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Second-half strikes from Sanchez, Johnson lead San Jose to rare road win

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San Jose snapped their 20 game winless streak away from home as second half goals from Ramon Sanchez and Ryan Johnson lifted the Earthquakes to a 2-1 comeback win over D.C. United. “It was a long time coming,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop said. “We have been very close recently to getting a win on the road. I am proud of the guys for continuing to believe in ourselves. We stuck to the task and got a nice three points away from home.”

The win, San Jose’s first on the road win since June 7 of last year, improved the Earthquakes’ record to 3-2-2 since the All-Star break, and dealt host D.C. United a serious setback in their battle for a playoff spot. “It was a great comeback by us and hopefully we can build on this,” Yallop said.

The San Jose starting line-up had a new look Sunday afternoon. Andrew Weber, originally signed  by D.C. United as a developmental player in 2005, made his MLS debut in goal, breaking Joe Cannon’s string of 65 straight starts. With Shea Salinas injured, Chris Leitch started the game at right midfield, though he moved back to defense in the second half.

D.C., currently one point shy of the eighth and final playoff spot, took the initiative early. In the opening 20 minutes United had most of the ball and all of the chances, but Chris Pontius and Mark Burch (twice) fired wide from distance, and when a Santino Quaranta corner kick found Luciano Emilio for a header from close range, Emilio’s effort bounced high over the top right corner of the goal.

The host side broke through in the 26th minute when Ben Olsen released Pontius down the left wing, and Pontius crossed to Jamie Moreno near the penalty spot. Moreno’s first touch was near perfect, setting himself up a left footed shot from 10 yards out that beat the San Jose goalkeeper cleanly.

San Jose showed their first sign of life two minutes later as Simon Elliott tested Josh Wicks with a low drive from 20 yards, forcing the D.C. goalkeeper to dive to his right to make the save.

The Earthquakes survived a scare just after the half hour mark, when Bobby Burling misplayed a long pass into the penalty area. Quaranta pounced on the loose ball, but Burling was able to recover to block Quaranta’s shot from 15 yards.

San Jose thought they had evened the score just before halftime. Ryan Johnson got on the end of a Leitch cross, soaring above two United defenders near the left post for a header that hit the back of the net, only to be ruled offside.

The Earthquakes adjusted their lineup to open the second half, bringing Arturo Alvarez on at right midfield, moving Leitch to defense and Burling to the bench.

Five minutes later, D.C. had to make a change after their goalkeeper went down injured. On a Simon Elliott corner kick, Wicks came 15 yards off his line to challenge Johnson’s header. Wicks tried to slap the ball away but failed to do so, crumbling to the turf holding his left shoulder as Johnson launched a shot that was blocked by D.C. defender Julius James.

Milos Kocic replaced Wicks, and was barely warmed up when San Jose netted their first goal of the game. In the 58th minute, Ramón Sánchez took a free kick from the top of the arc, curling a spectacular left-footed shot over the wall and into the upper right corner of the net to tie the match at 1-1.

In the 73rd minute San Jose went ahead through Johnson’s team-leading ninth goal of the season. The deciding play started with Alvarez cutting into the penalty area from the right side, beating two defenders for a left footed shot from just inside the box. Alvarez’s blast deflected off defender Clyde Simms then caromed off the cross bar, falling to Johnson for a diving header from 10 yards out.

“I anticipated that it might hit the cross bar so I got myself in good position,” Johnson said. “I just stayed focused and put as much power behind it as I could.”

From there, the Earthquakes held on for the win. “We just packed it in and tried to stay solid in the back,” Ramiro Corrales said. “I was definitely thinking about the late goals we had given up recently and we were determined not to let that happen again. We had good shape and we made the tough plays when we had to.”

D.C. did come close to scoring the equalizer on a couple of occasions in the game’s closing moments. In the 82nd minute, Weber tried to clear a Rodney Wallace cross, but only punched the ball straight up in the air. Pontius hit a bicycle kick from 8 yards out that was headed for the lower right corner of the goal, but a lunging Corrales cleared the shot off the line.

In the last minute of regulation time, Christian Gomez teed up Thabiso "Boyzzz" Khumalo for a left footed shot from the top of the arc that grazed the crossbar as it flew over the goal.

“It was a tough game from the start,” Johnson said. “D.C. had a lot of possession in the first half, but we stayed focused and got ourselves back into the match. We put away our chances in the second half and made a good defensive stand to get the win.”  “It feels good to get the win on the road,” Johnson said.

The Earthquakes return to MLS action next Saturday night when they host the New York Red Bulls at Buck Shaw Stadium.

• • •

San Jose Earthquakes (6-12-7) vs. D.C. United (8-7-12)
Sept. 27, 2009 – R.F.K. Stadium
Attendance: 14,375

Scoring Summary: SJ – Jaime Moreno (Chris Pontius, Ben Olsen) 26; SJ – Ramon Sanchez (unassisted) 58; SJ – Ryan Johnson (unassisted) 73.

Misconduct Summary:  SJ – Brandon McDonald (caution) 28; DC – Rodney Wallace (caution) 54; DC – Chris Pontius (caution) 68.

San Jose Earthquakes - Andrew Weber, Bobby Burling (Arturo Alvarez 46), Brandon McDonald, Jason Hernandez, Ramiro Corrales, Chris Leitch, Simon Elliott, Ramon Sanchez, Bobby Convey, Ryan Johnson, Chris Wondolowski.

Statistics:  Shots 11; Shots on Goal 4; Saves 3; Fouls 8; Offsides 3; Corner Kicks 3.

D.C. United - Josh Wicks (Milos Kocic 52), Lawson Vaughn, Julius James, Marc Burch (Christian Gomez 76), Santino Quaranta, Ben Olsen, Clyde Simms, Rodney Wallace, Chris Pontius, Luciano Emilio, Jaime Moreno (Thabiso "Boyzzz" Khumalo 78).

Statistics:  Shots 18; Shots on Goal 6; Saves 2; Fouls 9; Offsides 3; Corner Kicks 8.