Late match heroics had been missing from the San Jose Earthquakes script as of late, but with the return of forward Steven Lenhart, the comeback kids were at in again in a 1-1 draw against the Chicago Fire.
“We never think we are going to lose,” said Lenhart.
After falling behind by a goal in the first half, and then seeing their furious attempt to equalize turned away at every opportunity by the extraordinary play of Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, the Earthquakes finally scored in the dying moments of second half stoppage time to earn a point on the evening.
“We kept battling to the end, and that’s the type of team we are,” said Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch. “We’ve been doing it all season and we got a point out of something we should have gotten a point out of.”
Busch was instrumental in keeping the Earthquakes in the game down just a goal by coming up with a remarkable save late in the second half. He called the save part of doing his job for the team, and instead saved his praise for Lenhart.
“It had to be Lenny,” said Busch, “it’s like a friggin' fairy tale going on. It had to be Lenny tonight on wig night and in his first game back. He came in and did what he always does. He deserves the goal, and he was fantastic.”
Lenhart, who had been out of action since early July with concussion symptoms, entered the game midway through the second half to the delight of the Buck Shaw stadium crowd of 10,525, many who were wearing curly yellow wigs as the Earthquakes celebrated Steven Lenhart Wig Night. The originator of San Jose’s “Goonies never say die” motto for the 2012 season, it was fitting for Lenhart to have equalized in such dramatic fashion to earn the point against the Fire.
“It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy,” said head coach Frank Yallop. “He’s had a lot of stuff in his life that has not gone too well the last two years. Obviously a fitting guy to score tonight on his comeback game and I’m very pleased for him. All the guys are happy with Lenny.”
“It’s great to have him back in the team,” added defender Jason Hernandez. “We’ve missed him.”
Meanwhile, on the opposite bench, Fire head coach Frank Klopas could only rue the lost opportunity his squad had to get a rare victory on the West coast.
“We had a chance to hold onto the ball in the end,” said Klopas, “but we gave it back. It’s a little harsh like that to give it up on the last play.”
The draw extended the Earthquakes lead atop the Western Conference standings over Real Salt Lake to two points, and helped San Jose avoid their first two game losing streak of the season. The Earthquakes also pushed their unbeaten streak at Buck Shaw Stadium to 12 games dating back to a 2-0 win against Chicago on September 10, 2011.
The Fire were the first to threaten to score when in the 14th minute Chicago forward Dominic Oduro shook off Earthquakes defender Hernandez and turned to shoot on target. Goalkeeper Busch sensed the danger and advanced to make a deflection save that he was able to corral to safety.
The Earthquakes first chance of the night came in the 21st minute, when defender Jed Zayner, playing for the suspended Steven Beitashour, sent a cross into the area that Simon Dawkins volleyed toward goal. A reaction save from Fire goalkeeper Johnson was enough to push the ball out of harm’s way.
A clever sequence from Chicago in the 26th minute nearly paid dividends when defender Austin Berry played a crossing pass off his chest directly into the path of Brazilian midfielder Alex. From just inside the area, Alex volleyed the ball toward the far post, but Busch was able to make a diving save and turn the ball out for a corner kick.
In the 33rd minute, a long ball from the defensive third found target forward Alan Gordon, who deftly laid the ball off to Chris Wondolowski on the left wing. Wondolowski waited patiently with the ball just inside the area before sending a through ball across the box for Dawkins. With the ball just out of reach, Dawkins could only direct the ball toward goal, and Johnson made a great reaction save.
Three minute later, Dawkins capped off a sublime effort dribbling the ball through a series of Chicago defenders with a shot that looked destined to hit the back of the net. Unfortunately for Dawkins, the attempt was too close to Johnson, and the ‘keeper made another good save to deny the Englishman a goal.
Having weathered the San Jose offensive storm, Chicago opened the evening’s scoring in the 37th minute from a clever effort from Chris Rolfe. Collecting a pass from Patrick Nyarko near the top of the Earthquakes area, the midfielder took a couple touches toward goal, and spying Busch off his line, poked a shot from 25 yards over the ‘keeper and into the back of the net for the Fire goal.
The Earthquakes had the better of the statistics in the first half, but Chicago led where it mattered most, and they entered halftime with a 1-0 lead.
