Rapids Start Slow, Eventually Catch Up to Quakes
Running on fumes after a third away match in a week, the San Jose Earthquakes couldn't finish the job after a positive start and conceded a stoppage-time equalizer to draw the Colorado Rapids, 1-1. Chris Wondolowski's masterclass finish in the 19th minute was cancelled out by a perfectly placed looping header from Colorado fullback James Riley in the third minute of stoppage time.
San Jose fielded a heavily rotated side given the game fatigue, swollen injury list, and altitude, including seldom-used Khari Stephenson at the pivot, backup center back Paulo Renato, and teenager Tommy Thompson in the #10 role. Regulars J.J. Koval and Fatai Alashe didn't even make the squad for minor injuries, Clarence Goodson and Matias Perez-Garcia were given a night off on the bench, and star forward Innocent is away from the team beginning a months-long recovery from knee surgery. Despite the upheaval, the visitors looked comfortable and natural in Dominic Kinnear's familiar 4-1-4-1 formation.
The wet and rainy conditions slowed down the players but actually helped the ball slide across the surface, so the Quakes pinged the ball about with confidence in the early passages during which they dominated and dictated play. It took less than 60 seconds to for the black and blues to put their wares on display, building from the back all the way up the pitch with slick passing to win a corner. Soon thereafter, Wondo was put through on goal and barely lost a footrace with Rapids keeper Clint Irwin for what would've otherwise been an easy finish. Thompson played far more mature and composed than his 19 years, looking far more comfortable as a starter at the center of the nervous system than a super sub winger. The Rapids allowed San Jose acres of space to move the ball side-to-side in, but did a good job for the first quarter hour keeping them out of the final third.
When the wall broke, it predictably enough came from a set piece. Shea Salinas, taking corners in lieu of Perez-Garcia, put an inswinger towards the penalty spot that was half-cleared away towards Sanna Nyassi, who headed it right back to the far post. Wondolowski, sitting deep on the back side of the play, let it fall to his feet with all the time in the world and just the keeper to beat. He wound up for a fake shot, causing Irwin to leave his feet, dragged the ball back onto his left foot, and slotted it home. Not only was the technique impeccable, the Quakes captain exhibited almost inhumanly calm nerves from point-blank range.
Despite going ahead, Kinnear pushed his men onward looking for more, and for the better part of the next half-hour, they delivered. Wingers Sanna Nyassi and Salinas played narrow and facing goal, combining with Thompson through the middle of the park to move the ball up the pitch, on one occasion even putting him into space for a tight angle shot after some excellent control from the Quakes homegrown player in the 30th. Stephenson didn't show any evidence of lack of game time, looking composed in place of Alashe. Right back Marvell Wynne combined with Nyassi down the right flank to put in a few dangerous crosses from their side, and initiated breakaways by winning the ball in the press
However, in the last few minutes of the first half, cracks began to show at the back. Stephenson inexplicably kept a ball in bounds in defense in the 42nd minute such that Rapids star attacker Dillon Powers could cleanly cut it back across goal for a chance. Seconds later Nyassi's weak square ball at the back got intercepted by Powers, who nutmegged Victor Bernardez and his through ball was just barely cut out by an on-rushing David Bingham. Garbiel Torres crossed one to an open Powers at the top of the box just as the half was about to expire, but his first touch couldn't control it and Bingham snuffed out the chance.
The second half opened like the first, with Wondolowski, Thompson, and Salinas combining through the middle to free Cordell Cato down the left flank to run right at a defender and power a good shot on goal that was just too close to the keeper to get past him. However this time, they wilted much faster after early positive signs, allowing Torres in the 53rd minute to get wide open on the ball just 10 yards from goal, only to bailed out by the assistant referee ruling him barely offsides. Nyassi, despite having a good game, was soon thereafter substituted for left-back Jordan Stewart in order to settle the back line somewhat.
Paulo Renato, in particular, looked lost at sea at the back, and failure to pressure the ball in the 65th led to a powerful swerving strike off of substitute Vicente Sanchez's right boot that Bingham did well to get behind. In the 86th, Powers and substitute Charles Eloundou shredded Renato with a simple 1-2 down the middle, leaving the Quakes center back on his backside, with Eloundou inexplicably missing the 1v1 chance from 12 yards out, dead center.
From there, the pressure continued to mount and mount as the Quakes found absolutely no outlet for possession or clearances, with striker Adam Jahn repeatedly humiliated in the air by Rapids defender Axel Sjoberg in particular, and Stephenson not able to hold it long himself. Perez-Garcia made a late cameo for Thompson in attempt to hang on to possession but he wasn't able to manage much better. Leandro Barrera, a late energy sub on the left wing, was useful and fiesty, but that move failed to change the tone either. Cato had by this time moved into his natural right-wing slot, and looked lively, but was eventually isolated by lack of possession. Colorado pushed the ball forward with abandon, winning set piece after set piece, and Kinnear and company looked visibly dismayed when an inexplicable 5 minutes of stoppage time were added to the end of play.
It was in the third of those five minutes that the hosts finally broke through, with David Bingham failing to punch a corner clear of the box and Rapids right-back Riley, who had only scored 2 goals previously in his MLS career, nodding a long-distance finesse header perfectly looped into the far top corner of the net. Jahn and Stewart were both on that back post but despite their height, neither could manage to keep the perfectly weighted ball out. Although the Rapids, energized by the equalizer, attempted to put another on the board and win all three points, the Quakes did at least manage to avoid that disappointment and saw out the 1-1 result.
The draw means San Jose acquired 5 of a possible 9 points on its difficult road stand, and now sits tied for 4th place in the Western Conference standings with 14 points from 10 games. Their next match will be at home, next Sunday, May 16th, against the Columbus Crew.