Bobby Burling and the rest of the Earthquakes defense shut down the potent Colorado Rapids strikers in a 1-0 victory Saturday night. Photo: Joe Nuxoll, centerlinesoccer.com
A funny thing happened on the pitch at Buck Shaw stadium Saturday night. The San Jose Earthquakes didn't play all that well against the Colorado Rapids, yet still managed to find a 1-0 victory courtesy of a wonder goal from Chris Wondolowski.
In a game that saw the Rapids dominate the statistics sheet — more shots, more passes completed, more possession — the Earthquakes defensive shape and resiliency prevented the visitors from having any effect in the attacking third. And even when the Rapids did manage to take their shots on goal, Joe Cannon was there to make the quality saves that have defined his career and earned him his 70th shutout spanning those 12 seasons.
When the final whistle blew on the 1-0 win, many of the coaches and players looked as relieved as they looked pleased with the performance. Despite a recent history of matching up well with Colorado, San Jose has seen possible victories turned into draws after late game equalizers from the Rapids. For coach Frank Yallop, he possessed a near-guilty smile on his face as he opened his postgame press conference.
"We didn't play particularly well, but it was a great three points," said Yallop. "We've had a few games where we've played well and lost, so to not play great and get three points was very rewarding for us as a team."
The best moment of the night was the highlight reel goal from Wondolowki in the 33rd minute. Tallying his third goal in as many games since being inserted into the starting line-up due to injuries to players ahead of him on the depth chart, the Danville native used a left-footed blast from just inside the penalty area to carom the ball off the bottom of the crossbar into the goal.
"Wondolowski is a good player," commended Yallop. "He's one of our unsung heroes that doesn't get a lot of press. He works really hard, so it is nice for him to get the headlines. He deserves it."
The play started with Andre Luiz challenging for a loose ball in the Quakes midfield and slotting the ball to Ramiro Corrales on the left wing. He one-touched a long ball toward Ryan Johnson running across the field. Johnson made a deft touch on the ball, directing toward goal and a full-speed Wondolowski. With just Rapids defender Marvell Wynne to beat, Wondolowski expertly put the ball past a helpless Matt Pickens in goal.
"Ramiro played a great ball in," described Wondolowski, "and Ryan got a crucial touch as it came through. I was able to make a run behind the defense and hit the ball with a full volley."
"Tonight was a typical Wondo goal, like we see every day in practice," added Yallop. "He can really hit a ball. For someone like him, when he is confident and feeling good about himself, he's really good on the field."
The sequence of play that lead up to the only goal of the game was one of the few times the Earthquakes asserted themselves offensively in the first half. The only other shot taken by the Quakes came in the 2nd minute as Chris Leitch spotted Johnson behind the defense and lofted a nice pass right into his path. Unable to fully control the pass, Johnson sent the ball directly into the onrushing goalkeeper.
The remainder of the first third of the match was played in the midfield, with Colorado controlling possession for the majority of that time. With Wondolowski's goal in the 33rd minute, the Earthquakes enjoyed a short period where they kept the Rapids on their heels, but it wasn't long until they again ceded great stretches of possession to Colorado.
In a game where prior Earthquake starters Ike Opara and Steve Beitashour were unavailable, Bobby Burling and Leitch stepped in the complete the defensive back four. In a testament to San Jose's strategy of building a deep roster, the changes did nothing to disrupt the defensive shape of the team.
"We are fortunate to have a lot of depth on the defensive line," shared defensive captain Jason Hernandez. "We have the privilege of not having reserve guys and first team guys — everyone is capable of playing week in and week out. We don't miss a beat no matter who is out there."
The Quakes came out from the opening whistle playing an energized brand of defense that may have conceded acres of space in the midfield, but seldom yielded dangerous shots on goal within 25 yards of goal. For much of the first half, the Rapids dangerous attacking duo of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings were rendered ineffective.