Neither side was able to create much in the initial stages of the second half, with much of the possession concentrated in the central third of the field. The Earthquakes had a great opportunity to pull level in the 59th minute, when a looping cross into the area was measured by Gordon and headed toward the far post. Stretching far to his right, Fire goalkeeper Johnson kept the ball out of the goal and the Earthquakes off the scoreboard.
Looking to spark the offense, the Earthquakes introduced Lenhart for Rafael Baca in the 60th minute and rookie Sam Garza for Zayner in the 72nd minute. The moves energized the team, and the pace of the game increased tremendously.
In the 76th minute, Wondolowski, now playing as more of a central midfielder, tried his luck from distance after collecting a ball 25 yards from goal. The low shot was on target, but easily caught by Johnson.
Chicago nearly doubled their lead in the 79th minute on a quick counterattack down the right wing that saw Logan Pause get loose behind defender Justin Morrow. With only Busch to beat, Pause sent a low shot intended for the far post that the ‘keeper deflected just enough to send the ball harmlessly wide.
“That’s what I am supposed to do,” said Busch. “I make important saves. I wanted to stand up and make myself big and I was fortunate to get a right hand on it. It keeps us in the game at 1-0, but if it had gone in it would have been game over.”
The Earthquakes poured forward in search of an equalizer as the game approached an end, and nearly broke through on a corner kick in the 86th minute. Pouncing on a loose ball in the six-yard box, Lenhart rocketed a ball on target that ricocheted off the chest of ‘keeper Johnson and out of the mixer.
“I’ve told people since day one that he going to be the future national team goalkeeper,” said Busch of his counterpart on the Fire, “and nobody believed me.”
“I’ve not seen a performance like that for a long time,” added Yallop, “live or on TV. I thought he made three or four unbelievable saves.”
Five minutes of stoppage time were announced, which gave the Earthquakes plenty of time to earn a comeback, but it didn’t look like it was going to happen. In the second minute of stoppage time, Gordon earned a yellow card, his second of the game, and was ejected for a tough tackle while going for a loose ball in the area. Down to 10 men, and without coach Yallop, who was ejected for arguing with the referee, it appeared the Fire would hang on to claim victory.
“I think my frustration got the better of me,” said Yallop. “He’s trying to poke the ball to goal and he gets to it first and kind of misses the ball, but it’s not like he’s trying to injury the player.”
However, on Steven Lenhart Wig Night, the curly-haired forward played the hero. With just seconds left in the game, a desperation long ball from Shea Salinas entered the Chicago area and was chested down by Wondolowski. Lenhart, racing in from the top of the area, blasted the ball low and to the left to beat Johnson to the far post and give the Earthquakes the tying goal.
With the rescued point against Chicago, the Earthquakes extended their season-long unbeaten streak at Buck Shaw Stadium and earned their 44th point of the MLS season. San Jose next faces Swansea City of the EPL in a friendly match at Buck Shaw this Tuesday night.
San Jose Earthquakes (13-5-5, 44 pts.) vs. Chicago Fire (9-7-6, 33 pts.)
July 28, 2012 — Buck Shaw Stadium
Scoring Summary: CHI — Chris Rolfe (Patrick Nyarko) 37; SJ — Steven Lenhart (Chris Wondolowski. Shea Salinas) 90+8.
Misconduct Summary: SJ — Alan Gordon (caution) 54; CHI — Dan Gargan (caution) 70; SJ — Alan Gordon (ejection) 90+3; SJ — Chris Wondolowski (caution) 90+3.
San Jose Earthquakes — Jon Busch, Jed Zayner (Sam Garza 72), Victor Bernardez (Ike Opara 81), Jason Hernandez, Justin Morrow, Shea Salinas, Sam Cronin, Rafael Baca (Steven Lenhart 59), Simon Dawkins, Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon.
Statistics: Total Shots: 24; Shots on Goal: 11; Saves: 6; Fouls: 14; Offside: 0; Corner Kicks: 9.
Chicago Fire — Sean Johnson, Jalil Anibaba, Austin Berry, Arne Friedrich, Dan Gargan, Chris Rolfe (Daniel Paladini 89), Alex (Hunter Jumper 83), Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause, Patrick Nyarko, Dominic Oduro (Sherjill MacDonald 64).
Statistics: Total Shots: 20; Shots on Goal: 7; Saves: 10; Fouls: 10; Offside: 1; Corner Kicks: 6.