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Man of Troy

Dayak's recovery helps move Quakes to title shot

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Posted: Friday October 19, 2001 7:35 PM
  Troy Dayak Dayak (left) spent fifteen months recuperating from neck surgery before returning to the MLS. AP

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- San Jose's Troy Dayak wasn't thinking about the months he spent recovering from neck surgery when he saw a chance to advance his team to the championship game.

He was thinking about a slow-motion scene from a soccer movie.

"It was like in 'Victory' when Pele scored a goal," said Dayak, whose header in overtime won the semifinal series against Miami. "Time stood still when the ball was in the air. I didn't care if the keeper was going to come out and bash my teeth down my throat ... I just knew I had to get to that ball."

Dayak -- whose nickname is "the beast" -- won't let injury slow him Sunday when the Earthquakes face the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS Cup at Columbus Crew Stadium.

Dayak's all-out attitude earned him a start in this year's All-Star game, but it wasn't long ago when doctors told him to give up soccer after a collision during practice crushed two discs in his neck.

"It took a full year of recovery and three months in a neck brace holding my chin up toward the ceiling," said Dayak, who returned to soccer this year after a two-year absence.

Dayak's comeback is as remarkable as the turnaround San Jose has made under new coach Frank Yallop, who also acquired Defender of the Year Jeff Agoos and teen sensation Landon Donovan.

After finishing last in the league in 2000, San Jose nearly won the Western Division with a 13-7-6 mark for 45 points. Los Angeles won the West with a 14-7-5 record for 47 points, but San Jose won the season series 2-0.

The two clubs were supposed to meet two more times, but those games were canceled after the attacks of Sept. 11.

"Both teams were really looking forward to playing those last two games and going for the West Conference title," Yallop said. "It will be a wonderful match because there is a bit of unfinished business."

The Galaxy, who advanced to their third MLS Cup, not only have to prove they really are the best in the West. They have to prove they can win the big game.

"To be considered in Los Angeles, to get your due, you need to get the ultimate goal," said Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid. "If you are only second they ignore you."

The Galaxy, after losing the Cup in 1996 and 1999, are trying to avoid becoming the MLS' equivalent of the Buffalo Bills.

"We've been in this position before and haven't finished well," said forward Cobi Jones. "Everyone doubted us and said we can't win the big games, but we've shown we have character and the ability to do it."

With a win Sunday, the Galaxy have a chance to win every competition they participated in this year.

"We've now put ourselves in a position where we've won one trophy in the CONCACAF Champions Cup and we're in two finals with the MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup," Schmid said.

Los Angeles won the CONCACAF Champions Cup in January and plays the New England Revolution in the U.S. Open Cup final on Oct. 27.

The Galaxy think this year's victories have given them confidence that they can win the big game.

"It [the CONCACAF Champions Cup] proved to ourselves more than anything else, that we can step up in big games," said defender Danny Califf. "We've proven it this year, and sometimes it takes us overtime to do it but we get it done."

Califf said the Galaxy's defense is ready for Donovan, who scored twice in his only game this season against Los Angeles.

"He's a nice kid, but we're enemies when we go out there on the field," Califf said. "He's just another guy I have to kick."

Schmid expects Sunday's match against San Jose to be played fast and with a "good level of intensity."

"San Jose is a very good attacking team, and pressures and keeps the tempo of the game high," he said. "We're a team that can deal with that and play along the same lines."

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