"I think we learned our lesson last week against Chivas USA," explained Hernandez, "where their midfielders were able to come underneath and connect in front of our defense. We learned a great deal from watching the video and talked about what needed to change in this game. You saw the communication and movement with Bobby (Burling) and Brandon (McDonald) and me to form a defensive triangle out there and have the ability to keep track of their attacking guys."
The resolute Earthquake defending continued into the second half. In the first 15 minutes of the half, Colorado could do little to break down the well drilled back four. Meanwhile, the Quakes were content to look for opportunities to quickly counterattack in times where they were able to lure the Rapids deep into their own end of the field. Midfield wingers Bobby Convey and Joey Gjertsen played back enough to prevent the Rapids from finding space above the Quakes penalty area, but were always ready to work the ball up the sidelines when they could gain possession.
Explaining the strategy he used in this match, coach Yallop talked about the importance of keeping a solid defensive shape, and letting the opponent knock the ball around well outside the attacking third. Giving up the time of possession statistic to the Rapids was just fine by him.
"I thought they managed the ball better then we did in their midfield," said Yallop. "We can't play like they play, we don't have the players for that. We're more direct and dynamic going straight to goal. If we try to play the style of our opponent, we are poor."
A trio of Earthquakes substitutes made their Buck Shaw debuts in the second half, including rookies Brad Ring and Justin Morrow. Both were effective in replacing the hard working Andre Luiz and Corrales, and did not allow the Rapids to threaten the Quakes one goal lead. The most anticipated debut was from Brazilian forward Eduardo, who replaced an exhausted Johnson in the 59th minute. Johnson, still recovering from a midweek International friendly played with Jamaica against South Africa in Germany, did well on the night holding up possession and distributing to the trailing midfielders. Eduardo was inserted into the game and was expected to do the same.
"There's more to come from him (Eduardo)," warned Yallop. "I thought he did well in the short spell that he had. He will help us keep the ball and be dangerous going forward."
Overall, the Earthquakes did not play a match for the ages, but they did enough to earn a close 1-0 victory. A bugaboo for the team last season was the inability to see out games in the waning minutes of the second half, but on this occasion they stood strong defensively and walked away with all three points.
"I thought we played really well against New England," said Yallop. "That was probably our best performance since we've been back in the league. However, I think tonight was an average performance, but a great show of spirit from the team."
"It wasn't our prettiest game, but it was one that I am proud of," added Wondolowski after the match. "Credit the workmanlike effort from all 14 guys."
Hard work over the whole field, solid defensive and goalkeeping play, a well taken goal from an in-form striker, and a sound strategy to frustrate the Rapids attackers: the ideal recipe for a victory that gives the Quakes a winning record and a shot of confidence going forward. Continue to play to their strengths in the early season, while letting their offensive minded players round back into game shape, and a good season lies ahead.
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San Jose Earthquakes (3-2-0) vs. Colorado Rapids (3-2-1)
May 1, 2010 - Buck Shaw Stadium
Scoring Summary: SJ -- Chris Wondolowski (Ryan Johnson, Ramiro Corrales) 33.
Misconduct Summary: SJ --Chris Leitch (caution) 87; SJ -- Bobby Convey (caution) 93+; COL -- Wells Thompson (caution) 94+.
San Jose Earthquakes -- Joe Cannon, Ramiro Corrales (Justin Morrow 84), Jason Hernandez, Bobby Burling, Chris Leitch, Bobby Convey, Brandon McDonald, Andre Luiz (Brad Ring 59), Joey Gjertsen, Ryan Johnson (Eduardo 59), Chris Wondolowski.
Statistics: Shots: 8; Shots on Goal: 5; Fouls: 13; Offsides: 1; Corners: 3.
Colorado -- Matt Pickens, Danny Earls (Julien Baudet 61), Drew Moor, Marvell Wynne, Kosuke Kimura, Wells Thompson, Pablo Mastroeni, Jeff Larentowicz (Claudio Lopez 77), Mehdi Ballouchy, Conor Casey, Omar Cummings (Quincy Amarikwa 70).
Statistics: Shots: 12; Shots on Goal: 2; Fouls: 8; Offsides: 4; Corners: 4.