San Jose Earthquakes let one slip away in 1-1 draw with Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Sometimes lady luck smiles on you and sometimes she does not. With the San Jose Earthquakes only stoppage time away from ending their five-game winless streak courtesy of a first half goal from Chris Wondolowski, the Vancouver Whitecaps drew even on a 91st minute goal from Davide Chiumiento that gave the home side a share of the spoils in a 1-1 draw.

The shot from Chiumiento was more accurately described as a cross into the area, as the curling effort looked destined to find contact with an onrush of players crashing in on goal. However, with goalkeeper Jon Busch electing to hold his line as the ball entered the six-yard box, the ball eluded everyone and settled into the far side netting for the Whitecaps equalizer. The whole sequence of play was eerily similar to the cross from Kosuke Kimura that resulted in the game winning goal for the Colorado Rapids in last year’s Eastern Conference Championships.

For the second straight game, the San Jose Earthquakes fell victim to a dubious foul call from the referee that led to the opponent getting a goal. Last week it was a dumb-luck penalty kick awarded to the Philadelphia Union from a hand ball in the area from Jason Hernandez that sunk the Quakes. In Vancouver, it was Steven Beitashour dumfoundedly being shown a yellow card for an apparent foul on Camilo late in the match that started the sequence resulting in Chiumiento’s game-tying goal for the Whitecaps.

The foul call on Beitashour certainly seemed unwarranted, but the decision by referee Ricardo Salazar to book the second-year defender was likely influenced by a play just minutes earlier. In the 88th minute, with the Whitecaps surging ahead on a counterattack, Beitashour and Vancouver forward Camilo got their legs tangled up just as they were reaching the Earthquakes penalty area. Camilo appealed for a foul but was denied by Salazar who waved play on. Just as the match entered the 90th minute, the same two players were bearing down on a ball headed for the byline just inside the corner flag when again they went to ground together. And again Camilo protested to the referee, who raced to the spot indicating a foul and showing Beitashour a yellow card. Even with the benefit of replay, it appeared the pair helped each other tumble to the ground, and the call seemed especially harsh on the Quakes defender.

With the benefit of a free-kick deep in Earthquakes territory, Vancouver was able to push players forward as they searched for an equalizer. The initial free kick was cleared away to the opposite touchline for a throw-in, keeping the Whitecaps players in their set-piece formation. On the throw-in, Chiumiento escaped the marking of Ramiro Corrales before running back toward the area with Wondolowski trying to keep pace. With space to make the cross, Chiumiento delivered the ball into the area, where it escaped a touch by either team before bulging the netting and setting off delirious celebrations among the hardy Whitecaps supporters behind the goal at Empire Field.

Both sides had chances to win the game as the remainder of the stoppage time ticked away. With the Earthquakes pushing into attack and taking advantage of the Whitecaps substitute-driven 3-5-2 formation, Brad Ring found himself racing into the area to meet a rebounded shot from 12 yards out, but he scuffed the ball and it deflected off a defender before it could reach the intended target. Back on the defensive side, a dangerous cross into the box from the Whitecaps was settled by a very composed Ike Opara before being cleared from danger. The final whistle came seconds later, and both teams earned a point while maintaining their long winless streaks — the Earthquakes streak is now six while the Whitecaps streak is at nine — that keep both teams rooted to the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

The match started under rainy skies and in front of an uneven Empire Field crowd that lacked the usual energy of previous games this season. Meanwhile the home team drew upon their own energy to present the Earthquakes problems in the opening 20 minutes of the game. Imposing forward Eric Hassli and outside midfielder and former Quake Shea Salinas kept the San Jose back four very busy. The Whitecaps gained an edge in possession, especially through the midfield, as the defense too often reverted to booting the ball forward toward Steven Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski instead of looking to use outlet passes through the central midfield duo of Sam Cronin and Brad Ring. While Vancouver was unable to find a shot on target during this sequence — notably due to the strong defensive play of Ike Opara — the Whitecaps served notice of their intent to use the flanks to advance the ball and attempt to take advantage of a Quakes team that was not defending the wide play with much intensity.

