Quakes Overcome 10-Man Crew In Home Return
After 35 days without a home match, with goals from long-time Goonies Chris Wondolowski and Shea Salinas, the San Jose Earthquakes put on a vintage display to overcome 10-man Columbus Crew, 2-0.
Unlike their recent road trip that was full of turgid, defensive displays, the Quakes came out on the front foot from the first whistle, leading to a wide open, end-to-end game. Head Coach Dominic Kinnear clearly gave his team license to play the ball on the ground quite a bit more they have been, ditching some of the over-the-top, direct, aerial play. They generated some early chances through an uncharacteristic emphasis on pressing, but the interplay lacked sharpness, so nothing truly ended up troubling Crew keeper Steve Clark.
If slick, sticky possession was lacking, attacking surges certainly weren't, and both fullbacks joined in with gusto. Marvell Wynne, of all people, was the first to snap off a good shot on goal in the 7th minute when he cut in from the right wing and lashed a curler off his weaker left foot that forced a good save from Clark. While the Quakes did manage to win their typical share of set-pieces, they looked quite determined to strike from open play.
The visitors were equally game, playing through-balls and 1-2s to unlock the relatively slow Quakes center-backs, but keeper David Bingham time and again stepped off his line to snuff out attacks just as they reached the final ball. Crew maestro Federico Higuain keyed many of the attacks, including some nervy corners bent right at Bingham in traffic that tested the young keeper's cool.
By the quarter hour mark, the hosts had begun to gain the upper hand, with Matias Pérez-García in particular looking useful, putting tricky passes through the Crew back line and making a nuisance of himself with runs towards either flank. The 5'5" Argentine didn't merely do his typical winning of fouls, he managed to ride some challenges and get stuck in the tackle himself. He even uncharacteristically got heavily involved in shooting efforts, jumping on some loose balls in the attacking third and curling them on frame with his Midas left boot, although none got past Clark.
In the 18th minute, Sanna Nyassi got a clean 3-on-2 breakaway from a defensive corner, but Jahn's run provided no passing lane and Nyassi was eventually caught in possession. The right winger managed to spring a counter attack just minutes later with an impressive tackle on the press, but a poor field-switch from Jahn caused that one to fail too.
With the initiative and the ability clearly there, but fluency clearly not, Kinnear and left-back Jordan Stewart were barking orders and gesticulating wildly, trying to convert some of that positive play into more dangerous chances. While the offense stayed solid, the Crew began truly worrying the Quakes back line, with Higuain driving an excellent shot on goal and Bingham doing well to get behind it and push it away in the 32nd.
Then, without warning, the balance of power shifted prior to any major adjustment on part of the Quakes, with Mohamed Saeid sent off in the 33rd for a second bookable offense. While the first was earned for a tactical grab on a counter in the 17th, the second was a clumsy and needless two footed challenge, late and followed through on Shea Salinas, after a beautiful piece of trickery from Pérez-García freed him on the flank.
With Higuain dropping deeper to compensate and the Crew short of a man in coverage in the wide-open game, the goals became San Jose's for the taking. Wynne, thoroughly unleashed by this point, took the opportunity to bomb down his flank at will, skipping past his marker on multiple occasions and putting in crosses that no Quakes forward managed to latch on to. Wondolowski, in particular, seemed to get a high volume of half chances and didn't look particularly sharp with any of them. Stewart did well to support runs down the opposite flank, such as in the 41st minute when Salinas had some space through the left channel and Stewart pulled his man wide, leaving a lane through which to find Pérez-García for a shot that seemed to get as close as any of them to finally breaking the deadlock.
However, the Quakes couldn't manage to jump on their advantage before the halftime whistle blew, leaving more than a few in the crowd concerned over their profligacy in front of goal. In fact, the only thing the hosts managed in the closing minutes were bookings to Pérez-García and Clarence Goodson that closely resembled Saeid's challenges individually.
Thankfully, there was no let-down after the break that should've allowed the visitors to reorganize. Eight blue shirts immediately staked out territory in the opposing half. Stewart was the first to get a clear chance out of it, controlling a beautiful switch from Pérez-García and driving on goal from an acute angle. Wondo inelegantly hoofed his first chance of the half into the Ultras section a few minutes later. Jahn managed a bit more finesse shortly thereafter, laying it off to Pérez-García for yet another curling shot that couldn't quite find its way through.
After Justin Meram embarked on a solo foray into Quakes territory for the first time all half in the 53rd, the hosts built from the back all the way to Stewart on the left flank. From there, the former Premier League player put in a telling cross right onto Wondolowski's head for a powerful redirection and an emphatic goal. Celebrating his 99th goal in Major League Soccer, the captain sprinted towards his family's season ticket seats along the touchline and kissed his baby daughter before immediately returning his attentions to Kinnear and the field.
Salinas, who opened the game a bit loose and heavy with the ball, started to really grab the game by the scruff of the neck and hit a one-timer just over the bar, seconds after the restart from the first goal. Like an artillery man hitting a tracer, the fine-tuning paid off just three minutes later, in the 60th, with Salinas blasting one home from point-blank range at the near post and giving the Quakes a 2-0 lead they would not relinquish.
Perhaps riding on the adrenaline, San Jose managed another 10 minutes of frisky attacking through Nyassi, Wondo, and Wynne. After that, however, the air seemed sucked out of the game as the result became more inevitable. The Crew would finally manage another attempt on goal by the 75th minute as Kei Kamara, previously kept unusually quiet by the Quakes back line, muscled off his man, turned, and shot, managing only to fire right into Bingham's embrace. Higuain, too, had been marked out of the game by this point by Fatai Alashe.
Aside from some fairly inconsequential substitutions and one decent flick-on from Wondolowski, that was the last potential spark of attack before the Quakes defense suffocated out any danger for the last quarter hour to see out the final whistle and the quality result.
Now, unexpectedly, the Quakes find themselves in sole possession of 4th place in the Western Conference on 17 points, despite a road-heavy schedule and the loss of a Designated Player. Kinnear and his men will look to keep up the good form next weekend against Orlando City in Levi's stadium, and maybe even celebrate the magical century mark for talisman Wondolowski.