The stage was set. A two goal lead by the opponent had been cut to one with a dramatic 89th minute strike. Then, in stoppage time, a penalty kick was awarded that if converted would complete the late game heroics and secure a well earned point. A nervous hush fell over the crowd as the ball was placed atop the white spot just 12 yards from goal. Run, shoot, kick, and the comeback would be complete.
At any other point in this magical 2012 season, the above script would have been written with the San Jose Earthquakes starring in the leading role. However, as through some cruel turn of fate, it was visiting FC Dallas that sent defender Jair Benitez forward looking to rescue a point at the death and send Quakes’ supporters home heartbroken.
Hard work and hustle was the recipe the Earthquakes followed in marching to the top of the MLS standings at the halfway point of the season, but even the best of teams need a little bit of luck along the way.
Benitez, who had never scored in his MLS career, kept his personal shutout streak alive by sending his PK disappointingly over the crossbar. The audible sigh of relief from players and fans alike gave way to a lusty but grateful roar of approval, and San Jose played out the last minute en route to their 11th straight game at Buck Shaw Stadium without a loss.
First half goals from Marvin Chavez and Alan Gordon staked the Quakes to a two goal lead, but that was halved by a late second half Hernan Pertuz goal. They then hung on to earn all three points with a fortuitous 2-1 victory when Benitez was unsuccessful from the penalty spot.
“We came out winning the game,” said head coach Frank Yallop, “but I think Dallas deserved more out of it. If they had equalized with the penalty kick late in the game, I think you would have said that they deserved the draw.”
The Earthquakes had their own issues from the penalty spot, as team leading scorer Chris Wondolowski missed a chance to notch his 18th goal of the season early in the second half. With new life, FC Dallas stayed active up to and into stoppage time, while San Jose barely hung on in surviving for their second win of the week.
“I don’t think it was our best game,” said Wondolowski. “We played really well in stretches, but we got way too lax in the end. We have to be smarter and see games out.”
Coach Yallop used the same starting XI that featured against Real Salt Lake in last Saturday night’s 5-0 win, and some legs started to look weary as the game wore on. In fact, it was FC Dallas that nearly flipped the script on the Earthquakes, coming ever so close to stealing a point from San Jose and pushing their own unbeaten streak to five games.
“I think we played well,” said forward Gordon, “but we have to keep our foot on the gas. Teams in this league have the capability to come back, as we’ve shown numerous times this season.”
By virtue of an excellent defensive display from the Earthquakes over the first 60 minutes of the match, San Jose could have salted away the victory if a penalty kick goal by Wondolowski with his team ahead 2-0 was allowed to stand in the 61st minute. However, the goal was called back for encroachment by defender Justin Morrow, and Wondolowski’s second attempt was saved by goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.
“I have to make it,” said Wondolowski. “It’s a shot from 12 yards out. It doesn’t matter if I have to take the shot five times over, I have to make it each time. It could have killed off the game, but it gave them a little bit of hope. We have to finish them off there.”
The victory gave the Earthquakes home victory number seven and pushed their season points total to 43. San Jose also recorded their 13th win of the season, matching their highest total since returning to MLS in 2008, last accomplished in 2010. The Earthquakes reached the postseason that year and were a game away from playing for the MLS Cup championship.
The Earthquakes first goal of the match came courtesy of former FC Dallas man Chavez in the 12th minute, when he connected on a long cross from Shea Salinas at the edge of the area and beat ‘keeper Hartman to the far post. For Chavez, the one-timed low shot was taken from the same spot where he had been leveled on a non-call just two minutes earlier, but he wasn’t overly excited that his first goal of 2012 cam against his former team.
“I’m just very happy,” said Chavez through an interpreter. “It doesn’t matter who I score against. I am happy to get a goal and help my team get three points.”
Throughout the first half, the Earthquakes defense remained resolute in fending off eight FC Dallas corner kicks and numerous other scoring opportunities. While goalkeeper Jon Busch was credited with making 3 saves in the half, it was the back four defenders which made clearance after clearance that protected the Earthquakes one goal lead.
