Toronto Humbles San Jose, 3-1, Led By Star Duo
Dom Kinnear's dream start in his return to the helm of the San Jose Earthquakes fell back to Earth a bit today as absences finally caught up with the visitors and they fell to surging Toronto FC, 3-1.
While the Earthquakes have started the season brightly and sat perched comfortably in 4th place going into this one, Toronto stars Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco formed an unstoppable duo that contributed to each of Toronto's three goals and many chances besides. As for the goals themselves, Chris Wondolowski's converted penalty wasn't nearly enough to overcome goals from Warren Creavalle, Luke Moore, and former Quake Justin Morrow.
Without talisman Matias Pérez-García to call upon due to injury, key midfield pivot-man Fatai Alashe due to an entirely optional international call-up, or any of the long-term injured, Kinnear was tasked with finding a lineup and a system that could continue the run of good Quakes results. He ultimately went with the same 4-1-4-1 system he has begun to favor this year, with veteran Khari Stephenson taking over in defensive midfield and youngster J.J. Koval doing his best to fill in at #10. Toronto, too, was making due without DP and US star Jozy Altidore up top, with the relatively unheralded Luke Moore filling in.
The started late due to thunderstorms and heavy rain, but once it got underway both teams seemed to feed off the energy of a slick surface and pinged the ball about the park to feel out each other's defenses. Right off the bat Wondolowski chipped one through to striker Adam Jahn, who did well to settle it but had nowhere to go once he did. No real punches were thrown until the 9th minute when Stephenson drove a piledriver from distance that went only just over the bar. However, it was the hosts that began to assert themselves in greater fashion with beautiful, intricate passing, particularly featuring their two healthy DPs and emerging Canadian technical wizard Jonathan Osorio.
Their first warning shot across the Quakes bow was in the 12th when an over-the-top ball to the pacy Giovinco was only barely headed away by David Bingham, who flew off his line and well out of the box to do so. Just a minute later, Toronto left-back Ashtone Morgan clipped a beautiful ball to put Osorio free down the end line, but no Toronto toes found the end of Osorio's quick, dangerous cross across the face of goal. Giovinco, attempting to win a lead through his own brilliance, danced through San Jose's midfield, then defense, and found himself with an open shot from the right channel, bouncing the effort off the crossbar.
When the opener came in the 22nd minute, it was deeply expected after Toronto's period of dominance, and from a predictably slick passing sequence. After one lane on goal closed off, the ball was passed back to Osorio at the point, who then put a delicately weighted ball toward the touch line to put Giovinco through on the left channel. The Italian DP crossed beautifully with his weaker left foot and it was nodded home with aplomb by the onrushing Justin Morrow. Not only did the right-back find his way to goal from a deep position, he picked the pocket of Jordan Stewart to get his head on it first to do so. All in all, a remarkbly well taken goal for a defender.
Just when it looked like Toronto may run away with it, 60 seconds later Morgan blatantly handled a rather meek Wondolowski effort in the box, forcing referee Fotis Bazakos to point to the spot. The San Jose captain, already with 100 MLS goals to his name, stepped up to the spot and put his laces through it to the bottom left corner, only barely beating Toronto keeper Chris Konopka, who had guessed correctly.
Trying to build on its equalizer, the Quakes put a bit more pressure going forward, and Koval went only a yard or two wide on a powerful header off a corner. In the 31st, winger Sanna Nyassi tracked back hard to gather a loose ball, drove towards goal, and unleashed a strike from about 25 yards out on the right corner of the box. The effort deflected off of a defender to the feet of Jahn at point blank range with Konopka closing in fast but the big target man couldn't find the delicate touch necessary to tuck it around the keeper and his clip instead went wide.
The Quakes' inability to capitalize on their chances would prove costly in the 34th, when a short pass out of the back from Clarence Goodson to Nyassi was put under pressure by Giovinco. Nyassi took a heavy touch and went down under very little pressure from the diminutive Italian, giving the ball away to Luke Moore who laid it off for Warren Creavalle to smash it home with a fierce strike, bottom corner, to leave Bingham hopeless even from 20 yards.
With the wind knocked out of them, San Jose managed very little going forward the rest of the half, with the only real chance falling to the feet of center-back Victor Bernárdez in the box off of a set piece, but the defender unsurprisingly managed to muster the striker's finesse necessary to get a yard of space and put it on frame. Giovinco, however, was not content with the 2-1 scoreline and danced and turned his way into dangerous areas over and over again, forcing a save or two before the first half whistle was blown.
The second half began with an unexpected substitution of Paulo Renato on for the rock-solid Goodson, a move that would later be explained as a hamstring injury to the US-international center-back. His Portugese understudy, Renato, would go on to a fairly abject performance in his stead.
