Quakes Halt Whitecaps' Tide
The San Jose Earthquakes shone under Avaya Stadium's lights, bouncing back from an uneven run of results by earning an impressive 1-0 win against the MLS-leading Vancouver Whitecaps.
Just as notable as the three points, the Quakes managed to prevent MLS's top attack from registering a single shot on target en route to recording their first clean sheet of the season. A late double red card marred the result, but optimism and confidence was restored after a frustrating loss last weekend by the same score.
Sanna Nyassi’s excellent 75th minute winner after a series of increasingly desperate blocks was a just reward for a game where the Quakes looked the more dangerous side from whistle to whistle. The defensive line's performance was due in no small part to the return of right back Marvell Wynne and Cordell Cato filling in admirably out-of-position at left back, held together by the steely tandem of Victor Bernardez and Clay Goodson in the middle.
Chris Wondolowski told us after the game last week that “formations are just numbers,” and sure enough Dominic Kinnear sent his men out in an enigmatic setup that was listed as a 4-3-3 but played much more like the 4-4-2 diamond he favored in Houston. Shea Salinas, Matias Perez-Garcia, Nyassi and Wondolowski were given significant license to roam about the midfield, switching positions freely to find space, and baffling efforts to define the formation too rigidly. The result was a lot more comfort in possession than we’ve seen all year, with a lot of the “pass and move” football that we’ve heard a lot about but seen very little of from these Quakes. It was more than clear that the message all week has been to not replicate the “individualism” they displayed against Real Salt Lake, and they pinged the ball about the park easily, if not always dangerously.
The red-hot and ordinarily free-scoring Whitecaps played against type, buckling down and getting pragmatic, managing to frustrate the Quakes and keep the first half quite tame. It seemed to be a fairly intentional adjustment to playing on short rest against a possession-based team at home, and with it came a bit of ill-temper that led to a host of bookings and tactical fouls.
Barely 60 seconds into the match, Caps winger Darren Mattocks was booked for leading into an aerial challenge with an elbow into Fatai Alashe in an incident that was oddly similar to Innocent’s infamous booking last week. Ex-Quake Steven Beitashour vitally managed to haul in Shea Salinas bombing down the left flank three minutes later as he began to find more and more space behind the Whitecaps back line. Jahn slotted a cool finish past keeper David Ousted in the 9th, but was a yard offside when he received the ball.
The Quakes did occasionally show vulnerability, such as in the 11th minute, when keeper David Bingham stepped to a through-ball tenatively and could only reach it outside his box, punching it out of bounds as Darren Mattocks rushed on, earning a yellow card and giving away an early chance.
Rather than cede momentum, the Quakes began to surge forward in waves, finding plenty of space on the flanks and interchanging with more fluency than in past matches. Fatai Alashe was an anchor at the pivot, diagnosing any incipient counter-attacks, and Bernardez was a man possessed, stonewalling any attempt to get beyond him. Shea Salinas was the clear man of the match, looking dangerous every time the ball was at his feet, and finding space at will on both flanks. However, neither side managed to generate any clear-cut chances in the first half, with zero saves required after 45 minutes.
Matias Perez-Garcia played his typical role, running the middle of the park, getting fouled no fewer than 8 times and putting in some good service, including on the winning goal. He was the victim on a few of the Whitecaps subsequent bookable challenges, including in the 26th when Kekuta Manneh rugby tackled him on the counter. That was followed by a series of four free kicks and corners early in the second half that required decisive interventions to be cleared from danger. Deybi Flores knocked him over for his own yellow card in the second half. Pa-Madou Kah, too found his name in the book for going through Adam Jahn on the way to the ball. In all, 6 Whitecaps were booked, but the physicality did very little to interrupt the Quakes passing rhythm.
In the 64th minute, all of Avaya stadium collectively held its breath as Chris Wondolowski pulled up on his own, pounded the turf, and came off the pitch in frustration with an apparent pull. There was no immediate word on his status going forward, but the tone of interviews after the match suggested it wasn't serious. JJ Koval would come on in his place, playing a deeper #8 type of role and looking comfortable in it, but the overall shape remained similar.
Salinas kept on putting dangerous ball after dangerous ball into the box, but no one, including target striker Jahn, could finish them off. His partner on the other flank, Nyassi, was comparatively ineffectual for the first 70 minutes, but he rose to the occasion when his moment came. It was in the 75th minute that Perez-Garcia looked to have some space to shoot at the top of the box, but instead released Cato out wide. The fullback's resulting shot was blocked into the path of Salinas, who forced another block, which fell towards Nyassi, who drilled the volley into the back of the net for the decisive goal; a welcome relief for an evening that was becoming impatient.
Shortly thereafter, Perez-Garcia was cynically hip-checked one final time and he had to come off with another minor knock. Homegrown fan-favorite Tommy Thompson was sent on in his place, looking to make his first real impression under new coach Dominic Kinnear. The fans greated him with a roar, and he looked lively, but he didn't manage much in his limited time on the pitch.
However, the last 15 minutes didn't end up being noteworthy in terms of any play on the pitch, and were instead defined by the 86th minute incident where Jahn was knocked over, Morales kicked at him on the ground, and Jahn kicked back. After a long deliberation and heated appeals to referee Edvin Jurisevic, he elected to send both players off.
The Quakes would otherwise manage to hold firm until the final whistle, with Goodson and Bernardez standing tall and sacrificing their bodies (not to feel left out, Kendall Waston put an elbow into Goodson's jaw to earn the final yellow) to keep the Whitecaps off the scoresheet. A garbage-time substitution of David Fucito for goalscorer Nyassi helped spend a few precious seconds, but the Quakes were happy to see very little action in stoppage time before the final whistle blew and the Ultras section greeted it in full voice, swelling in celebration of the third victory of the season.
Next week, San Jose heads to New York to face the Red Bulls, who have collected 8 points in their first 4 games. They'll look to collect their first points off of the west coast in that matchup, and welcome back forward Innocent to fill the vacancy created by the now-suspended Adam Jahn.