STANFORD, Calif. — When the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy meet in the annual California Clasico at Stanford Stadium, anything can happen. This year, add another amazing comeback to the record books, as Shea Salinas scored deep in stoppage time to earn the Quakes a come from behind 2-1 victory.
The Earthquakes earned a measure of revenge for a loss to the Galaxy at home in late May, and the win pushed their overall record to 7-6-5 and 26 points, good for third place in the Western Conference. The sellout crowd of 50,617 was the largest of the year for San Jose, and the second largest attendance in MLS so far this season.
“You get so pumped up scoring in front of this many people,” said Salinas. “We wanted to win this game really badly, not just because we want to beat LA, but it is also a big game in the standings.”
Jelle Van Damme had staked the Galaxy to an early lead on a brilliant volley, but the Quakes never gave up on their road back to victory. Chris Wondolowski leveled the score in the 75th minute, setting up second half substitute Salinas for his late game heroics.
“I think it’s understood statement that if you get subbed into the California Clasico, you have to have a last minute goal or an assist,” said Salinas. “That’s what this game seems to breed, and fortunately we answered the call and got the game winner tonight.”
Newly installed head coach Chris Leitch was manning the sidelines for the first time in an MLS game, and his team did not disappointment. Only the ninth head coach in the franchise’s 20-year history, Leitch enjoyed every moment of his coaching debut.
"It's the definition of the California Clasico if I've ever known one, that's for sure,” said Leitch. “Really exciting ending, really happy to see our fans go out of this building on an extremely high note and really proud of the group. In a very short amount of time we've had three games, so for these guys to dig deep and never quit and pull it out in the end is something special and speaks to their character.”
Leitch could hardly hide his excitement at the result, especially at the way his team kept fighting to the end. The scoreline was certainly nerve wracking, but the manner in which the 2-1 win was achieved will be something the coach remembers for a long time.
“You can’t write it up any better than this,” said Leitch. “If we had won 3-0, it would have been very, very, very special, but to do it in the way that we did, in a way that embodies this team, this idea that they are never going to give up is pretty damn special.”
Leitch set up his line-up in a 3-5-2 formation — the same on he employed when the Earthquakes beat the Seattle Sounders 2-1 in Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal win — in an effort to push the tempo against a short-handed Galaxy side missing its two leading scorers, Giovani dos Santos and Romain Alessandrini. Rookie Jackson Yueill received his first league start after earning his first appearance last weekend, and defender Florian Jungwirth returned the Starting XI after missing two games with an ankle injury.
In the third minute, Yueill sprung Wondolowski in the Galaxy box, but the captain’s shot was deflected out for a corner kick. LA’s center back duo of Jelle Van Damme and Dave Romney were definitely going to have their hands full with the Quakes emphasis on attacking tactics.
But the Galaxy would strike first, as a poor decision by Victor Bernardez brought down forward Jack McBean just on the left edge of the penalty area and gave the visitors a dangerous set piece opportunity in the 11th minute. Jose Villarreal arced his free kick to the far post, and Van Damme eluded Bernardez to slam home a left footed volley that had David Bingham grasping for its contrail.
A stunned Earthquakes squad regrouped, and from the restart, pressed LA even more. Down a goal, and with a sold-out crowd getting antsy, San Jose tried its best to find a way through the Galaxy back line, but its attacks were thwarted repeatedly. The Quakes defenders started hitting hopeful passes to the forward, bypassing the midfield altogether, but even this direct approach did not yield any dividends.
A flurry of activity in the 42nd minute did pin the Galaxy in their end of the field, and Wondolowski nearly finished off a corner kick in the sequence, but LA remained resolute. In fact, over the course of the last 10 minutes of the first half, it was only the Galaxy that registered a shot on goal. The Quakes took six shots in total, but none was on target. And with the halftime whistle, the crowd neither booed nor cheered as the teams left the field.
The start of the second half looked like a mirror image of the first, as the Quakes went from attacking right to left to attacking left to right. Unfortunately, it was with the same results that San Jose went forward: creating nominal chances after sustained spells of possession. Tommy Thompson had the best moment, rocketing a shot off the post in the 52nd minute.
Thompson was at it again in the 56th minute, taking a feed on the right flank and eluding every defensive challenge thrown his way. He then threaded a ball through to Jahmir Hyka in the area, but the Albanian couldn’t get any purchase on his shot attempt.
Following a collision between Cordell Cato and LA goalkeeper Clement Diop, the Quakes substituted in Shea Salinas. The 10-year veteran provided a spark off the bench, but LA’s defense did not falter. Instead, it was Bingham who had to make a diving save when it looked like the Galaxy might put the game away. It was looking dire for the Quakes.
But then, San Jose took a trip down Highway 101 soccer, as Bingham punted a long ball well down field for Wondolowski. The captain turned towards goal, and, cutting back to his left footed, guided a deflected shot that eluded Diop and nestled into the back of the net. The equalizer breathed new life into the match, and finally gave the sellout crowd of 50,617 something to cheer about.
“Chris Wondolowski,” said Leitch. “What this guy does in the biggest moments, without fail. It’s really good when your leaders, when your captains, when your best players show up for the biggest games, that’s what I am proud of. He never, never stops amazing all of our fans, and myself included.”
And then, deep in stoppage time, when it looked like the Quakes would have to settle for a point, another Cali Clasico magic moment happened. With nearly the entire team pushed up the field, Hoesen gained just enough space at the top of the box lay the ball off to the far side of the area where Salinas collected, and with authority, slammed home the game winning goal off the bottom of the crossbar. Doing his best Alan Gordon impersonation, Salinas proceeded to sprint down the sideline, shirt off, in celebration.
“There were a lot of emotions, and I was really pumped up,” said Salinas. “It was a little ode to Alan Gordon. I always see his highlight reel with him ripping his shirt off, so it was a little tribute to him.”
The victory will certainly add to the lore of the rivalry, and the next chapter will be written in ten days time when the two teams face off in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup tournament.