A favorable result did not look to be in the cards for the San Jose Earthquakes, but behind another chorus of late game heroics they triumphed by a score of 2-1 over the Colorado Rapids. Super substitute Alan Gordon made all the difference for the Earthquakes, as his hustle play on a loose ball in front of the Rapids net forced an own-goal and his penalty earning drive into the area set-up Chris Wondolowski’s stoppage time match winner.
Head Coach Frank Yallop had ominously said earlier in the week that even with a long period of rest since their last MLS match, he expected the team would show a little rust at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Sure enough, despite a promising start to the game, San Jose found themselves trailing by a goal following a well-placed header from former Earthquakes midfielder Brian Mullan. Just out of the reach of goalkeeper David Bingham, who was starting in place of the suspended Jon Busch, Mullan’s goal initiated a big shift in momentum that would favor the home side for the next hour of the game.
However, in true "Goonies never say die" attitude, the Earthquakes refused to capitulate, and through some well chosen substitutions by Coach Yallop, slowly began to exert their will on the match. Colorado Head Coach Oscar Pareja could be heard screaming from the sidelines at his charges, pleading them to keep their shape and not to get sucked into running onto every counterattacking opportunity. The Rapids, a team that was the better on the night for most of the first three-quarters of the game, suddenly were playing passively. The Earthquakes, with three sets of fresh legs on the field, looked for a chance to punish their tentative hosts.
That it was the hustle of Shea Salinas that led directly to the Earthquakes equalizing goal was emblematic of the way San Jose does best when controlling the tempo of the game. He outran his marker to a ball deep down the right touchline before directing a fairly low, and rather ordinary, crossing pass into the area that was finally accepted by Steven Lenhart. Already with the best of his scoring chances having been saved by Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens, Lenhart did not put his best effort behind the ball, but did strike it with enough uncertainty to force Pickens to spill the ball into traffic. With Gordon in pursuit, unfortunate defender Hunter Freeman directed the ball into his own net to gift the Earthquakes a lifeline in the match.
The impact of Salinas, not to mention the great work of Marvin Chavez along the opposite sideline, has proven a difficult combination for opposing defenses to contain. Salinas getting forward also opens up opportunities for defender Steven Beitashour to overlap into areas of the attacking third where his superb crossing skills best be taken advantage of by the forward line. While we know Wondolowski is not going to often create his own chances in front of goal, having Beitashour, Salinas, and Chavez getting him the ball close to goal is a fine recipe for scoring success. Against the Rapids, it was Salinas who played the hero, but all three have been invaluable in terms of the service they deliver.
A talking point from the match was Gordon’s rather soft penalty kick award. Sure, the contact with Pickens appeared minimal upon video review, but the goalkeeper had put himself in a position to cause a foul, and Gordon’s ability to enhance the contact made the call an easy one for the referee. And unlike earlier this season when he weakly took a spot kick against the Columbus Crew, Wondolowski blasted his shot past Pickens for the goal in the 92nd minute. Yes, the Earthquakes had scored a match winning goal in stoppage time for the fourth time already this season.
Up next for the Earthquakes is a battle for first place in the MLS Western Conference against table toppers Real Salt Lake. San Jose sit only two points back of Salt Lake, and with a victory Saturday night can take charge in the west. That RSL lost on the same night to the LA Galaxy that the Earthquakes were beating the Rapids makes the build-up to the game this weekend even more interesting. Add to the mix the memories of last season’s disastrous visit to Rio Tinto Stadium, where the Earthquakes lost 4-0 after having defender Bobby Burling wrongly sent off, and the midseason match could arguably be called their most important so far in 2012.
Players are rested from the break, injuries to key starters seems to be a thing of the past, and the Earthquakes "Never say die" mentality continues to grow with each passing game. The San Jose Earthquakes continue their Rocky Mountain road trip, and they hope it concludes with another three points.