On a night in which the San Jose Earthquakes were matched in intensity and pressing by their opponent, they needed a little something special to have any hope against Real Salt Lake, and they got it, with Chris Wondolowski coming off the bench and scoring a late brace to flip the game and give them a 2-1 win at Rio Tinto Stadium on Friday.
It looked for most of the night like RSL were going to win at a canter, after a golazo from Rubio Rubin put them ahead before halftime, but the combination of timely subs and the players who came off the bench rescued the game for the Earthquakes yet again.
Matias Almeyda made just one change to his San Jose XI, bringing a healthy Marcos Lopez back as starting left back, Tanner Beason retaining his spot at center back with Oswaldo Alanís out again.
RSL got a yellow card literally 15 seconds into the game, with Demir Kreilach playing dirty with an arm sweep on Florian Jungwirth taking out the Quakes defender on a robust tackle.
San Jose had a bit of a slow start to this game, with RSL controlling the run of play and their press giving the Quakes some fits, as they tried to play out of the back and methodically beat the press. RSL attacker Justin Meram nearly had the opening goal in the 17th minute, as he had a juke move on Tommy Thompson and hit a shot to beat JT Marcinkowski, only for the crossbar to be the goalkeeper’s buddy, the shot clanging off it and keeping RSL off the board.
The Earthquakes got a first look of the night in the 24th minute, with a broken play in the final third picked up by Cade Cowell, who dribbled into the box and took a shot, although it hit the wrong side of the goal in the end.
The game finally came to life in the 44th minute, as Rubin chested a flick-on and turned acrobatically to bicycle kick it in for RSL.
The teams went into the halftime break with RSL leading 1-0, San Jose holding a pretty big edge in possession but RSL ahead in the other categories. On balance, conceding late in the half was disappointing but it’s the kind of golazo that goes in sometimes, so San Jose needed to regroup and look for the 2nd half equalizer.
The Quakes had a good look a couple minutes into the restart, with Cowell setting up Chofís Lopez, although his shot from just outside the box sailed just over the goal.
Meram nearly scored RSL’s second goal in the 56th minute, his angled shot off a counterattack literally inches outside the far post.
With the Quakes lacking the needed cutting edge, Almeyda made a triple substitution in the 66th minute, with Shea Salinas coming in for Marcos Lopez, Andy Rio replacing Chofís and Luciano Abecasis entering for Tommy Thompson.
Kreilach had another surprise sharp shot in the 70th minute, forcing a low save from Marcinkowski to keep it a one-goal deficit for San Jose.
Chris Wondolowski entered the game in the 72nd minute, with Beason coming off, as the Earthquakes threw caution to the wind in chasing a goal.
It worked, as Wondo hit the equalizer in the 83rd minute, after David Ochoa saved Carlos Fierro’s initial shot but the legend was at the doorstep to easily score off the rebound.
Judson was the night’s final Earthquakes substitute, entering for Cristian Espinoza in the 87th minute to give them a little more defensive stability.
But Wondo came back for his second goal in the 87th minute, heading in Fierro’s long cross, cool as you like.
Listen, Earthquakes games are seldom boring, and while RSL absolutely outplayed them on balance, San Jose ended up being something they usually aren’t: Clinical with the few great chances they got on the night. And no question, bringing Wondolowski off the bench and getting production out of him is a real treat for this team. And in this case, a lifesaver.
San Jose will have their first midweek game up next, when they host the Seattle Sounders for the first time this season. The Sounders have mostly worked the Quakes in the Almeyda era, so this is going to be a big test for San Jose, on short rest.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.