By the 20th minute, the momentum of the match was shifting in favor of the visitors. The Earthquakes were finding space in front of the Vancouver back four, especially in the play of wingers Scott Sealy and Ryan Johnson. In conjunction with Lenhart and Wondolowski up top, head coach Frank Yallop essentially lined up four forwards in his starting XI, and they were developing a feel for playing off one another by midway through the first half. Whereas shots in the run of play were still lacking, the forward minded play from the Quakes attackers led to numerous set pieces throughout the evening. And with those set pieces came the opportunity to push their two central defenders Opara and Bobby Burling into the Whitecaps area. Both players had shots early on in the match, but weren’t able to break through the Vancouver defense.

With the pendulum of possession swinging back in favor of the Earthquakes, the Whitecaps were forced to sit further back in defense, which stretched their midfield to the point that now they were forced to make rash clearances to send the ball away from danger. In the 38th minute, the Earthquakes embarked on a sustained assault of the Vancouver area that led to their best chance on goal through a 25 yard blast from Cronin. Goalkeeper Jay Nolly did well to parry the ball toward the byline, but Johnson sped to the loose ball and smartly crossed the ball back into the six-yard box. Wondolowski, who was crashing the area following the shot from Cronin, ran in from the opposite side and neatly backheeled a shot that eluded Nolly and gave the Earthquakes a 1-0 lead in the 39th minute. The whole sequence of play was vintage 2010, and suggested that the woes of the previous month of games were nearing an end.

The half ended with the Earthquakes firmly in control of the match — outshooting the Whitecaps 10-1 — but with just the one goal to show for their efforts. Johnson, Wondolowski, and Sealy were all doing well up top, but Lenhart still lacked the movement needed to force Vancouver deeper into defense. Burling and Opara were getting the better of the Whitecaps forward duo of Hassli and Camilo, but Steven Beitashour on the right and Ramiro Corrales on the left were too often victimized by their corresponding charges Davide Chiumiento and Salinas. With Sealy and Johnson trying to keep their shape on the wings, the defenders were being asked to hold their ground more than in previous Earthquakes games played in the 4-4-2 formation, where overlapping runs from outside were par for the course. Corrales and Beitashour did venture forward at times — Beitashour even registered a shot on goal late in the half — but they more often stuck to their defensive responsibilities and rarely crossed the center line.

The failure of the Earthquakes to take full advantage of their first half momentum gave the Whitecaps hope, and the second half started on a more even pace. The field stretched for both teams, as players used the available space to drive forward into the attack. In the 51st minute Cronin carried the ball from just inside the Whitecaps half all the way to the top of the area before unleashing a low drive that went just wide of the post. Two minutes later, the Whitecaps responded with a Chiumiento cross — that ominously became a shot on target — that forced goalkeeper Jon Busch to parry the ball to safety between two onrushing attackers.

As the game entered the 60th minute, the pace of play began to slow, with the Earthquakes becoming less dangerous on offense as the Whitecaps adjusted to clog the center of the pitch. Wing play from Sealy and Johnson, while solid from box to box, was lacking in the final third. Too often in one-on-one situations, Johnson would be dispossessed without delivering a cross or pass into the area. He was much more effective when he chose to knock the ball back toward Ring or Cronin centrally, allowing the midfielders to change the point of attack. Sealy drifted away from the touchline on the right side, which unbalanced the formation at times, but Lenhart was not always up to the task of utilizing the resultant open space.

Both teams made subs as the game entered the last 20 minutes. Khari Stephenson spelled Sealy on the right side giving the Earthquakes a player that mimicked the tactics of his predecessor to a tee. Meanwhile, the Whitecaps used all three of their substitutes and shifted their formation to a more attack-minded 3-5-2. Number one overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft Omar Salgado came on for Hassli and U.S. International defender Jay DeMerit entered the game for Wes Knight. Add on Russell Tiebert for the tiring Salinas, and the Whitecaps shifted into a higher gear as they searched for a late game equalizer.

