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Vako brace keeps hot Quakes in win column

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After scoring 10 goals while starting 31 games last season, Valeri Qazaishvili was a shoo-in to play a key role for the Earthquakes in 2019.

But the Georgian appeared to have fallen down the pecking order for new head coach Matias Almeyda, who started ‘Vako’ just six times through the first 16 games of the season.

Vako cashed in on his starting assignment Thursday, netting two goals to guide the surging ‘Quakes over the Houston Dynamo, 2-0, leaving Almeyda with a tough selection decision for Saturday’s match with the Galaxy.

Ching Wong/SFBay San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Valeri Qazaishvili (11), left, celebrates his goal with teammates in the second half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay)

Almeyda said of the midfielder:

“I’ve spoken to Vako and this is the level I want from him. I think he was used to a different system of play, last year they played totally different. Competition exists and I’m trying to make it bring the best out of them.”

The first goal came unexpectedly following a slow 20 minutes to start the game. After being awarded a corner kick, Cristian Espinoza played a short pass to Magnus Eriksson, who was positioned just inside the box on the right flank.

From there, Eriksson played a horizontal pass that was met by ‘Vako’, who had to hustle to catch up to the pass and tap in his second goal of the season.

Just minutes later the ever-dangerous Espinoza was at it again when sent in a low pass across the box that would have surely made it a two-goal advantage but was just out of reach of striker Chris Wondolowski.

Ching Wong/SFBay San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski (8) and Houston Dynamo midfielder Juan David Cabezas (5) contest a header in the first half of an MLS soccer match at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay)

Due to the Gold Cup, both teams came in short-handed, but the Dynamo sorely missed leading winger Alberth Elis, who leads Houston in assists, and is second in goals with five. San Jose was missing two starters in Harold Cummings and Nick Lima but carried on far better than their opponents.

Of teammates stepping in, Wondolowski said:

“The guys who stepped in are amazing guys. For us, its next man up, we feel we have a very deep team, and we’ll step up no matter what.” 

Offensively, the home side thoroughly dominated the first half without having to do much. Houston only mustered 36 percent of the possession and put just one shot on Target. San Jose only had one as well but looked far more progressive and dangerous with the ball.

The second half played out just like the first. San Jose continued a relentless and steady possession that never allowed Houston a chance to get anything started.

Houston’s best chance came in the 60th minute on a corner kick, but the San Jose defense handled it so well, springing the ball into a vicious counter, that it almost resulted in a goal on a Wondolowski header. The attempt needed a fantastic reflex save from Houston keeper Joe Willis.

Ching Wong/SFBay Houston Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis (23) misses a goal shot by San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Valeri Qazaishvili (11) in the first half of an MLS soccer match at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay)

In the 75th minute, San Jose put the game away for good with another goal.

Tommy Thompson streamed down the right flank and sent in a low cross through the box that somehow found Vako on the left side of the box.

From there, the in-form winger knew precisely what to do and fired home a shot past the keeper for his second of the night, third of the season, fifth in all competitions, and more importantly a two-goal lead.

Wondolowski said:

“I thought Vako was excellent. I’m proud of him. I think that he, along with all of us got off to a bad start. He’s now bought in and as you see tonight, he’s a great player. He’s always is a handful and I’m glad to see him get his reward.”

Almeyda added:

“The ideal thing is for them to make it hard on me; that’s what I wanted to happen with Vako. I always tell the players when I give you a chance never let it go. Salinas got injured, and Vako came in and took advantage of the chances he got.” 

Vako spoke to his slow start:

“The most important is how I’m feeling right now and I feel good, I’m past it.”

Ching Wong/SFBay San Jose Earthquakes players celebrate after their first goal in the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay)

With this victory, San Jose is now right in the thick of things in the Western Conference playoff picture, sitting in 6th, something that would’ve been unheard of after their first five games of the year.

Center back Florian Jungwirth said:

 “Last year we did a lot wrong but today it was really good. It’s not just the defense playing well, it’s the whole team. Mentally we believe we can press any team into making mistakes so we can play our game.” 

The ‘Quakes have not lost a game since May 11, and not lost a home game since the March 30 thrashing at the hands of Los Angeles Football Club.

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