Any doubts as the vitality of the oldest rivalry in Major League Soccer were undoubtedly put to rest Saturday night as the San Jose Earthquakes and Los Angeles Galaxy put on one of the best California Clasico matches ever.
An exciting back-and-forth game between the two teams at sold-out Stanford Stadium finished with the Earthquakes victorious over their Southern California rivals by a score of 4-3. After scoring first through Steven Lenhart, but then falling behind to the Galaxy 3-1 late in the first half, the Earthquakes scored three unanswered goals culminating in team MVP Chris Wondolowski’s acrobatic back-heeled match winner.
"This was a statement win for us," said Wondolowski. "They have been playing great soccer as of late, and we knew they would come out firing. We played one sloppy first half, but we tightened up and played a great second half. I don’t want to say we like coming back from two-goal deficits, but if it results in three points, I’ll take it every time."
Most improbably, for the second time this season, the Earthquakes overcame a two goal deficit to the Galaxy earn the victory. However, unlike their 3-2 win in Los Angeles back in May, San Jose faced a full-strength Galaxy side Saturday evening. Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop was especially impressed with how his team measured up against last season’s MLS Cup champions.
"It was a terrific win for our club and another valuable three points for us," said Yallop. "The guys really dug in. For us to be down 3-1 to the defending champions and come back and win was quite amazing. The spirit was great throughout the game, it has been there all season, and we witnessed it again tonight."
San Jose Earthquakes captain Ramiro Corrales earned the assist on Wondolowski’s game winning goal, and the last of the MLS originals looked at the win against the Galaxy as just another example of the team’s never say die mantra.
"It’s the attitude and the commitment of the players," said Corrales. "We believe in each other and I think every time we’ve been down, we know we are going to get our chances to tie it or win it. We’ve proven it week in and week out, so it is very good."
Defensive midfielder Sam Cronin, who just minutes into the second half had scored to bring the Earthquakes level with the Galaxy at 3-3, shared the sentiments of his teammates.
"Games like this are a testament to our team spirit and team belief," said Cronin. "No matter how poorly we play or mistakes we make, we are going to keep grinding and pushing and trying to pull out it in the end."
As the sun set slowly over the western Palo Alto hills, a record breaking crowd of 50,391 packed into Stanford Stadium for the second California Clasico of the 2012 MLS season. The Los Angeles Galaxy boasted in line-up featuring three Designated Players in David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Robbie Keane, but the San Jose Earthquakes countered with MLS Golden Boot leader Wondolowski leading the charge for the home side.
Within minutes of the start of the game, it was clear that San Jose’s annual summer visit to Stanford was going be memorable. The Earthquakes struck first in the 7th minute, when speedy midfielder Marvin Chavez cut a ball back from the right touchline back across the top of the Galaxy penalty area and struck a knuckling shot that Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders did his best to bundle away. The loose ball in the six yard box was quickly pounced on by Lenhart and tapped into the open goal to put the Earthquakes up 1-0.
Perhaps not used to playing with the lead, the Earthquakes found themselves on the ground looking up after a disastrous 10 minute sequence. Following a spell of good possession from the Galaxy, the visitors equalized in the 31st minute courtesy of a trademark free kick goal from Beckham. Taken just outside the penalty area following a foul on Mike Magee, Beckham curled the ball over the Earthquakes defensive wall and into the upper corner to bring Los Angeles level.
The visitors then scored the next two goals courtesy of some horror defending by the Earthquakes. In the 36th minute, a diagonal ball from Mike Magee to Hector Jimenez left the Galaxy midfielder with an open goal to shoot at. Quakes defender Jason Hernandez raced back in an attempt to clear the ball, but instead deflected it into the net for an own-goal. The Galaxy scored again in the 41st minute through Donovan, and again Hernandez was to blame. His ill-advised back-pass to goalkeeper Jon Busch was intercepted by Magee, sent outside to Jimenez, and squared back into the area for Donovan to finish and put Los Angeles up 3-1.
The Earthquakes kept possession from the restart and were finally rewarded for their efforts in the 44th minute, when a seeing-eye through-ball from Steven Beitashour found Wondolowski driving into the area. The ball was tackled out for a corner kick, which Chavez lined up from deep in the right corner. His kick into the area was met by defender Bernardez as he sliced between two defenders and kicked into the back of the net to bring the Earthquakes within a goal of the Galaxy going into halftime.
"Victor’s goal at the end of the first half was the biggest moment of the game," said Cronin. "It gave us a little bit of hope going into the locker room. We were fired up in there and knew that if we pushed the game we’d have a successful second half."
All was not well for the Earthquakes, as a dust-up in their defensive area led to goalkeeper Jon Busch suffering a black eye and a scratched cornea. The always tough Busch gamely planned the entire first half, but was eventually substituted out at halftime in favor of second year ‘keeper David Bingham.
"As the half went one, I thought I had something in my eye. I just could not keep my left eye open very long and I was constantly blinking. At halftime we washed it out pretty good but it didn’t help. I knew that it would probably get worse if I kept playing in the second half.
