advertisement for the league."
U.S. National Coach Bruce Arena
At 5-foot-11 and spidery, Walker quickly found a home at Santa Clara, and in his senior season with the Broncos, he scored 14 goals, added four assists and was a first-team All-West Coast Conference selection.
Still, MLS suitors were not beating a path to his door.
"The Quakes were the only look I got from professional teams,'' he said, "and I didn't have any guarantees with them. I had to work hard and show I was able to play at this level.''
Walker, who was just a fourth-round draft choice, has played primarily in relief for Quakes coach Frank Yallop, entering games late to provide energy and instant offense.
"Frank wants me to come in and unsettle things, and get on the end of stuff offensively,'' Walker said, "and I think I've improved a lot. Everybody pushes me to be better. The coaches make me practice extra time after (the regular) practice. I'm just developing, but I feel like it's been a good year for me.''
Capped by what happened on Sunday night.
Walker knows the Quakes easily could have given up after falling behind the Galaxy 2-0 in the first half of that game.
"But we didn't,'' he said. "We never got down on ourselves. We knew we had time, and we knew we could score. We pretty much just talked to each other and said we just have to keep on playing.''
U.S. men's national team coach Bruce Arena, who was at the game, took note, not only of the Quakes' performance, but of Walker's role.
"The kid had a fantastic game,'' Arena said earlier this week. "He's a walking advertisement for the league. You look at this kid who came on at the beginning of the year and was really raw, inexperienced and not ready to play, and he got a goal and was dangerous. It's pretty noticeable that he's made considerable improvement.''