SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As is their forte, the San Jose Earthquakes came back from a deficit for the fourth straight match Wednesday night when they faced off against Eastern Conference minnows Toronto FC But, unlike in their three previous comebacks, the Quakes earned the full three points on offer, as second half goals from Adam Jahn and Chris Wondolowski overturned a one goal Toronto FC lead and gave San Jose a 2-1 victory.
“We have created chances like that as of late, but haven’t been able to finish,” said Wondolowski. “We came out with confidence and I feel us getting stronger every game.”
Toronto forward Justin Braun, who had four career goals against the Quakes heading into the game, scored the first goal of the evening in the first half, but a relentless effort from San Jose in the second half saw them snap their 6 match winless streak.
“It was great to see us win a game where we were a goal down,” said head coach Frank Yallop. “I always felt we had a chance to get the winner after Adam (Jahn) scored the other one a bit earlier. I’m very happy with the fighting spirit within our squad.”
Heading into the midweek match, San Jose could ill-afford to drop any more points at home. With nearly a third of their season complete, the Earthquakes needed a dominating performance to avoid dropping further down a crowded Western Conference table. However, with the score 0-1 in favor of Toronto at halftime, the Quakes did not look like a playoff caliber team, something that did not escape the coach’s attention.
“At halftime, I think I got their attention,” said Yallop about his locker room talk. “I felt that I needed to let them know the urgency of getting a win tonight. I thought the response in the second half was fantastic. We dominated the second half and I felt very comfortable that we were going to get back in the game.”
Goal scorers Jahn and Wondolowski will earn the headlines, but attacking midfielder Walter Martinez, making his first start for the Earthquakes, was the driving force behind San Jose’s first victory since March. For his coach, Martinez was the man of the match.
“I thought Walter played a terrific game,” said Yallop. “I thought he played very well when he was in the middle, very well wide on both sides. He’s a good addition to our squad, and I was very happy with his performance tonight.”
“Walter had a very good second half,” added goalkeeper Jon Busch. “When he got into the mix in the second, he was controlling the ball and controlling the tempo of the game. I thought he was tremendous for us.”
The Honduran international, who along with San Jose teammate Victor Bernardez featured during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, was especially pleased to see his hard work to familiarize himself with his new club pay off.
“It felt good to be out there,” said Martinez. “I was more than comfortable to play every minute. This is a strong club with great players and I see how hard they work every day. Now we are taking our good play on the road to play a great Seattle Sounders FC side and I will remain ready to play whichever role is asked of my coaches, starting or off the bench.”
The Earthquakes, with 14 points from their first 11 matches, but still without a win on the road, make a quick turnaround, as this Saturday they’ll head to the northwest to face the Seattle Sounders.
“It’s just nice to get a win,” said Wondolowski. “We’ve played well enough to get it the past couple weeks but we haven’t found the result. It’s nice to finally get three points and hopefully it can snowball into this weekend.”
Yallop made two changes to the starting eleven that faced the Montreal Impact over the weekend as Martinez spelled Rafael Baca in the midfield and former Toronto FC defender Dan Gargan replaced Justin Morrow. Martinez made his first start of the season for the Quakes after making his MLS debut as a substitute against the Impact. With his inclusion at left back, Gargan celebrated his 100th career MLS start.
Losers of the pregame coin-flip, Toronto played into the setting California sun to start the game, and the Earthquakes looked to attack in the early going to take advantage. In the 6th minute a long diagonal pass from Wondolowski found Marvin Chavez streaking down the right wing. The midfielder created space in the corner before sending a cross back over the area to an onrushing Wondolowski near the far post. Wondo looped a header toward the opposite post, but TFC goalkeeper Joe Bendik did well to paw the ball away from danger.
After weathering the opening San Jose salvo, Toronto broke through in the 15th minute through a set piece opportunity. A free kick just inside the center line from TFC was met by defender Donell Henry, getting the better of Bernardez near the penalty spot, and flicked forward. Notorious Quakes-killer Braun volleyed the ball through his marker and past goalkeeper Busch to put TFC up 1-0. For Braun, it was his fifth career goal against the Earthquakes.
The Quakes tried to counter quickly, and created a good opportunity one minute after Braun’s goal, but a 20 yard effort from Chavez sailed just wide of the post.
In the 27th minute, Jahn did his best to earn an equalizer, as he expertly chested down a floated pass near the top of the area and spun toward goal. His volleyed shot was well struck, but it sailed over the crossbar and crashed into the Buck Shaw Stadium video scoreboard behind the south goal.
The Earthquakes should have tied the score in the 45th minute through Shea Salinas, but the midfielder skied an open shot from 10 yards out after receiving a well placed pass from Wondolowski. The Toronto defense was caught watching the play after expecting an offside call against Wondo, but referee Fotis Bazakos did not agree, and Logan Emory received a yellow card for dissent after the Salinas miss.
