The San Jose Earthquakes ensured that their 2012 U.S. Open Cup tournament run will continue for at least another round, as a Steven Lenhart headed goal proved the difference in a 1-0 victory over the resilient Minnesota Stars. Coming in the 85th minute of a tense affair between the MLS and NASL representatives, Lenhart’s score, assisted by a wonderful cross from Steven Beitashour, treated the 1548 fans in attendance at Stanford University’s Cagan Stadium to another evening of late game heroics from the “Never Say Die” Earthquakes.
“I am confident in our team, and I knew we were going to get a couple chances,” said Lenhart of the team’s will to win. “The teams we are playing are fighting and make for good competition, but we did a good job to give ourselves a chance in the game and also to keep a clean sheet. It all worked out tonight.”
Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop was also pleased with his team’s effort on the night, especially against a tough opponent in the Minnesota Stars, the defending champions of the NASL, and their “We Believe” torch bearing head coach Manny Lagos.
“They are a good side,” said Yallop with a profound respect for the Earthquakes opponent, “and that was their first loss in 18 matches. You have to give credit to Minnesota for they were good tonight, and they made it difficult for us. We played pretty well in spells but not a dominate game for us. I think in the end, on the balance of chances, we deserved to go through.”
From the opening whistle, the Stars executed a game plan that relied heavily on defense with bursts of counterattacking soccer in their efforts to upset their MLS opponent. And for the better part of Tuesday night, their efforts were rewarded, as the Earthquakes were consistently frustrated in trying to earn the game’s first goal. However, even the most stalwart of defenses can unfortunately yield if even for a moment, and San Jose’s perseverance finally paid off with Lenhart’s late match winner.
“I think you saw a different level of opposition tonight,” continued Yallop. “That was a good side we played tonight. They made it difficult for us and moved well on the break, but I thought we handled it well. It shows the spirit of this team. We had chances early, but we kept going and I was very proud of the way we managed it and won in the end.”
The fourth round U.S. Open Cup victory over Minnesota keeps the Earthquakes alive in America’s oldest running soccer tournament, now in its 99th year, and means that the team will add another game to its already crowded early summer schedule. Including San Jose’s quarterfinal round Open Cup match on June 26 when they will face off against fellow MLS foe Seattle Sounders, the Earthquakes could play as many as 10 games during the 33 day stretch that starts when they return to league action on June 20 for a road match against the Colorado Rapids. However, Lenhart wasn’t concerned by the impending fixture congestion, and instead suggested that the upcoming intense run of games comes at a good time and would help the team in the long run of the 2012 season.
“To win tonight was a totally good result for our team,” said Lenhart. “The more games the better. Guys get opportunities to play in these games, and we like to win. The more games we play, the more we mesh and the more we learn about each other, the more we build character and camaraderie. So I enjoy these games, and this tournament is important to us.”
The match against the Minnesota Stars kicked off at the unusual time of 8:00 p.m., a time change concession made in order to minimize the impact of the setting sun on the south end goalkeeper, but neither team showed any lack of energy during the game’s opening stages. Intensity from both sides favored the defenses early on, and scoring opportunities rarely developed, but as the first half wore on, the game began to open up.
In the 17th minute, San Jose registered their first quality shot when Alan Gordon, paired up top with Lenhart as part of a twin-towers forward duo, nearly put the home side ahead with a left footed effort. Following a nifty pass from midfield maestro Tressor Moreno that gave Lenhart the opportunity to turn the ball into the path of Gordon, the lanky forward was not able to strike the ball cleanly and the ball squirted just wide of the left post.
The Earthquakes had their best scoring chance of the opening stanza when in the 27th minute Gordon directed a deft pass from Moreno into open space in the Minnesota penalty area for Lenhart. With just the goalkeeper to beat, Lenhart unleashed a blistering shot that Stars goalkeeper Matt VanOekel got a hand to and deflected the ball off the inside of the far post and bottom of the crossbar before it was cleared by the defense. The entire Earthquakes team sensed that the goal was imminent, and all seemed to shut down when the chance presented itself to attack the rebound, and the Stars defused the dangerous situation.
In the 32nd minute, the Earthquakes again had an opportunity to break the deadlock, when the Minnesota defense could only clear the ball as far as the top of the area following a San Jose drive into the Stars attacking third. Midfielder Marvin Chavez collected the loose ball, took a touch to balance himself, and shot the ball on target, but directly at the ‘keeper. VanOekel made the initial save on the blazing shot, but the ball squirted away dangerously in the six yard box. Sensing an opportunity to deposit the rebound in the net, Lenhart raced into the area in pursuit of the ball, but VanOekel reached it just before the Earthquakes striker.
The Stars had their best first half chance to take the lead in the 37th minute, when on a counterattack against the run of play, midfielder Miguel Ibarra found possession of the ball near the top right corner of the Quakes’ penalty area and took a chance from 20 yards out that barely eluded the upward grasp of Earthquakes goalkeeper David Bingham and skimmed teasingly off the top of the crossbar.