What was already a well paced game, became sloppy through to the 80th minute, as the new look Whitecaps formation too often was caught out of position. However, the Earthquakes could not take advantage during this stretch and settled for little in terms of sustained possession. In the 83rd minute, the Whitecaps had their most dangerous scoring opportunity to that point in the game as a spell of attacking pressure resulted in a cross from Chiumiento that Opara expertly cleared from his area. Salgado had a crack at goal from distance, but the teenager’s shot went high and wide of the target.

With Vancouver pressing forward in numbers, and with the Earthquakes having two substitutions still available, coach Yallop elected to stick with his original tactics and not collapse back into a defensive shell. The Quakes attacking four continued to break on the counterattack through the thinned Whitecaps defense, and twice nearly found Wondolowski for the game’s second goal. With Bobby Convey and Brandon McDonald still rooted to the bench, the Earthquakes did little to adjust to the new-look Whitecaps formation, with Yallop instead banking on the players on the field to preserve their one goal advantage.

The failure of Yallop to make player substitutions and tactical changes in the game’s waning minutes may have gone unpunished if not for a controversial foul call against Beitashour deep in Quakes territory in the 90th minute that started the sequence to Vancouver’s goal. With both Lenhart and Wondolowski putting in a great effort prior to that point in the match, it would have made a lot of sense to pull them from the field and get fresh defensive-minded legs into the line-up. Instead, Wondolowski — who had been called into defensive on numerous cases throughout the night — was just a step too slow in closing down Chiumiento on his cross attempt that became the tying goal.

The San Jose Earthquakes will feel undone by the 1-1 result in Vancouver, especially given how well they played at times against arguably the worst team in MLS in this early part of the season. While a point on the road in league play is nothing to complain about — and team confidence is sure to rise another notch as a result of their efforts at Empire Field — the lost opportunity to get the win and sneak above Vancouver in the standings will surely weigh on the minds of the players and coaches as they make their return to the Bay Area and begin preparations for this Saturday’s home match against the Columbus Crew. With a solid performance and a win at Buck Shaw Stadium this weekend against a very resolute Crew side, the good effort from Wednesday night’s draw in Vancouver will not be for naught.

SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (1-4-3) VS VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC (1-4-5)
May 11, 2011 — Empire Field
Attendance: 15,608

Scoring Summary: SJ — Chris Wondolowski 4 (Ryan Johnson 1)  39; VAN — Davide Chiumiento 1 (Terry Dunfield 3)  91+.

Misconduct Summary: VAN — Terry Dunfield (caution) 34; VAN — Mouloud Akloul (caution) 77; VAN — Jay Nolly 86 (caution); VAN — Jeb Brovsky (caution) 86; SJ — Steven Beitashour (caution) 90.

San Jose Earthquakes — Jon Busch, Steven Beitashour, Ramiro Corrales, Ike Opara, Bobby Burling, Scott Sealy (Khari Stephenson  64), Ryan Johnson, Brad Ring, Sam Cronin, Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart.

Statistics: Total Shots: 20 (Wondolowski 5); Shots on Goal: 5 (Wondolowski 2); Fouls: 12 (Ring 3); Offside: 2; Corner Kicks: 6; Saves: Busch 2.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC — Jay Nolly, Wes Knight (Jay DeMerit  75), Alain Rochat, Greg Janicki, Mouloud Akloul, Shea Salinas (Russell Teibert  72), Davide Chiumiento, Terry Dunfield, Jeb Brovsky, Eric Hassli (Omar Salgado  66), Camilo.

Statistics: Total Shots: 9 (da Silva 3); Shots on Goal: 3 (3 tied with 1); Fouls: 10 (Akloul 3, Brovsky 3); Offside: 3; Corner Kicks: 2; Saves: Nolly 4.

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