Leading by one goal when, just before halftime, Shea Salinas was ejected for a dangerous tackle on Zach Loyd, the Quakes doubled their lead when Loyd's replacement David Texeira deflected in an own goal and hung on for the thrilling win after Michel halved the lead with a world-class free kick goal.
"That was quite a night," said head coach Mark Watson in his post game press conference. "I thought toward the end of the first half we played really well, got the goal and had a chance to make it two-nil. But the sending off obviously changed everything. The second half was about sticking together, defending and seeing the game off. It was a long, hard-fought night and I'm really proud of our guys."
The Earthquakes scored first through Cordell Cato when he beat Peruvian goalkeeper Raul Fernandez on a one-on-one opportunity midway through the first half. The second San Jose goal came off a Sam Cronin free kick into the area that was just out of the reach of Chris Wondolowski's toe but not out of the reach of Texeira's backside. Michel's 20-yard free kick off the bottom of the crossbar in the 76th minute lead to a very uncomfortable final twenty minutes for the Quake, but their defensive held on to earn San Jose its second victory of the 2014 season.
"We don't ever make it easy," said midfielder Sam Cronin after the game. "This match was a good show of character from the team. It was difficult in the second half when we were down a man, but we were resilient. Our center backs and taller guys defend the box extremely well late in the match when they had chance after chance. We're happy to walk out of here with a win."
Concluding a quick two-game homestand for San Jose, the win was vital for the Earthquakes (2-3-4, 10 points) as they struggle to keep pace in the Western Conference. With its fourth straight loss, once high-flying FC Dallas (5-5-1, 16 points) find itself in striking distance of the Quakes, who play the Texas team in Frisco in three weeks time.
For full match statistics and post-game quotes, click here
The 10,525 fans and supporters that made up the sell-out crowd at Buck Shaw stadium took awhile to fill in - presumably many were still trying to make their way down the Peninsula past the Tim McGraw at Shoreline Amphitheatre traffic - but they were gifted the pleasure of seeing Khari Stephenson again stationed in the midfield. The Jamaican veteran breathed new life into the Quakes moribund attack in Wednesday's scoreless draw against the Rapids - no goals didn't mean no scoring opportunities - and San Jose started the game brightly.
FC Dallas, without playmaker Mauro Diaz in the line-up, looked less threatening, but the Texans did have the benefit of talented Brazilian defender Michel in the line-up and looked to the deliveryman at every opportunity. Big man Blas Perez stationed himself in between the Quakes World Cup bound center back duo of Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez and spearheaded the Hoops attack. Troublemaking winger Fabian Castillo ran the sideline in front of Michel, making trouble for the Earthquakes now official 2014 Starting Right Back Brandon Barklage.
As dance partners, Dallas and San Jose were definitely not shy about invading each other's personal space, and referee Chris Penso was quick to warn both sides that he had an itchy card-pulling finger on the night. That the Earthquakes, wearing their red secondary kits as part of the club's 40th Anniversary celebration - Dallas played in blue - would get lots of ink in Penso's little notebook seemed a certainty after no less than three players were treated to personal conversations in the game's first 10 minutes.
Dallas had the first valid scoring opportunity in the 11th minute, as Matt Hedges headed a scorching Michel free kick wide of goal, and the Earthquakes their first a minute later when Wondolowski's header landed safely in Fernandez' gloves. As neither team could find the back of the net, Penso swooped in and made the first real contribution to the statistics sheet, booking Jordan Stewart for a 50/50 challenge on Loyd in the 14th minute.
The visitors, who had to kick-off into the setting sun, forcing Fernandez to don a red baseball-style cap to start the game that appeared to have been found under the Faultline's temporary bleachers, kept out of the glare by pressing the Quakes upfield and keeping the ball in the shady 1906 Ultras territory of the pitch. Michel banged in consecutive corner kicks in the 22nd minute, both steered on target in an attempt to notch his second ever MLS Olimpico, just as the skies signaled day was officially night and only the blinding red of 2500 commemorative t-shirts would provide a visual distraction.
Fernandez, his ball cap strewn to the side of the goal like a rec league goalkeepers unused field jersey, would be called to action minutes later followed an innocuously cleared corner kick attempt. Salinas, collecting the loose ball in traffic, elected to send it back to Stewart, who, himself under a bit of duress, elected to send it back to Jon Busch. The Quakes keeper, with no one to send the ball back to but the ball boys, sent a soaring ball back up the field. Goodson, in an advanced position from the corner kick attempt moments before, deflected Busch's delivery right into the path of a sprinting Cato, in on goal with only Fernandez to beat.
