The Earthquakes have already risen from cellar dwellers to surprise contenders this season, and the narrative would stick much better with a deep run in the MLS playoffs — if they make it, that is.
San Jose’s 2-1 loss to NYCFC at Yankee Stadium Saturday kept the Quakes (13-5-13) at 44 points, still two shy of second in the competitive Western Conference but also two points away from dropping outside the playoff picture with other teams to play this weekend. The Quakes entered the day in fifth place.
Two late first half goals by New York City (17-9-5) wiped out an early marker by Chris Wondolowski. Keaton Parks evened the score in the 40th minute with a shot into an empty net after goalkeeper Daniel Vega had thwarted an original point-blank chance from the left side.
Three minutes later, Alexandru Mitrita delivered the go-ahead strike off of a run by Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. Tajouri-Shradi ran down the center of the pitch, then fed a ball to Mitrita who split two defenders and buried it past Vega.
It was a “five-minute lapse,” according to Wondolowski, that kept the Earthquakes from earning points on Saturday:
“Proud of the guys’ effort, but at the same time we’re at a point where silver linings aren’t really helping us right now.”
Head coach Matías Almeyda was disappointed in the consecutive goals. Before the game, the team studied NYCFC on tape and they were warned that the goals could happen exactly the way that they did:
“Football tells you, you have to be 90 minutes purely concentrated. We were up until the 35th minute … Losing focus for 10 minutes, they scored the way that they did.”
Though, NYCFC head coach Dome Torrent was complimentary of the Earthquakes:
“For me, the best team we played in Yankee Stadium was San Jose, for sure. The best team for me.”
Wondolowski’s goal came as a result of a string of 10 passes, ending with a feed by Vako in the box to the striker, who finished with his inside foot.
But the Quakes failed to build momentum off the goal, instead allowing NYCFC to wake up and string together scoring opportunities.
Almeyda called New York City the best team in the league, with a collective style that is well-defined, a young team that is both dynamic and mobile:
“And they try to play football that I personally like. That makes me think that our team was at the same level as them. We were competitive. Keeping in mind the opponent we played against, it was a competitive game and maybe a draw would have been more fair. But results aren’t about justice.”
The Quakes remain winless against New York City (0-4-1), which is unbeaten in its last seven matches and leads the Eastern Conference.
San Jose, meanwhile, saw its road woes continue. Coming off a loss at Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, the Earthquakes dropped their fifth straight road match and fell to 3-9-3 away from Avaya Stadium this season.
When asked if there is any extra sense of urgency with four more games left in the regular season, Almeyda said that he feels solace in the fact that the team is already in the thick of the MLS playoff picture:
“The first thing that we wanted to achieve was maintain a style of play and have the team be competitive. Now that the team is competitive, we have four games against difficult opponents. We’re going to persist until the last second, until the math allows it.”
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Earthquakes, who wrap up the three-game road trip at Atlanta United FC next Saturday.
Take me out to the … soccer game?
Almeyda, in his first season managing in MLS, did not hold back when asked about playing a soccer match in a baseball field. NYCFC shares a stadium with the Yankees, and though there is no infield dirt running through the field a la Raiders games at the Coliseum, Almeyda did not enjoy it:
“We play football. We don’t play baseball or basketball, so we need football stadiums. The measurements are different. It’s a great stadium. But it’s a small-sighted field. It’s not real. It stops being realistic before the game even starts. If this league wants to be the best in the world, they shouldn’t allow this when there are other wonderful structures.”
Almeyda added that they could have “easily played on a ping-pong table as well.”
Wondolowski, a huge Giants fan, said that he loved walking in to Yankee Stadium, strolling the field. It was nostalgic and pretty cool. But then he paused and chuckled:
“Umm…yeah. I’m going to leave it at that.”
It seems like the Earthquakes will be happy to return to Avaya Stadium in a few weeks.