After a tough start to the season, San Jose legend Chris Wondoloski appeared to be the hero for the ‘Quakes once again. The forward scored a brace to put San Jose up 3-2 in the 63rd minute before being subbed off.
Alas, it was not over as two late goals secured a smash-and-grab 4-3 win for Los Angeles Football Club (7-3-4) in the first-ever meeting between the two sides Saturday night at Avaya Stadium.
The contest got off to a fast pace to start and for good reason, both teams came into the match riding their own MLS four-game winless streaks.
For the ‘Quakes (2-3-9), head coach Mikael Stahre deployed a diamond midfield to start the game, opting to put his dangerous players, mostly Valeri ‘Vako’ Kazaishvili, in the middle of the field instead of out on the flanks. Florian Jungwirth anchored the diamond formation.
“I think we came out well, followed the plan, but then instead of keeping up momentum, keeping pressing, play the ball forward we started to slow down the game and gave LAFC control of the game and possession and then suddenly they equalized and then took over the game.”
Both teams were dealing with key players out, due to the upcoming FIFA World Cup. LAFC was missing leading scorer Carlos Vela, along with three others, while San Jose had to line up without starting midfielder Anibal Godoy and center back Harold Cummings, both away with Panama.
Early on, the Earthquakes looked to do damage with “Vako” or Magnus Eriksson, who would find themselves in the midfield areas. It looked as if it was working. San Jose put together a few good moves and passes exploiting the extra players in the center midfield.
The ‘Quakes had chances but were just missing that final something, before finally breaking through in the 11th minute. Forward Danny Hoesen picked up his second assist of the season when he chipped a pass into the box, lifting it just out of reach of the defender’s head. The pass was met by Vako who just managed to awkwardly flick the ball into the back of the net for his fourth goal of the season.
LAFC managed a response five minutes later when a pass sailed over goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell’s head. The ball was met by MLS debutant Kevin Partida who tried to clear the ball but ended up heading it right onto the path of Adama Diomande where he was able to calmly head home on an empty net.
Partida, a third-round selection of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, was acquired this week on a season-long loan from the club’s USL affiliate Reno 1868 FC. For the second time in four nights, he played the full 90 minutes following the Quakes U.S. Open loss to the Portland Timbers Wednesday night.
Before the home team had time to re-establish a rhythm and gain some possession, LAFC would strike again. The bad mistakes that had plagued the ‘Quakes all season would resurface, although calling some unlucky bounces mistakes is a little harsh.
After a harmless ball was sent towards Tarbell’s net, it was met by defender Jimmy Ockford who went for an attempted clear out. The ball deflected off the center back and right into the path of a surging Steven Beitashour, who one-timed the ball home into the top right corner of the net.
San Jose looked stunned and it showed in their play. No longer did they fill the dangerous areas in the midfield like they had in the games first ten minutes.
“I’m really proud of the players’ performances tonight. They showed character, followed the plan, finally played like a home team. This is the hardest defeat so far in my MLS career.”
In the second half, San Jose needed an answer. Their home form this season has been unacceptably dreadful after having such a strong record at Avaya last season.
In the 50th minute, Wondoloski attempted an audacious back-heel forcing an amazing save out of LAFC goalie Tyler Miller. Wondoloski could have lost focus on the missed opportunity, but less than a minute later he found himself running into the box on a through ball from Hoesen. After reaching the box, Wondolowski cut back, sent his defender slipping, and curled a shot over Miller’s head tying the game at two.
The Captain would strike again in the 63rd minute after stealing the ball from Miller on a back-pass to him from the LAFC defender. After gaining possession, the 35-year-old wasted no time on the ball and rolled in the sphere for his fourth goal of the season and more importantly, a 3-2 lead.
On closing out the lead, forward Hoesen said:
“At that moment, I don’t think we can be confident enough. I don’t think anyone of us thought that we can relax and walk away with three points. We saw they kept going, you have to give a lot of credit to them as well they were very organized and played very nice football.”
Of Wondoloski’s performance, Stahre said:
“His performance was absolutely fantastic. If Chris Wondoloski has to come out with 10 minutes left there is something wrong. I’m saying he’s a fighter and tonight he played like you guys are so used to seeing, especially here in Avaya.”
But the ‘Quakes could not hold and would lose another late lead, reminiscent of the early part of the season when they played well enough to get leads. After a mad scramble in front of the San Jose goal, the ball found its way onto the foot of LAFC striker Diomande, earning a brace for himself after Wondoloski had secured his.
Things went from bad to worse deep into stoppage time, however. After a desperate clearance in the closing moments, LAFC worked the ball back into the box where somehow Joao Moutinho was able to get enough on a shot to send it past a fully extended Tarbell, who could only see it roll in past his outstretched arm.
Wondoloski said of the loss:
“LA is a good team, I think their record speaks for itself. A lot of credit to them showing the perseverance to come back and beat us, I think it was a tough one. We’re coming to a part of the season now where silver linings don’t really count for much, its time to pick up points but we do have the right things.”
The loss is now the Quakes fifth in a row in all competitions and fourth straight in the league. They move down one spot in the standings and are now only above the Colorado Rapids for the last place in the Western Conference with nine points.
Of one of the toughest stretches in his career, Hoesen said:
“It’s a new experience for me, it’s tough it’s different but I don’t think anyone of us have been in this position so we need to just stick together. We are, still together As a locker room. I think people are trying to help each other, stay close.”
The Quakes wrap up their mini two-game homestand when they take on The New England Revolution, (6-5-4) who sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, for an inter-conference clash Wednesday night.