The second half started brightly for the Earthquakes, as in the 47th minute, Beitashour found space just inside the center line and sent a long ball toward the top of the Galaxy area. Lenhart, as he often does in the attacking third, drew a Galaxy defender toward him and dummied the ball for Cronin to run onto toward the Los Angeles area. With only goalkeeper Saunders to beat, Cronin slotted the ball beyond his reach and just inside the far post to bring the score to 3-3.
The Earthquakes regained the lead in the 61st minute when a corner kick from Chavez was driven low and flicked into the Galaxy six-yard box by Corrales. Who else but Wondolowski was there to meet the ball, and the Earthquakes MVP shook loose of his marker A.J. DeLaGarza to back-heel a shot past Saunders for his 14th goal of the MLS season.
"Great finish," said Yallop. "Wondolowski’s one of the most elusive strikers in the league. He knows how to time his runs to get on the ends of crosses and chances. His goal scoring record is pretty impressive."
"The guy is unbelievable," said Corrales. "He finds a way to score a goal every game. He always finds a step on his defender and the inch he needs to score. He’s been great for us."
The Galaxy put together a spirited effort to get back into the game, but second half substitute goalkeeper David Bingham, playing for the injured Busch, kept the home side ahead. In the 74th minute, with Beckham charging into the area with the ball at his feet, he poked a ball toward goal that Bingham dove to turn around the post.
"Yeah, it felt good to get the save," said Bingham. "It was a scrappy battle, that’s just the nature of our league. We’re a very good team and a lot of people underestimate us. We’ll fight for 90 minutes if we have to. Our tem defense was absolutely great in the second half, so it was a very good effort for us."
In the 84th minute, from a Galaxy corner kick, defender Sean Franklin took a long crack on goal, but the Earthquakes deflected the ball to safety and the Galaxy calls for a hand-ball in the area were unheeded by the referee.
The Galaxy continued to push forward, and just a minute later nearly found the equalizer, as a looping ball was poorly handled by Bingham and dropped just in front of the goal. With Los Angeles substitute Chad Barrett rushing into the area to put home the loose ball, San Jose defender Justin Morrow saved Bingham’s blushes with a sliding save at the far post. Morrow then marshaled a follow up attempt from David Lopes over the byline for a Galaxy corner kick.
"When you get that deep into a game, everyone is telling one another to be sharp," said Morrow, "and that was the time I needed to be sharp. It’s like seconds waiting for the ball to come down, but it feels like minutes on the field. I was on the inside of my man and in good position to clear the ball."
Some late game misbehavior from Beckham earned him a yellow card for kicking a ball at Cronin, and the suddenly mercurial midfielder will now sit out the Galaxy’s next match due to yellow card accumulation.
Having played half the games in their 34-game MLS regular season, San Jose has collected 36 points and sits atop the Western Conference. In the overall MLS table, they also hold the top spot and so sit in the driver’s seat for the Supporters’ Shield trophy. The Earthquakes will start the second half of their season next week with a pair of road games at the Portland Timbers on Tuesday and at FC Dallas on Saturday.
San Jose Earthquakes (11-3-3) vs. LA Galaxy (6-9-2)
June 30, 2012 — Stanford Stadium
Scoring Summary: SJ — Steven Lenhart (unassisted) 7; LA — David Beckham (unassisted) 31; LA — Own Goal (Jason Hernandez) 36; LA — Landon Donovan (Hector Jimenez, Mike Magee) 41; SJ — Victor Bernardez (Marvin Chavez) 44; SJ — Sam Cronin (Steven Beitashour) 47; SJ — Chris Wondolowski (Ramiro Corrales, Marvin Chavez) 61.
Misconduct Summary: LA — Juninho (caution) 24; SJ — Ramiro Corrales (caution) 27; SJ — Steven Lenhart (caution) 45+2; SJ — Victor Bernardez (caution) 45+6; LA — David Lopes Junior (caution) 86; LA — David Beckham (caution) 90+2.
San Jose Earthquakes — Jon Busch (David Bingham 46), Steven Beitashour, Victor Bernardez, Jason Hernandez, Justin Morrow, Marvin Chavez (Khari Stephenson 88), Sam Cronin, Rafael Baca, Ramiro Corrales, Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart (Alan Gordon 68).
Statistics: Total Shots: 19; Shots on Goal: 9; Saves: 3; Fouls: 10; Offside: 5; Corner Kicks: 9.
LA Galaxy — Josh Saunders, Sean Franklin, A.J. DeLaGarza, David Junior Lopes, Todd Dunivant (Bryan Gaul 83), Hector Jimenez (Marcelo Savas 81), David Beckham, Juninho, Mike Magee (Chad Barrett 74), Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane.
Statistics: Total Shots: 14; Shots on Goal: 5; Saves: 5; Fouls: 9; Offside: 0; Corner Kicks: 8.