Cato, unlike the unfortunate San Jose Sharks in the first round of the NHL playoffs, went five-hole on Fernandez and sounded the horn on his first goal of 2014. The electric Trinidadian sprinted to the corner to celebrate, and the eclectic Krazy George shouted to the non-existent rafters his exaltations. Chests were beaten by professional players and drums were beaten by nearly-hoarse professional cheerleaders as the Quakes took a 1-0 lead in minute 25.
Big saves from each side followed over the next quarter hour, as Busch denied Castillo from close range in the 34th minute and Fernandez stopped Alan Gordon in the 37th minute. The goalkeeping on display at Buck Shaw was exemplary in the first half, and at least for the Quakes, would only get better after intermission. It had to.
The game changed in tone with the dismissal of Salinas in the 45th minute for a slippery turf induced studs-up tackle on Loyd. Penso had to show Salinas a straight red, despite the plea of his teammates, and the luckless midfielder quietly retreated to the locker room. A stunned 10-man Quakes squad saw out the last couple minutes of the half and followed suit, the sell-out crowd yelling its support.
For 15 minutes, Mark Watson rallied his troops and set about planning for a second stanza that would see his resolute defense tested. The "never-say-die" mandate, hashtagged on the backs of their red uniforms, would serve them well, to be sure, and set the scene for the halftime induction of club legend Johnny Moore, himself a fierce and competitive character, into the Earthquakes Hall of Fame. A rallying force like Moore was the perfect centerpiece on a night the Quakes would do everything possible to not capitulate.
But San Jose still had the second half to survive.
Dallas came out with clear intent to pressure the Quakes in their own half, with Perez again the focal point, and station Michel at the center line prepared to send the ball into the penalty area at every opportunity. Good plan, perhaps, but one limited by the effectiveness of Goodson and Bernardez in the air. Tack on the always steady Busch, and the Hoops were not going to have an easy time getting a result.
Gordon made way for JJ Koval in the 56th minute and Stephenson for Mike Fucito, making his season debut, in the 60th minute - two key additions that were as much tactical as they were required due to injury and fatigue - as San Jose retreated more and more into a defensive bubble as the second half wore on. Frustrations were on the rise for Dallas as shoddy finishing and steady goalkeeping kept the score at 1-0 as the clock ticked past the 70 minute mark. And then, it got even worse.
A yellow card to Michel for a tough tackle on Cato - the two had been jawing at each other for the previous 5 minutes - set the Earthquakes up for a classic set-piece opportunity deep in the opponent's end. Without Salinas to take the kick, Cronin stepped up to strike a ball over the defensive wall and into the path of the advancing Quakes offensive line. Wondolowski pressed forward, Texeira marking him tightly, and watched the Dallas defender deflect the ball into his own goal. 2-0 Quakes - free tacos for everyone! - and the Buck Shaw crowd erupted.
Stunned, but not shaken, FC Dallas took the restart right down the field and missed out on a goal due to an excellent defensive effort by Goodson, clearing a shot off the line. Unfortunately for the lanky center back, he conceded a controversial free kick a minute later that provided the visitors a lifeline when Michel hammered home a shot past Busch to halve the Earthquakes lead to 2-1. The goal set up a very tense final quarter hour of regulation and six minutes of stoppage time.
Watson, sensing the danger, used his last substitution to bring in Ty Harden for Cato in the 85th minute, and the Quakes went to five defenders in the back. Dallas attacker Tesho Akindele came close to tying the score on a pair of chances, but his game was suited more to horseshoes than soccer, and San Jose counted their collective blessings.
Stoppage time heroics for the Quakes usually come on the offensive side of the ball, but on this night, it would need to be the defense that made headlines. Busch made catch save after catch save as Dallas lumped the ball forward - apparently opposing goalkeepers have never thought of this tactic in stopping a desperate opponent - standing the tallest among the trees in the box.
His biggest leap of the night came at the final whistle, as his defensive line cleared the last Dallas attempt, a 97th minute corner kick delivery, and San Jose secured an improbable result. Wondolowski and Goodson sprinted to celebrate with the Ultras, their days with the Quakes set for a vacation as they prepare for, and possibly go to, the World Cup. Intrepid CSN sideline reporter Kate Scott dashed to and fro looking for a player to interview. 10,525 or so "win pins" doled out to appreciate hands exiting the stadium.
The early-week narrative had demanded that San Jose win both of its games on the home stand, but the new narrative was rewritten to call the victory against Dallas a catalyst for a turnaround. Any and all points are important - especially at home - and with four from two games, the Earthquakes know their job of making the playoffs was made incrementally easier. How well they do next weekend in Seattle will mark another checkpoint on that path.