In the 63rd minute of Wednesday’s MLS is Back Tournament match between the San Jose Earthquakes and Vancouver Whitecaps, San Jose manager Matias Almeyda changed 40 percent of his outfield lineup in one fell swoop.
And the gambit worked.
Down 3-1 at that point after a mistake by goalkeeper Daniel Vega to give Vancouver an insurance goal, those four substitutes made a huge difference. Danny Hoesen set up Chris Wondolowski on the first goal in the rally, with Carlos Fierro inadvertently dummying the ball on the way in, before Shea Salinas scored the winner in the 98th minute, as the Earthquakes rallied to win 4-3 on the night.
The celebrations on the field were unmistakable, that release of Goonies energy yet again, but in the postgame press conference Salinas appeared a bit dazed by what had just happened.
“It was crazy. What a team effort tonight,” he told reporters. “We never quit, it was incredible. I’m thankful to God for this team, for the ability to play, for my family, and for my teammates. It was an awesome night, something we’ll remember for a long time.”
Almeyda was understandably pleased and proud of his team’s comeback, an effort that’s both central to his approach and to the club’s success over the past decade.
“What happened there was a team that maintained their identity when they faced adversity, a team that’s searching for their own style, a team that respects each opponent they face, and they never give up. We really have a great group. I’m proud of the group that I coach, but I’m even more thankful,” Almeyda said through an interpreter.
Aside from the rally, the Earthquakes scored two goals off corner kicks, including defender Oswaldo Alanís’ tally to tie it at 3-3 in the final 10 minutes of regulation.
But a victory was in major doubt with Vega’s mistake and an unfortunate own goal by Judson in the first half, as he ran the length of the field to try and stop a counterattack, only for the ball to bounce off him and into an empty net.
Even when it looked like the chips were down, the Earthquakes just kept going, and they found the breakthrough.
“I’m proud to be part of this group,” said Salinas. “What you saw tonight was a team that perseveres through adversity. We made mistakes, we didn’t hang our head down, we kept fighting. It was a crazy game to be a part of. I’m proud of the way we play. We play with a ton of fight, we play an honest game. It was a fun thing to be a part of.”
And while Almeyda wouldn’t say whether his strategy of using four of his allotted five subs at once was a strategy or a desperation ploy, he admitted it worked within the larger team framework.
“We know in this tournament, the substitutions are fundamental for our team,” he said. “I’ve told the players what I feel about each and every single one of them. As a coach, I don’t want to depend on one or two players, I look for equality and for them to be even and they have to know what to play for. It was hard going into 3-1, but they gave everything they had and what they didn’t have, maintaining order. Well, I think the substitutions were very important, but I take away the teamwork.”
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