However, the news wasn't immediately bad, as Jahn won a foul that led to a set piece from which Salinas found his head, only for the effort to be directed almost comically wide. Koval was beginning to grow into the game by linking the advanced play with short, tidy passes, keeping possession high up the pitch. Stephenson, perhaps encouraged by his early effort, began to take more long-distance strikes on goal, but they were all deflected wide or blocked. Shea Salinas put in adequate service from set pieces, but was a pale imitation of the quality we've come to expect from the likes of Pérez-García.
Giovinco put the visitors on notice in the 55th minute, however, that they were still miles away from his class, by a truly sublime display of close control to bail his side out of a tricky deep position. Seconds later, he let a pass to him run through to the touch line and tried one from a tight angle that only a profoundly confident player would've dared.
While Wondolowski managed a few flashes of quality himself, holding up play and switching it from inside to out, his teammates just weren't up to the task of supporting him. Koval was perhaps the tallest liliputian in that regard, at the very least managing to retain possession and win a few set pieces by putting his body between marker and ball. Salinas and Jahn, perhaps attempting to atone from earlier shortcomings, nearly linked up off once such set piece in the 63rd, with the big Stanford man only narrowly being beaten to the ball by a game Eriq Zavaleta.
Desperate for a change, San Jose looked for a switch on the field. The hard-working but ineffective Nyassi was the man to go in the 57th minute in favor of Cordell Cato, leaving the visitors with just one sub remaining. Toronto countered shortly thereafter, putting on wide-man Jackson in favor of defensive midfielder Creavalle to faciliate a switch to a 4-2-3-1, with Osorio in the hole and Bradley deep. The American talisman quickly became unstoppable in his deeper role, with his head up on the ball, picking out passes far downfield.
He did so most impressively in the 71st minute, hitting a ball long to Giovinco down the right channel, with the Italian cutting a low cross back precisely onto the foot of Luke Moore, sitting point blank inside the 6 yard box, who tucked it home and left Bingham no chance. Renato, in particular, was shredded by the movement and was left on his backside as he attempted to twist and turn, attempting to find a man to mark like a plastic bag in the wind. Instead, it was his ball-watching that let Giovinco find Moore so easily.
Down 3-1 and thoroughly outplayed, the game began to get ragged and threadbare for the Quakes, although they retained no small amount of fight in their play. Jahn found yet another Salinas set piece at the near-post of a corner and nodded it towards goal, but couldn't beat the keeper from the difficult angle. He even managed a dash of uncharacteristic cleverness, letting a Cato cross run through his feet and towards Wondolowski's in an effort to find a better angle. Sensing the need for another true striker, Kinnear sent Jahn a partner in the form of Mark Sherrod, making his Earthquakes debut after a lengthy recovery from knee injury, on in favor of Koval.
However, the next chance to boil up came in Toronto's favor, with Bradley bursting free down the left wing after being sprung by Giovinco, managing to chip Bingham and only be denied a goal by a sliding Jordan Stewart off the line at the near post. Salinas returned to his prior form of not being able to clear the nearest defenders on set pieces, and Cato's seeing-eye cross managing to only narrowly miss both Jahn and Sherrod. Toronto countered in the still-wide-open game with two consecutive interplays between Bradley and Giovinco in the 80th and 81st minutes that generated two more scoring opportunities, leaving even Quakes partisans delighted to only be down 3-1. Toronto would continue to carve up the back line, especially with so little left in the Quakes midfield, and a slow Khari Stephenson providing very little support to the exposed Renato.
While Sherrod won an odd header or two and generated a bit of hope for Quakes supporters who were frustrated wtih the overall forward play, none of he, Jahn, or Wondolowski produced anything intrepid going forward the remainder of the match. The "highlight" of the trio, perhaps, was Jahn bulling into Zavaleta in the 89th minute and finally getting the better of him on a 50-50 aerial ball, only to be called for a foul on the effort.
Toronto would therefore comfortably see out the 3 points, giving young Canadian Jay Champan his MLS debut and watching Giovinco take another few pot-shots from distance, desperately seeking a goal from a match that he had thoroughly personally dominated, only for it to elude him.
Next weekend the Quakes return to Avaya stadium and get an extra day off as they prepare for the Soccer Sunday match on national TV against FC Dallas. They fell to the visitors, 1-0, in the dying seconds in the opening match of the season off of a goalkeeping error, and have already spoken about atoning for letting the result get away from them. Dallas, in contrast, limps into San Jose coming off a 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Sporting Kansas City last Friday.