Halftime arrived with TFC leading 1-0 and the Earthquakes limped to the locker room where coach Yallop expressed his disappointment in the first half performance through a fiery tirade questioning his squad’s commitment to playing their best.
“I meant business when I spoke at halftime,” said Yallop. “It’s my job to let them know how I feel. We cannot let games like this slip by. Collectively it was a meek performance. Definitely, any team I have will give 100% no matter what, and I got it second half. I guess I woke them up.”
While Yallop would not share his exact words, electing instead to focus on the effect of his speech, the players received the message loud and clear.
“It was great because it got us fired up,” said Wondolowski. “He brought that passion in there that we were lacking in the first half and we carried it out in the second half. He brings such a great balance and is he so calm and collected. When you see him fired up like that, it makes you want it even more.”
“Frank came in and got on us and held us accountable, and I think that woke us up,” said Busch. “In a nutshell, he told us to go out and put in a better effort. … We didn’t have energy in the first half and he got us going. Sometimes you need that kick in the behind to get going.”
Yallop is well regarding around MLS as a players’ coach, so for him to challenge his troops in such a manner is out of the ordinary. For Wondolowski, the coach’s decision to address the team in such a manner was an important part of how the second half comeback unfolded.
“I’ve been here a couple of years, and it doesn’t come often, but it comes when it is needed,” said Wondolowski. “And it was needed and it was great to see it spill over onto the field.”
Following the closed-door meeting at half time, the Earthquakes stormed out to start the second half and quickly found an equalizing goal. In the 48th minute, from a throw in from Gargan, Wondolowski flicked a pass into the area for Jahn. The rookie forward took a soft touch was his right foot before unleashing a shot off the outside of his left boot that beat Bendik to the near post. Jahn’s fourth goal of the season tied the score at one goal apiece.
“The ball got played up to Wondo and he really does a great job of holding it,” said Jahn to CSN sideline reporter Kate Scott after the game. “I yelled for it and he heard me, and he just made a beautiful pass.”
While it was the long throw from Gargan that got the scoring sequence started, Jahn was quick to praise how important it has been to his development as a professional to play along side a player the caliber of Wondolowski.
“He’s the easiest player I’ve ever played with,” continued Jahn with CSN. “He makes everyone better around him and so it was really just a matter of time before we started clicking. I’m just grateful to play aside him.”
Also a team-first player, Wondolowski appreciated the kind words from Jahn. However he was very quick to acknowledge that it takes complementary players around him, including Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart, to lift him to the great heights he has achieved thus far in his MLS career.
“For me, it’s so nice and wonderful to have great guys around me,” said Wondolowski. “It helps elevate my game all around, especially smart players. … Adam sees the game so well; he makes me look good out there.”
Wondolowski also complimented how well Jahn has done in making the transition from the college game to the rigors of MLS.
“He’s such a technical player and he sees the game so well,” said Wondolowski. “I know it is a bit of a jump in the speed of play, but he is finding the game slowing down for him now.”
With the score leveled and playing on the ascendancy, San Jose continued to press forward and nearly went ahead through a flurry of offensive activity in the 67th minute. A clever run from Martinez allowed the midfielder to send a cross through the box that was narrowly missed by Chavez at the far post. Less than a minute later it was Chavez providing a cross to Martinez, but the Honduran connection failed to result in a goal as Martinez’ header went wide.
Toronto, forced to slow the game down with yellow card accumulation and substitutions finally yielded to the heavy Earthquakes pressure in the 81st minute. On a corner kick, Chavez drove a low ball into the area that Martinez redirected toward the six-yard box. Wondolowski met the pass and volleyed home the ball to give San Jose their first lead since the first half against Chivas USA two weeks ago.
“On a corner kick we all have our own runs,” explained Wondolowski. “Walter was supposed to come across near post and did a great job of it. I am right there behind him on my run, and I hoped the ball would find me. … When he first flicked it, I hoped it would get to me and it did.”
It was not a highlight reel finish from Wondolowski, but by hook or by crook, how the ball crosses the goal line is not important to the Earthquakes all-time leading scorer.
“I’m pretty sure it came off my thigh,” said Wondolowski. “it was kind of a flying pelvic thrust, and I’m not sure if that counts, but I’ll take it.”
San Jose survived a late Toronto effort in the 90th minute as the visitors made their first dangerous foray into the attacking third in the second half. A loose ball at the top of the area fell to Henry and, with Busch off his line, the Toronto defender smashed a shot on target that Bernardez dived in front of and deflected high into the air. With a bead on the ball, Busch went up to make a catch save, but he was bowled over by Robert Earnshaw and called for the foul.
Toronto had one more chance to earn an equalizer in the last minute of stoppage time, but San Jose held on and earned their first victory since a March 23 victory against the Seattle Sounders.
“We talked about it before the game, we wanted three points,” said Busch. “I think the way things went the last few weeks, this is a little bit of a relief for us to get that win, and now we can use this to move forward.”
The Quakes next travel to Seattle to face those same Sounders this Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. at CenturyLink Field.