With neither team looking like a threat to break the scoreless tie in the closing minutes of the first half, the play from both sides turned a bit more physical. The two teams traded yellow cards as the first half wore down, with Stars captain Kyle Altman earning a caution for a tackle on Lenhart in the 42nd minute and Earthquakes defender Beitashour seeing a card for obstruction on a Minnesota counterattack in the 45th minute.
The Earthquakes opened the second half with a much more verve than they displayed in the first 45 minutes. In the 48th minute, a great headed ball from defender Ike Opara, playing in an advanced position following a prior corner kick, appeared destined to find the back of the net, and ‘keeper VanOekel did well to tip the effort over the bar.
The match turned into a track meet over the next twenty minutes as both sides looked to exploit defensive lapses by their opponents. Nothing came of the opportunities, but a succession of aggressive plays from both teams led to yellow cards awarded to Earthquakes captain Ramiro Corrales in the 55th minute and Stars defender Justin Davis in the 60th minute by referee Alejandro Mariscal.
A heads-up play by Corrales nearly provided the pass that the Earthquakes needed to break the deadlock, as the Earthquakes captain stole a poor defensive clearance attempt and carried the ball deep into Stars territory. Righting himself at the left edge of the penalty area, Corrales sent the ball solidly to the far post in search of one of the two twin tower Quakes’ forwards. Recent late game hero Gordon jumped high into the Palo Alto evening air to meet the ball, but could not direct his header on target, and the ball flew agonizingly high and wide of the target.
The Earthquakes made their first substitution of the match in the 65th minute, as midfielder Simon Dawkins came in for a hobbled Sam Garza. In the 78th minute, another change brought Rafael Baca in for Gordon. The pair of substitutes turned the momentum of the match in the favor of the Earthquakes, and the team finally began to separate themselves from their worthy NASL opponent.
The Earthquakes finally broke through in the 85th minute, as some fancy footwork from Chavez along the right touchline freed the Honduran playmaker to spring Beitashour on a deep overlapping run into the right corner. From the edge of the byline, as he was being taken out by a Stars defender, the Quakes’ leading assist provider floated the ball into the area for Lenhart to expertly head past goalkeeper VanOekel for the San Jose goal.
“Beitashour made a good run,” described Lenhart. “It looked like he was trying really hard to get there, and it might have taken a deflection when he crossed it, but it kind of happened in just the right way. The team kept us in a good position to get that goal, with guys pushing forward and we kept our heads in the game just like every other game. It was a good play.”
“Marvin played a great ball and saw me overlapping,” said Beitashour. “I just got to it before the other guy and put in a good ball for Lenhart, and he does what he does: score goals. Lenny is great. He finishes almost everything with his head. All I try to do is get the ball in the air and Lenny will do the rest.”
Following a joyous goal celebration, the Earthquakes set about salting away the match with a stifling total team defensive effort over the final minutes of regulation and stoppage time. Minnesota tried in vain to find an equalizer but could not break through, and the match ended 1-0 in favor of San Jose.
Up next for the Earthquakes in the U.S Open Cup is a quarterfinal against fellow MLS side and three-time defending tournament champion Seattle Sounders on June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.
(Cover photo: Lyndsay Radnedge, centerlinesoccer.com)
Minnesota Stars FC (NASL) at San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)
June 5, 2012 — Cagan Stadium, Stanford, Calif.
Scoring Summary: SJ — Steven Lenhart (Steven Beitashour, Marvin Chavez) 85.
Misconduct Summary: MN — Kyle Altman (caution) 42; SJ — Steven Beitashour (caution) 45; SJ — Ramiro Corrales (caution) 55; MN — Justin Davis (caution) 60; MN — Brian Kallman (caution) 90+3.
San Jose Earthquakes — David Bingham, Steven Beitashour, Ike Opara, Jason Hernandez, Ramiro Corrales, Sam Garza (Simon Dawkins 65), Jean-Marc Alexandre, Tressor Moreno (Sam Cronin 88), Marvin Chavez, Alan Gordon (Rafael Baca 77), Steven Lenhart.
Statistics: Total Shots: 13; Shots on Goal: 4; Saves: 3; Fouls: 13; Offside: 0; Corner Kicks: 8.
Minnesota Stars FC — Matt VanOekel, Justin Davis, Cristiano Dias, Kyle Altman, Brian Kallman, Neil Hlavaty, Kentaro Takada, Miguel Ibarra, Kevin Venegas, Simone Bracalello (Amani Walker 74), Martin Nunez (Devin Del Do 82).
Statistics: Total Shots: 10; Shots on Goal: 3; Saves: 3; Fouls: 8; Offside: 1; Corner Kicks: 5.