SANTA CLARA — If opening night started off with a bang for the San Jose Earthquakes, it ended with an explosion.
Photos by Godofredo Vasquez/SFBay
For the second game in a row, the Quakes equalized in the 95th and final minute of extra time, this go-around on a right-footed finish from center-back Victor Bernardez for his second goal of the night.
Bernardez told SFBay Tuesday’s hero Alan Gordon won the header in the box and provided the necessary touch for Bernardez to control the ball then calmly slot it into the near post:
“It was a corner that Gordon flicked my way with his head. I anticipated the ball bouncing my direction, so I adjusted my body to play the deflection. I am just blessed to have been put in a position today to score two goals which my team absolutely needed to get a tie at home.”
The Quakes sprung to life early in the first half, with a goal in the 6th minute by captain Chris Wondolowski. Wondo got on the end of what appeared to be a deflected cross from winger Shea Salinas for an easy tap in.
Salinas was arguably the best player on the pitch Tuesday night, logging two assists, and creating a number of chances that could’ve resulted in goals.
But the game turned as quickly as it started for San Jose, when just five minutes later RSL star midfielder Kyle Beckerman was allowed an unimpeded shot just outside the 18-yard box. The one-time screamer was perfectly placed in the corner of the net past a diving Jon Busch.
Salt Lake controlled the rest of the half, keeping possession for long stretches, with forward Joao Plata taking advantage of acres of space on the Earthquakes left flank.
A third goal at the end of the half by Salt Lake’s Luke Mullholland, appeared to put the game out of reach for the Earthquakes. Things only got worse after a left quad strain caused Jason Hernandez to leave on a stretcher, further depleting the Quakes already thin back line.
As they did in the second half against Toluca, the Quakes shifted to three defenders at the back, throwing everybody else forward. This adjustment bumped their possession from 38.4 percent in the first half to 53.1 percent in the second.
The second goal for the Quakes again came from a set piece cross by Salinas, and this time found Bernardez for one of the Honduran’s customary thumping headers.
From that point on, San Jose relentlessly knocked on the RSL door, loading players into the box and kicking it forward in typical Earthquakes fashion.
In what seems to be a growing trend, the Earthquakes waited until the last possible second to score their equalizer.
After the game Gordon — who made an impact as a sub once again — talked about the team’s resilient mentality:
“We go for it. It’s never over. That dumb saying ‘Goonies never say die,’ it’s true. We’re not gonna lay down. We’re gonna fight you to the end. Things have happened for us and I don’t think you can call it luck. I really don’t. We’re in there making things happen.”
Coach Watson also commented on the performance:
“It’s kind of standard stuff around here. Once again a great start. We got a little sloppy and dug ourselves a big hole, but once again our guys just find a way to push it right to the end.”
Describing the mood in the locker room after going down two just before halftime, Watson said:
“The heads were down. It’s your home opener, you get off to a great start and the team’s got a lot of energy. Then to concede three goals, one just at the stroke of halftime, you know their heads were down.”
Getting something out of the second leg against Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions League in Mexico next week may prove to be a more daunting task, as the injury to Hernandez leaves the Quakes with few options at the defensive end.
Hernandez joins Brandon Barklage, Jordan Stewart, Clarence Goodson and Andres Gorlitz as potential first team options that are all questionable for Wednesday.
Watson said missing players would create a challenge in Toluca:
“We’re going down to Mexico tomorrow and you know we’ll kind of reevaluate everything. It’s not an ideal situation but we’ll figure out who’s healthy to play and we’ll put something together for the game Wednesday night.”
Tuesday’s result extends the Earthquakes’ unbeaten streak at Buck Shaw Stadium to 21 games in all competitions.
The Earthquakes are in action again on Wednesday for their CONCACAF Champions League return leg against top seeded Toluca FC. The fixture is currently 1-1 on aggregate.
The Quakes will need to score at least once if they hope to advance due to the away goals rule.
MLS play resumes next Saturday in Kansas City where the Quakes will visit last year’s MLS Cup champions Sporting Kansas City (0-1-1, 1 point).