Hot on the heels of Tuesday's valiant effort in Mexico, the San Jose Earthquakes were handed their first loss in the young 2014 MLS season; the Quakes landed back in San Jose with a thud. The grueling week long road trip began with training in front of Toluca's cameras, then fighting a CCL battle for two hours at 9000ft only to lose after twelve penalties, and finally flying directly to Kansas to face a team themselves drubbed 5-1 by Cruz Azul in the same tournament.
It was inevitable that the match on the frozen tundra of Sporting Park, with its grass withered by frost to a worn carpet, turned into a match of too much perspiration and not enough inspiration. The game had little guile, with both sides as effective as a "bag of wet mice" - no "ball whispering", nothing as "electrifying as a hairdryer in a hot tub". It was the antithesis of Sunday's fast paced 4-3 Barcelona FC victory in El Clasico; even Ray Hudson could have done little to enliven this game.
It's hard to blame the players of either side, as they exhibited mental fatigue, leaden legs and little accuracy - slow reaction times and slower decision-making lead to a dearth of inch-perfect passes to team mates. And so the game unraveled - both sides going through the motions of soccer; clumsy graffiti rather than fine art.
Jon Busch's "fists of fury" stepped up to save only three Sporting chances, Ike Opara missed a sitter (twice),and Wondo failed to capitalize on a couple of good chances; "missed by a pixel". If Wondo converts those chances, the game becomes a different story, one more palatable to the Quakes fans. Brawn overtook brains and the teams combined for 37 fouls and seven cautions courtesy of referee Ricardo Salazar.
In the end, it was the referee that dictated the game result: 1-0 with the only goal coming from a penalty. Steven Lenhart's arm deflected the ball as a knot of players tussled around the ball, and Salazar's own arm shot out to target the penalty spot; Dom Dwyer slotted home Jon Busch's seventh penalty shot in four days.
The Earthquakes have seven days to rest and recuperate before facing the New England Revolution. Hopefully the British will be coming in the form of Jordan Stewart, back to restore the Quakes defense. Fortress Buck Shaw might need to be defended one more time by the Earthquakes makeshift back line. The two week hiatus before the following home game against Columbus will give the squad an extended chance to recover and provide coach Mark Watson with the opportunity to pick his first line defense. The Quakes will also be looking to increase the productivity of their midfield and improve upon their 41% possession in Kansas.
The next San Jose Earthquakes home game is against the New England Revolution at Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday, March 29th, kickoff at 7:30 PM.