The San Jose Earthquakes have not had much to smile about this season, but in dispatching the English Premier League's Norwich City FC by a score of 1-0, they could for at least one night celebrate a comprehensive victory.
The Quakes welcomed the Canaries to a nearly sold-out Buck Shaw Stadium in a summer international friendly that marked the fourth time in as many years San Jose has hosted an opponent from the England's top division. Having never lost to an EPL team in the club's history, the Earthquakes extended their record to 2-0-3 with an early Cordell Cato goal was all they needed to earn the shutout win.
With an early lead and a defense playing sound soccer, the Earthquakes dominated possession over Norwich City for much of the remainder of the match. Without really being tested all evening, Quakes reserve goalkeeper David Bingham earned the complete game clean sheet.
Interim head coach Mark Watson elected to fill out his entire starting XI with reserves, with the exception of Steven Beitashour at right back and Walter Martinez at his natural position of forward. In place of Earthquakes team MVP Jon Busch in goal was Bingham, who in a summer friendly against EPL side West Bromwich Albion two years famously scored for the Quakes via a 90 yard shot from his own end of the field.
As befitting the time each team was currently at in its season, Norwich City looked like a squad still getting their legs under them in preseason and the Earthquakes looked sharp and in midseason form. On a play born of their edge in possession and hustle, the Quakes grabbed an early lead by capitalizing on a defensive error by the Canaries.
In the 9th minute, midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy tried to switch fields with a long ball up the right wing to Martinez, but the pass was out of reach for the diminutive forward. Collecting the loose ball, Norwich City defender Russell Martin passed up a chance to clear the ball and instead elected a back pass to his goalkeeper Mark Bunn. Unbeknownst to the defender, an opportunistic Cato raced in on the weak back pass and beat the ‘keeper with a shot from a tight angle to give San Jose a 1-0 lead.
Playing with an advantage on the scoreboard, the Earthquakes escalated their advantage in possession. The Canaries were forced for long stretches of the first half to chase the ball as the Quakes made full use of the Buck Shaw pitch. Even when Norwich City was able to generate anything on offense, center back Brad Ring was consistently able to frustrate their forwards with well timed tackles and clearances.
Neither goalkeeper had much to do for the remainder of the first half as the majority of the match was played in the vicinity of the center line. As stoppage time loomed, Ramiro Corrales had a great chance to double the Earthquakes lead, but his uncontested shot from distance soared over the target.
In the 52nd minute, a well placed long ball found Martinez sprinting behind the Canaries defense. The goal scoring hero of the Earthquakes 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders a week ago took his chance but put it wide of the target. Martinez appeared to aggravate his left hamstring on the sequence and was replaced by winger Shea Salinas.
Norwich City put together their best offensive effort of the match thus far in the 57th minute as they poured forward with numbers looking for an equalizer. With the Quakes defense clogging the area, the Canaries found shots wanting, and when they did get an attempt on goal, new signing Jordan Stewart was able to make a skilled sliding clearance to preserve San Jose's lead.
While the Canaries made a host of substitutions at halftime, the Earthquakes began inserting some of their first team players midway through the second half. Stewart and Beitashour, both stellar in defense, were replaced by Justin Morrow and Victor Bernardez in the 62nd minute and rookie sensation Adam Jahn came in for Marcus Tracy in the 71at minute.
Minutes upon entering the match, Jahn showed off the skill that has led to his "pillow feet" moniker with a wonderful flick attempt on goal that was well saved by the ‘keeper. Norwich City was again fortunate to keep the deficit at one goal as a near miss by Sam Garza in the 87th minute whipped past the far post on a one-on-one scoring opportunity initiated by well struck pass over the left side of the defense.
The Canaries, looking exhausted at chasing the Earthquakes for possession as the game came to a close, had one more chance to equalize in stoppage time, but an offside call ended their hopes. San Jose took over the ball and calmly ran out the remaining seconds of the match to record its second successive 1-0 victory.
The Earthquakes return to MLS action on Saturday, July 27, at 7:30 p.m. when they welcome the Portland Timbers to Buck Shaw Stadium for the third and final meeting between the two Western Conference rivals this season.