It was a rough start to the season for Earthquakes left-back Jordan Stewart. One of the only consistent starters from last year’s team, the English veteran missed the first eight games nursing a nagging calf injury, including an opportunity to open Avaya Stadium last March.
The finally-healthy Stewart made his inaugural appearance a memorable one Saturday evening, with an excellent assist on the Earthquakes’ opening goal en route to a 2-0 win over Columbus Crew.
Stewart said he was itching to get on the field for the first time:
“I was excited to play tonight. It’s been frustrating for me coming to the matches and not contributing. I was full of excitement and just wanted to get out there and do well. We got the three points and as a defender we were shooting to get the clean sheet, which we did.”
Chris Wondolowski freed himself in front of goal in the 55th minute and headed Stewart’s hard cross into the net for the 99th goal of his career and his first at Avaya Stadium.
Drafted by this Quakes in 2005, Wondolowski has scored in just about every venue the club has called a temporary home. Following his first goal in their new home, Wondo elected to celebrate by kissing his two-year old daughter Emerson:
“My Dad has season tickets right there and he gave one to Lindsay, my wife. So I decided to go over there and give (Emerson) a little kiss.”
The Earthquakes doubled their tally two minutes later when Shea Salinas also scored his first at Avaya, following a perfect one touch lay off by Matias Perez Garcia.
It was a perfect welcome home gift for the 18,000 Earthquake supporters, who hadn’t seen their team play at Avaya in over a month, 35 days to be exact.
San Jose caught a break just a half hour into the action, when Columbus midfielder Mohammed Saeid was sent off after being issued a second yellow card for a high challenge on Shea Salinas.
The Crew going down to ten men obviously turned fortunes toward the Quakes, but the home side did an effective job of mucking up the normally free-flowing Columbus attack from the outset, with the visitors hardly resembling the team that cut through Seattle last weekend in a three-goal performance.
San Jose nearly conceded in the 32nd minute, however, when Federico Higuain couldn’t find the angle to get a point blank shot past Quakes keeper David Bingham. It would go down as the best chance of the night for the visitors.
The scoreline could have been uglier for Columbus as well. It took a crucial diving, one-handed save from Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark on a near post shot from Matias Perez Garcia, to stop San Jose from capitalizing on the man-advantage just minutes before halftime.
Perez Garcia had arguably his best game as a Quake Saturday evening. He lead the team in touches, completed 83 percent of his passes, dribbled around defenders and kept possession in tight areas.
Kinnear heaped praise on the Argentinian who has been inconsistent since signing as a designated player last off-season:
“He’s a smart player, and I thought tonight he was very effective for us. His patience to play the right pass at the right time on the first goal was key.”
The Earthquakes passed well as a team, completing 87 percent of their passes, compared with abysmal figures of 68 and 59 percent in their last two games.
With the victory, the Earthquakes managed to extend their unbeaten streak to four games, while Columbus remains winless in five games on the road. San Jose currently sits in fourth place in the Western Conference through 11 games.
The Earthquakes will play for the first time against expansion Orlando City FC next Sunday in their second ever game at Levi’s Stadium.