SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A blazing Bay Area sun baked a sold-out Buck Shaw Stadium Sunday afternoon as the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy played to a 1-1 draw in the 57th regular season California Clasico.
A goal from Omar Gonzalez in the first half was matched by his U.S. national team mate Chris Wondolowski in the second half. Robbie Keane missed a penalty kick attempt that would have earned all three points for the visitors.
Head coach Mark Watson made three changes to his starting lineup in the wake of Wednesday's disappointing 2-0 loss at Vancouver. Second half substitutes against the Whitecaps Atiba Harris and Ty Harden replaced Cordell Cato and Victor Bernardez respectively for the Quakes, while central midfielder Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi spelled rookie JJ Koval.
In the opposite Starting XI was recently traded forward Alan Gordon, who had zero goals for San Jose this year but has tallied three times since joining LA. The Earthquakes fan favorite has fit in very nicely in his return to the Galaxy, and in the quarter hour of the match had the first two promising scoring opportunities for the Buck Shaw Stadium visitors.
The Earthquakes, meanwhile, as was the case midweek, settled into a defensive posture and attempted to hit LA on the counterattack. However, similar to its Vancouver experience, the team was unable to move the ball with enough pace to catch the Galaxy defense off balance, and most possessions died out without a quality scoring chance.
Team MVP Jon Busch, fresh off his MLS Save of the Week honor and stunning stop against the Whitecaps on Wednesday, made another spectacular save to keep the game scoreless in the 15th minute. After sneaking into space behind right back Shaun Francis, LA Homegrown forward Gyassi Zardes cracked a shot on target that Busch smartly punched to the concessions side of the north goal.
As was expected against the Galaxy, the MLS leader in saves would have a very busy afternoon at The Buck. In minute 24, Busch was called into action to deny Keane, and seconds later he gave thanks to the woodwork for keeping Stefan Ishizaki off the scoresheet. A Gordon header off a 27th minute corner kick was swatted away for another set piece, but then LA broke the deadlock.
On the restart, U.S. international center back Gonzalez soared above both Francis and Pierazzi to head a ball back to the near post. Busch, covering the far post, watched helplessly as Tommy Thompson attempted to clear the shot, but only served to send it up and off the bottom of the crossbar for a Galaxy goal. Not as egregious as Cato's failure to stop Vancouver's second goal last Wednesday, Thompson still looked well enough positioned to effectively cover the post.
Gonzalez' fourth goal of the season, nonetheless, was well deserved, as a relentless LA press finally solved the Quakes. Sure, the goal came via a corner kick, but the opportunity itself was precipitated by the one-way play on display.
An uncharacteristic blunder from Busch set off a chain of events that nearly aided the Galaxy in doubling its lead. After allowing a crossing pass from Keane to slips through his fingers, Busch was bailed out by Jason Hernandez on a Zardes follow-up shot. The clearance fell to Baggio Husidic at the top of the area, and his blast deflected off the arm of a prone Hernandez lying eight yards out. Referee Sorin Stoica immediately pointed to the spot, despite the protests of Hernandez, vociferous enough that he earned a yellow card. Keane calmed stepped up to the ball, but directed his shot off the crossbar. For the Irish international, it was a third miss in four penalty kick attempts this season.
The reprieve was well received by San Jose and the sold out crowd at Buck Shaw Stadium. For much of the remaining 10 minutes of the first half, the Quakes and Galaxy played give and take in midfield, the center line circle almost always in view of the possessing player. Only some hopeful stoppage time corner kicks from the Earthquakes provided any level of drama for the home side in the opening stanza.
Following the intermission, Thompson, who had difficulty making his presence known was replaced by Cato, and Watson moved Harris into a more advanced role to aid Wondolowski on the forward line. Wondo, on an island for the first half, benefited by having Harris aside him, and his impact on the game, though still small, was more measurable in half two.
The subtle tactical change, along with the pull of the goal side Ultras, helped San Jose gain more possession, and also was a sign of what was to come at the hour mark. Returning to the field for the first time since July, Steven Lenhart entered for San Jose in the 63rd minute and immediately went to work occupying the LA back line. A swipe of Gonzalez' shoulder earned Lenhart a yellow card less than a minute into his substitution appearance.
The rejuvenated Quakes quickly equalized through Wondolowski in the 66th minute. A cross from Cato was headed clear by Gonzalez, but Jordan Stewart lined up a shot from the errant ball that he scuffed toward the far post. Only Wondo moved to the loose ball, and from a tight angle, the Earthquakes designated player directed above the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Brian Rowe and into the roof of the net. It was Wondolowski's 13th goal of the season, good enough for sixth best in MLS this season.
Lenhart's introduction signaled a thematic change from passive to physical for both sides, and Stoica was kept busy scribbling the names of numerous names into his little black book. Yellow cards to Pierazzi, Sam Cronin, Juninho, and Keane helped Stoica work his mini pencil down to a nub as the 57th California Clasico marked another dramatic chapter in the heated rivalry between the Quakes and Galaxy.
The heat of the afternoon started to take its toll on the proceedings as both teams looked less and less interested in running all out and the game became a series of fruitless ventures into the attacking third. A long distance rocket from Juninho in the 89th minute gave Busch another save to pad his league-leading total, but that marked the highlight from either side in the game's final 20 minutes.
The 1-1 draw raised LA's points total to five from three Cali Clasico's this season. The Quakes remain rooted in eighth place in the West following the result, and have seven games left on the schedule to close out the 2014 MLS season.