Hopeful of gaining a result on the road to recharge their CONCACAF Champions League campaign, the San Jose Earthquakes instead dropped a disappointing 1-0 match to C.D. Heredia in front of a sparse crowd at Estadio Cementos Progreso in Guatemala City.
A second half goal against the run of play from Enrique Miranda was the difference in a tightly contested game, as the visiting Quakes, despite starting star forward Chris Wondolowski, had only one shot on target and failed to test the Guatemalan goalkeeper Joseph Calderon.
With the shutout win, Heredia (2-0-0) moved to the top of the CCL Group Five standings, three points ahead of the Montreal Impact (1-1-0) and six points above bottom dweller San Jose (0-2-0). The Quakes have two games remaining, both within the friendly confines of Buck Shaw Stadium, to reverse their fortunes. Only the first place finisher from the so-called "Group of Death" will advance to next year's knockout round of the tournament.
Like the Earthquakes, C.D. Heredia also hails from the city of San Jose, though it is the one located in the high country of Guatemala. But because Heredia's stadium was not up to tournament standards, CONCACAF required the club to play its home games a four-hour bus ride away in the nation's capital Guatelmala City. From the opening whistle, Heredia seemed to be playing a step behind its MLS competition.
That slow start nearly undid the hosts. In the 9th minute, defender Dan Gargan, getting the start over regular right back Steven Beitashour, showed off his ability to deliver dangerous balls into the area directly from throw-ins when he located Wondolowski moving into space at the near post. As Gargan's throw bounced over the first line of defense and into the area, Wondolowski was unable to get his foot above the bounding ball, and he toe-poked a shot attempt over the crossbar.
Victor Bernardez, who in the Quakes last MLS league match against FC Dallas earned a red card and will be suspended for the team's next match at the LA Galaxy, saw yellow in the 25th minute for tripping up Charles Cordoba just outside the area. Cordoba, the host team's leading scorer in league play and the man responsible for the lone goal in Heredia's CCL victory over the Montreal Impact a week prior, proceeded to sail the free-kick opportunity well wide of David Bingham's goal.
In the 37th minute, Cordoba was again the center of attention for Heredia as a moment of brilliance on the dribble allowed the striker to escape from the marking of Jason Hernandez. However, just as Cordoba lined up his shot from the top of the eighteen, the Quakes center back threw out his leg and deflected the ball wide of danger.
The halftime whistle came soon after as both teams looked tentative in possession and unable to muster any impactful offense. For San Jose, the goal of gaining a result was on track.
After intermission, the second half started as equally cagey as the first. Dropping back into a more conservative formation, the Earthquakes back line remained resolute as the Heredia offense showed increased signs of life. Hernandez, after a hard spill to the artificial turf field following a challenge in the 50th minute had to be stretchered from the field, but he soon returned after receiving treatment to his shoulder. Gargan, playing tenacious defense along the right sideline, earned a yellow card in the 56th minute for bundling over opposing midfielder David Espinoza.
With half of its back four carrying yellows and the specter of historically poor CCL refereeing entering their minds, the Earthquakes eased off on contesting challenges with the Heredia forwards, and the home side began to assert more control of the match. Looking to reverse the trend, the Quakes made a substitution in the 64th minute to add Cordell Cato on offense in place of the tiring Walter Martinez.
The Earthquakes earned a free kick 25 yards from goal in the 67th minute, but Ramiro Corrales could not quite get his curling ball to dip into the upper corner of the goal mouth and it flew agonizingly above its intended target. Corrales, the last standing MLS Original, was in the starting line-up for the Quakes the last time they played in the tournament back in 2004 when it was known as the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
Heredia recovered from the near miss from Corrales and quickly took the restart down the field. Urgent with possession, second half substitute Anderson Andrade dribbled past two Quakes defenders along the right sideline before turning in toward the center of the field. Andrade was bumped off the ball near the edge of the box by Corrales, but teammate Miranda pounced on the loose ball and fired a low shot to the far post that eluded Bingham and settled into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Stunned by the goal, the Earthquakes made two substitutions in an effort to turn around their fortunes. Knowing a loss was unacceptable, interim coach Mark Watson sent in two of his best offensive assets as Steven Lenhart and Marvin Chavez replaced Corrales and Jaime Alas respectively. The new-look Quakes formation immediately looked to press forward.
Content to defend with a one-goal lead and counterattack when possible, Heredia did well to absorb the efforts from the increasingly attack-minded Quakes. Time and time again, San Jose looked uncertain as to how to break down the Guatemalan's compact defensive shape and failed to register a single shot on target over the last quarter hour of regulation and 3 minutes of stoppage time. Toothless on offense, the Earthquakes slumped over at the final whistle, 1-0 victims of their Central American foe.
The Earthquakes return to CCL action on September 17 against the Montreal Impact and on October 23 against C.D. Heredia needing to sweep a pair of wins to keep alive their slim hopes of advancing to the next stage of the tournament. Meanwhile, the Quakes will make a detour on their way back to San Jose to face off against rival Galaxy in a league match on Saturday night at the StubHub Center. With their MLS postseason dreams also fading fast, the Earthquakes are in desperate need of getting a result against LA.