For the second week in a row, the San Jose Earthquakes scored first but ultimately dropped points in front of their home fans, drawing Seattle Sounders 1-1 at sold-out Avaya Stadium.
A second-half goal by Fatai Alashe looked like it might be the difference in a sloppy contest against a Seattle team fighting with San Jose for a playoff spot in the highly competitive Western Conference.
Yet, the Sounders would go on to equalize just eight minutes before the final whistle, when Obafemi Martins scored his fifth goal in five games.
The Earthquakes are now three points out of the sixth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, trailing the Portland Timbers by two points. With seven games remaining, head coach Dominic Kinnear still sees his team in the thick of the playoff race:
“No easy games as we all know..but we’re there. Obviously winning this game would’ve put us in a great spot and a tie definitely isn’t the result we desire, but we’re still there and a win on Wednesday puts us in business.”
With stalwart defender Victor Bernardez unavailable with a right hamstring injury, Alashe made his first start in central defense alongside Clarence Goodson.
Although they conceded, the Earthquakes makeshift defense did a fine job at corralling Dempsey and Martins, arguably the most potent tandem in the league, in open play. Goodson praised Alashe for putting in a solid performance in his first MLS start at center-back, after being told last Monday he’d be the starter:
“I thought he did a good job listening and communicating with the guys around him. Obviously got a goal which is great. You can see his qualities.”
Marc Pelosi, who was away on international duty with the U.S. Under-23 team last week, filled Alashe’s place next to the also returning Anibal Godoy in the midfield. The partnership of the Earthquakes summer signings was fantastic in their only other start together, helping the Quakes earn a crucial 1-0 victory over the Galaxy on August 28.
Pelosi’s return meant designated player Matias Perez Garcia was relegated to the bench, a healthy scratch for the first time this season.
It appeared as if Dempsey was sure to score in the 21st minute when Clarence Goodson gave the prolific attacker room for a shot at the top of the 18-yard box. Goodson’s risky decision worked however, when he dove at full stretch to block the American international’s attempt.
Chris Wondolowski just missed a moment of magic in the 37th minute, when his first-time turnaround volley bounced off the far post after beating Seattle keeper Stefan Frei. Godoy set up the opportunity with a perfect chip over the Sounders back line, for a goal that would’ve gone down as one of the best of the season.
After a first half without a shot on target from either team, the second half started off in similar fashion. It wasn’t until a foul by Seattle just outside their own penalty area in the 69th minute that the game finally came to life.
Garcia was subbed on for Pelosi after Cordell Cato was taken down by Oniel Fisher on the right flank about 10 yards outside the Seattle box. With Garcia out, Salinas had been handed the free kick duties for the contest, yet was unable to match the quality of service the Argentinian has provided since his arrival.
Garcia did just that with his first touch of the ball, curling an in-swinger that found the head of Alashe, who beat Brad Evans to score for the first time at Avaya since he scored the stadium’s first ever goal on March 22. It is the 10th goal the Sounders have conceded from a set piece this season.
Like last week, however, San Jose could not hold their lead. A Seattle free kick from a similar area as Garcia’s would be their undoing. David Bingham was able to save the initial headed effort from Zach Scott, but had no chance to deal with an impressive follow-up by Obafemi Martins, who scored on a half bicycle volley.
Goodson nearly got a toe on the ball, but was beat by Martins by a half-second. For the second week in a row, the veteran defender was visibly frustrated after conceding a late set-piece goal:
“It’s very disappointing ’cause I thought they had zero chances. I thought we played really well defensively. They didn’t have anything. It was a half-chance.”
The Earthquakes are back at Avaya midweek, for a quick turnaround match with Montreal Impact on Wednesday. The game was supposed to take place early in the season, but was postponed due to the Impact’s run in the CONCACAF Champions League. Montreal has since improved their squad, adding 37-year-old Didier Drogba last month.
Despite the pressure to not miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season, Kinnear is trying to keep things light, while also staying focused:
“I think attention to detail is obviously a premium, but you can’t walk away from the fun part of it. You can’t get too wound up in everything because it’ll drive you crazy, so you still have to enjoy it. I told the guys, ‘these are exciting times. You’d rather have this than playing for nothing.'”
For the second week in a row, Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid was not on the Sounders sideline, and did not make the trip due to undisclosed health issues. Assistant Brian Schmetzer handled coaching duties once again.