SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - After 90 back-and-forth minutes of scoreless soccer, the San Jose Earthquakes and Atletico Madrid saw their Copa Euroamericana match at venerable Candlestick Park go to penalty kicks to decide a winner.
Khari Stephenson missed the opening kick of penalties, and the Quakes never recovered, as Atleti survived the shootout 4-3. Saul stood tall for the visitors as he calmly slotted the winning kick past San Jose goalkeeper Bryan Meredith. The tiebreaker was a bit of a cruel way to finish what had been a good showing by the Quakes.
"I thought the performance overall was good," said Earthquakes head coach Mark Watson. "We had a group that hadn't really worked together before, but they knew what we wanted to do. I thought we moved the ball really well and created a lot of chances.
"We took a very, very good team into penalties. We played tough for 92 minutes against a really top team, and that is an achievement in itself."
The victory by Atletico increased Europe's lead over the Americas in the 2014 Copa Euroamericana tournament to 4-1. The UEFA Champions League runners-up, tested by the tenacity of San Jose, continue their tour with a visit to Mexico City to face Club America.
"It was a very dynamic game," said Atletico coach Diego Simeone through an interpreter. "I thought it was played at a fast pace. We want to get as much positives possible out of this tour as we can. Since we were able to win on penalties, I am content with that."
The penalty kick loss by San Jose, the third of the year after identical results against Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions League and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, was a disappointment for the 15,558 in attendance at the last ever sporting event to be held at venerable Candlestick Park. The Quakes return to action this Saturday at Levi's Stadium against the Seattle Sounders.
The Earthquakes tactical setup was identical to that used on Wednesday night in their 5-1 defeat of Chicago, though coach Watson did make seven personnel changes. Movement of the ball by the Quakes was fair, as the team looked to accumulate possession in its forays into the attacking third. The wide-open spaces San Jose enjoyed against Chicago did not present themselves, not surprisingly, as it was Atletico and not the Fire playing defense.
"We've been getting better every week," said Watson. "We talked about trying to do the same things, even with the personnel changes, and I was really happy with it. There are going to be hiccups along the way and it takes time, but tonight was a continuation of that.
"Our big thing is to have the players wanting the ball and having the confidence to move into space to get it and be comfortable when they get it. I thought we did that pretty well at times against a very good team."
A free kick in the 16th minute, following a yellow card offense on Miranda gave San Jose its first attempt on goal. Following a scrambled clearance by Atleti, the ball fell to Stephenson at the top of the area. The Jamaican spun to face the target, but fired an instinctive shot well over the goal.
The visitors nearly struck back in the 22nd minute, as Koke collected a ball 25 yards from goal, but his speculative shot skimmed wide of the left post.
Goalkeeper Meredith made the first save of the night for either side when he parried away an effort by Brazilian forward Leo Baptistao in the 36th minute. The ‘keeper's defensive line came to his aid seconds later when it blocked away the follow-up shot from Miranda.
Atletico earned its second yellow card of the first half when Emiliano Insua hacked down Yannick Djalo deep along the left sideline in the 37th minute. The free kick delivery in the box cleared the defensive line, but Ty Harden could not quite catch up to the ball and it sailed out for a goal kick.
The Quakes gave up a penalty kick in the 39th minute when Victor Bernardez tripped up Mario Suarez as he entered the box. Atletico captain Raul Garcia stepped up to take the spot kick and sent it crashing into the post. The rebound attempt by Koke, with only the 'keeper to beat, was smartly saved by Meredith to keep the match scoreless going into halftime.
The start of the second half brought about the Bay Area debut of Earthquakes homegrown player Tommy Thompson, and the 18-year old almost made an immediate impact. Racing into the area after splitting a pair of defenders in the 49th minute, Thompson had just the goalkeeper to beat, but a slight hesitation stole his momentum, and his weak shot was easily handled.
Another halftime substitute for San Jose gave it a go in the 55th minute. Billy Schuler, Chris Wondolowski's replacement at forward, fired a well struck ball from 20 yards, but he couldn't keep it down and it cleared the target.
Atletico had a great opportunity to break through in the 65th minute after JJ Koval gifted the Madrid side a free kick 25 yards from goal. Gabi elected to send a cheeky lob into the area for Adra Turan, but the Atleti forward was ruled offside.
The Quakes flowed forward on a counterattack in the 68th minute when Stephenson threaded a perfectly weighted ball into space for Cordell Cato. The speedy winger carried possession to the byline before cutting back a cross into the area for Thompson. But before the rookie to head home from close distance, defender Saul stepped in and deflected the ball out for a corner kick.
Neither team could create much on offense the rest of the way, and after two minutes of stoppage time, the referee blew his whistle on regulation, and the game moved to penalty kicks to decide a winner.
Atletico prevailed in spot kicks 4-3, as the Quakes Stephenson and Schuler missed while Sam Cronin, Shaun Francis, and Brandon Barklage converted. Saul's conversion, the 10th kick of the shootout, gave the visitors the victory.