“I liked how Jason (Hernandez) and Victor (Bernardez) soaked up a lot of pressure in the middle,” said Yallop. “They did all the right things. Our two outside backs did well too, especially with their wide guys who are speedy and quick. It was a good team defending performance. We really put our bodies on the line all night on that front.”
San Jose doubled their lead in the 45th minute following a giveaway by the Dallas defense that was collected by Gordon 25 yards from goal. A square ball to Wondolowski was passed back to Rafael Baca then out wide to Sam Cronin. Gordon continued to make his run into the area, and Cronin delivered a perfect cross for the tall forward to head home for a 2-0 Earthquakes lead.
The Earthquakes thought they had made it a three goal lead in the 61st minute, when Wondolowski buried a penalty kick following a hand ball in the area by Brek Shea. However, referee Kevin Stott adjudged that the Earthquakes had encroached on the area before the kick, and the goal was waved off. On the retake, Hartman guessed correctly and made the save on Wondolowski’s low shot to the right post to deny the MLS goal scoring leader his 18th of the season.
San Jose made pair of substitutions midway through the second half with both goal scorers Chavez in the 68th minute and Gordon in the 71st minute being replaced by Simon Dawkins and Khari Stephenson respectively.
A rash challenge from Fabian Castillo in the 81st minute on Morrow earned the FC Dallas frontman a yellow card. Steven Beitashour entered the fray to support his fallen teammate and took a yellow card for dissent against Castillo.
FC Dallas climbed back into the game in the 89th minute after a free kick delivered into the area was stabbed home by defender Pertuz. The visitors had a chance to complete their comeback in stoppage time when they earned a penalty kick after Dawkins had bundled over Zach Loyd in the area. However, Benitez sent his kick from the spot well over the crossbar and the Earthquakes escaped with the win.
Up next for the Earthquakes is a road trip to Vancouver to face the Whitecaps at BC Place this Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. PDT. The ‘Caps, returning home this week after a tough five game road trip, conceded two late goals to the Los Angeles Galaxy Wednesday night and had to settle for a 2-2 draw. The Earthquakes sit 7 points clear of Real Salt Lake at the top of the Western Conference standings and 12 points ahead of Vancouver.
San Jose Earthquakes (13-4-4, 43 pts.) vs. FC Dallas (4-10-7, 19 pts.)
July 18, 2012 — Buck Shaw Stadium
Scoring Summary: SJ — Marvin Chavez (Shea Salinas) 12; SJ — Alan Gordon (Sam Cronin, Rafael Baca) 45; FCD — Hernan Pertuz (Jackson) 89.
Misconduct Summary: FCD — Zach Loyd (caution) 13; SJ — Alan Gordon (caution) 36; SJ — Victor Bernardez (caution) 74; FCD — Jackson (caution) 74; FCD — Fabian Castillo (caution) 81; SJ — Steven Beitashour (caution) 81.
San Jose Earthquakes — Jon Busch, Steven Beitashour, Victor Bernardez, Jason Hernandez, Justin Morrow, Marvin Chavez (Simon Dawkins 69), Sam Cronin, Rafael Baca, Shea Salinas (Ramiro Corrales 90+5), Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon (Khari Stephenson 71).
Statistics: Total Shots: 10; Shots on Goal: 3; Saves: 6; Fouls: 11; Offside: 1; Corner Kicks: 7.
FC Dallas — Kevin Hartman Zach Loyd, Matt Hedges, Hernan Pertuz, Jair Benitez, Jackson, Julian de Guzman, David Ferreira (Scott Sealy 82), Andrew Jacobson, Fabian Castillo (James Marcelin 90+5), Brek Shea (Carlos Rodriguez 64).
Statistics: Total Shots: 15; Shots on Goal: 7; Saves: 1; Fouls: 9; Offside: 2; Corner Kicks: 11.