Quakes Douse Fire, Open Avaya in Style
In the inaugural match for gleaming Avaya Stadium, the San Jose Earthquakes proved their substance matched the trappings by delivering a convincing if unspectacular 2-1 win against the struggling Chicago Fire.
When a new stadium opens after the kind of season the Quakes had last year, it’s only natural to wonder whether things would truly be any different, or if the on-field product would take a back seat to the “longest outdoor bar in North America” in terms of attracting fans and corporate dollars. Dominic Kinnear was more than up to the task, with his decimated back line looking solid in defense, his side dominating set pieces on both ends of the pitch, and a real sense of identity emerging out of his preferred 4-4-1-1 formation: pragmatic, disciplined, and confident.
The literal fireworks from Avaya’s opening ceremony had hardly cooled off by the time rookie Fatai Alashe opened the scoring for the game, his career, and the stadium’s history off a corner in the fifth minute. A goal of no great beauty (Alashe himself described it as “scrappy” after the game), he zeroed in on a Clarence Goodson flick from the scrum and headed it home.
Energized by the goal, the Quakes began to ping the ball about the park, playing one-touch ball and stretching the field horizontally and vertically. JJ Koval, tactically shackled and deeper in previous outings, was given license to roam well forward and his high pressing and a few proactive moves brought out a bit more unpredictability in the Quakes attack. Alashe covered just about every blade of grass on the brand-new pitch and just hasn’t stopped improving on either side of the ball, more than justifying his inclusion in the US U-23 national team. Clarence Goodson put in a command performance, marshaling the makeshift back line and snuffing out everything in the air or on the ground, looking remarkably good for a 32-year-old that hasn’t played competitive minutes since last July. Emeghara and Matias Perez-Garcia constantly threatened to break the game open on their own, but didn’t quite manage to do so.
However, Perez-Garcia, set-piece wizard that he is, predictably created the next Quakes chance when he put it on the penalty spot from about 40 yards out. Goodson met it with a surprisingly elegant left-footed volley, which Fire keeper Sean Johnson spilled right into the path of Ty Harden, who bundled it into the goal for the first goal of his career and the 2-0 lead.
The joy was to be undone rather meekly in the 29th minute when a comedy of errors allowed Chicago to rip the Quakes back line to shreds. Shaun Francis was AWOL on the back post, Harden and Alashe were left in no-mans land after ball-watching, and JJ Koval made little effort to track back from one of his runs forward, leaving Harry Shipp with about as simple of a finish as you’ll ever see in a professional game.
From there on, the game settled down and slowed, neither team looking truly threatening but Chicago improving after the half and the introduction of DP David Accam, whose directness, pace, and trickery were terrifying before the defense had fully gotten a beat on the man. A few nervy moments ensued from sustained Fire possession and poor communication amongst the unfamiliar back line, but the wall held and David Bingham made a few important interventions to keep the back of his net clean.
For the last half hour, the Quakes seemed determined to tighten their grip on the game, slow the tempo down, and constrict anything dangerous from developing. The result was a turgid pace with very little excitement, and every tactical shift or substitution seemed aimed entirely about seeing out the 2-1 scoreline. Two half-chances fell to the feet of Jahn and Wondolowski but neither could convert them. In the dying minutes of stoppage time, Chicago managed one last surge forward but the pressure was absorbed easily, attackers were marked, and Clarence Goodson threw himself to the ground for one last block and a well-earned 3 points.
· In a scary moment, MPG’s lower leg was stomped on by Amerikwa in the 56th but he ran it off and looked fine thereafter
· There was a genuinely warm reception for Jon Busch when he took a jog down the sideline with the other substitutes, he’s clearly still beloved around these parts
· FC Dallas made it three wins in three already; maybe that first performance was better that we thought it was?
· This looks like a playoff team, and I think there is still a move or two to shore up that defense in the cards.
· I may have spoken too early about JJ Koval being a future defender, he played much further forward today and, although nothing specific came of it, a few tidy touches and creative ideas portend greater things.