SAN JOSE, Calif. -- On a night when a pair of key refereeing decisions looked to have doomed the San Jose Earthquakes to their eighth game without a win, the Quakes, playing down two men, earned a dramatic 2-1 win over visiting Toronto FC at sold-out Avaya Stadium.
Four other times in the club's history, the Earthquakes had finished a game with only nine men, but Saturday marked the first time they had come away with a win.
"It definitely can be a turning point and I told the guys that," said head coach Dominic Kinnear. "That just shows you the attitude you have. Obviously things were against us at different times of the evening, but the attitude was fantastic and I said that should be our attitude every game, no matter what. So hopefully it's a sign of good things to come.
Red cards to both Anibal Godoy and Alberto Quintero looked certain to sink the Earthquakes (6-6-7, 25 points) bid to end a seven game winless streak, and a Toronto (6-7-6, 24 points) equalizer after the first red card did not bode well for San Jose's chances. But some brilliance from Simon Dawkins gave the Quakes an unlikely lead, and nine-man San Jose held on for dear life as the Reds rallied.
"The season hasn't gone our way in terms of luck and some results have gone against us," said Dawkins. "Today, you could see it meant a lot to us. We stuck in there, even with nine men. That just shows the good players we have here and the team spirit we possess. We are really happy with the win."
David Bingham was perfect in goal during the onslaught, and following four minutes of stoppage time, the Earthquakes celebrated a huge 2-1 win. The result pushed the Quakes record at Avaya Stadium this season to 6-1-3.
"That was maybe the loudest I've heard this place," said Kinnear.
The game looked firmly in San Jose's favor when Quincy Amarikwa scored mid-way through the first half, but Godoy's red card minutes later but the Quakes in a hole. Former Earthquakes defenders Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow combined to level the score on the stroke of halftime, with Morrow slotting home from close range from Beitashour's crossing pass. But it was Quintero's red card that seemed destined to tilt the game to the visitors.
"The second half seemed to last about six hours," said Kinnear. "Especially after Alberto got sent off. And you're just willing them to win and I think the thing was, they were willing themselves to win, which was even better."
Dawkins' goal came following Quintero's red card, and TFC never regained their swagger. The win won't move the Earthquakes above the red line in the Western Conference, but it does prevent them from dropping even further behind in the race to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs.
The Earthquakes appeared to score in the seventh minute, when a shot from Dawkins inside the area deflected off Chirs Wondolowski and into the back of the net. Unfortunately, the Quakes captain was a yard offside, and the assistant referee duly raised his flag, nullifying the goal.
In the 17th minute, the Quakes were forced to foul Sebastian Giovinco 25 yards from goal, right in the center of the park. There was no doubt that the reigning MLS MVP would take the kick, but as the Italian planted his foot beside the ball, it gave way and he tumbled to the turf, his shot drifting harmlessly wide of the right post.
Quincy Amarikwa forced Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono into an impressive reaction save in the 26th minute as he powerfully headed a ball on target from Shaun Francis. The ball was punched straight up in the air, but defender Drew Moor reached it first and headed it over the bar for a corner kick.
Amarikwa would not miss his second opportunity of the night, redirecting a strong cross from Fatai Alashe past Moor and fellow center back Josh Williams to give the Earthquakes a 1-0 lead. It was the first time San Jose has been ahead in a match since they closed out a 3-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo back on May 11 -- a span of seven league games.
But the good vibes soured soon after, as Anibal Godoy was issued a controversial straight red card for a tackle near the center line on Tsubasa Endoh. The Quakes had been the better team by far to that point, and expressed their displeasure to referee Alejandro Mariscal, who had hesitated to make the call until conferring with his assistants and the fourth official. Perhaps adding to the delay in his decision was that Mariscal had only refereed an MLS game once before, back in 2010, serving primarily as a fourth official since then.
Just minutes later, Toronto would find the equalizer, as two former Earthquakes hooked up to level the score at 1-1. Beitashour found ample room on the right wing and drove to the endline before driving a cross that found Morrow right in front of goal. Goalkeeper Bingham had little chance to make the save, and soon the two Toronto defenders, both MLS All-Stars for the Quakes back in 2012, were celebrating in front of the capacity crowd at Avaya Stadium.
In the 53rd minute, it was Quintero earning a straight red card, again for a tackle on Endoh. The winger didn't protest too much as he trudged off to join his countryman in the Earthquakes locker room.
But even playing two men down, the Earthquakes found a way to get back into the game. Following some individual brilliance from Dawkins on the left wing, including a cutback that fooled former teammate Beitashour, the midfielder smashed a long-range effort that caught Bono flat footed, giving the Earthquakes an improbable 2-1 lead.
Toronto looked shocked at giving up the goal, but it wasn't long before they were attacking with vigor. Bingham, such an instrumental part of the Earthquakes limited success in 2015, would need a give a master class in keeping his defense organized, and emergency center back Jordan Stewart did everything he could to withstand the constant pressure from the Reds.
Giovinco nearly leveled matters in the 86th minute directly from a corner kick as his effort eluded Bingham and skimmed off the crossbar. It was a close call, but not close enough to change the scoreline.