Stanford, CA — Always expect the unexpected when the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy meet in the California Clasico, and that proved to be the case again Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd at Stanford Stadium.
Two stoppage time goals from the Quakes overturned a one goal deficit after regulation had elapsed, and 10-man San Jose squad secured a stunning 3-2 victory over its Southern California rivals.
“I don’t think those things are supposed to happen,” said interim coach Mark Watson. “It’s one thing to be down a couple goals, but to be down a player as well … it was a pretty special night.”
The Galaxy went up 2-0 with goals either side of halftime from Marcelo Sarvas and Hector Jimenez, but a brace from Alan Gordon, including the game winner, and a goal from Shea Salinas earned the Earthquakes are 3 points in the first Cali Clasico of 2013.
“It was a good game for us,” said Gordon. “It’s always a great moment, but Lenny deserved those goals, he is always doing the dirty work for us.”
Gordon was referring to his “Bash Brother” teammate Steven Lenhart, who after suffering a cut to the head in a collision with LA midfielder Juninho early in the second half, was replaced by Gordon. With the Earthquakes trailing at the time, coach Watson kept his instructions to the bruising forward as simple as can be.
“Go score a goal,” Watson told his substitute. “Gordon is a true battler. He got some great service and his two goals were fantastic.”
The Earthquakes were playing a man down after the 77th minute when a second yellow card to Victor Bernardez saw the defender ejected and San Jose trailing 2-1. Goalkeeper Jon Busch made some heroic saves down the stretch to keep the Quakes in the game, including a point-blank effort in the 88th minute, before the stoppage time heroics led to the team’s 5th win of the season.
“It was unbelievable, this team has a lot of heart,” said Salinas. “The ball bounces your way when you work really hard, and that’s what we did tonight. Now we have to carry this momentum.”
The Earthquakes will try to ride that winning momentum when they head on the road for two games this week, at Chicago and at New England, before they return to their regular home Buck Shaw Stadium for a match against the Seattle Sounders on July 13.
In much the same way that the capacity crowd was slow to take their seats at the opening whistle, especially with a game time temperature more appropriate for the inside of a tailgating grill and not a stadium, the Quakes were slow to get into a good flow in the game. The Galaxy played a high line and exerted extensive pressure on the San Jose midfield, forcing turnovers that they converted into opportunities on offense.
LA’s domination paid off in the 20th minute through a Sarvas goal, the 14th time this season the Earthquakes had surrendered the first goal of the match. A cutback cross from Landon Donovan back to the top of the area was cleverly flicked toward the six yard box by Robbie Keane for an unmarked Sarvas to redirect, hockey-style, past Busch to give LA a one goal lead.
The Earthquakes nearly equalized 5 minutes later through a very active Shea Salinas. Collecting a long diagonal pass from defender Bernardez, Salinas freed himself from right back Sean Franklin and blasted a shot toward the near post. Laying out for the ball, goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini did well to push the ball around the post for a corner kick.
LA had a good opportunity to double its lead in the 36th minute as Keane again showed his skill to create space in the Quakes penalty area. After eschewing a shot attempt of his own, the Irish international squared the ball to Robbie Rogers, but the Galaxy winger put he’s one-on-one attempt against Busch wide of the target.
As the first half drew to a close, Chris Wondolowski sent an audacious attempt from 30 yards out that Cudicini did well to contain. The Earthquakes would get no closer as the match reached intermission.
A determined San Jose side stormed out of the gates to start the second half and looked certain to tie up the game in the 50th minute. A barrage of opportunities from the wings put the Galaxy goal under siege, and only a fine save from Cudicini on a Marvin Chavez blast inside the area prevented the Quakes from drawing level. Rafael Baca collected the rebound, but his shot trickled wide of the goal.
Playing a perfect counterattack, the Galaxy extended their lead to 2-0 in the 65th minute. Donovan started the sequence with a drive through Bernardez that let him dribble into the Quakes area. The U.S. international directed a pass to Keane on his left, and the forward delivered a crossing pass through the six yard box for an uncontested Jimenez to slot home with his first touch of the game after entering as a substitute one minute prior.
The Earthquakes made believers of the old adage that a two goal lead is the most dangerous in soccer as they quickly pulled one back against the normally solid Galaxy defense. Salinas, for the second straight San Jose match the best Quakes player on the pitch, delivered a cross into the area for second half substitute Gordon to head past Cudicini and bring the home side one goal closer to a draw.
The match took a detour, seemingly for the worse in the 77th minute when Bernardez executed a tough tackle on Juninho near the center line that referee Armando Villarreal adjudged to be yellow card worthy. Bernardez, who did not appear to contact Juninho with intent, was still steaming from a play less than a minute earlier when he was fouled hard by Keane. Villarreal, who had already shown a caution to Bernardez in the 69th minute, brandished a red card from his back pocket and the Honduran defender retreated to the locker room.
Playing a man down, the Earthquakes valiantly tried to find an equalizer, but the LA defense was little bothered — until second half stoppage time.
With a long throw-in sent into the area from deep on the left side of the field, substitute Adam Jahn, the rookie forward from Stanford playing on his old campus for the first time as a professional, redirected the ball on target and forced Cudicini to make an acrobatic save. Salinas rushed in to slam home the rebound as the LA defenders looked on stunned.
Less than a minute later, the undermanned Earthquakes went ahead through Gordon. Salinas was again at the center of attention as he collected the ball deep on the right side inside the LA area and cut the ball back to Sam Cronin. With the goal beckoning, Cronin elected instead to chip a cross to the back post where Gordon emphatically headed it into the back of the net. Gordon celebrated his stoppage time winner, much like he did last spring in the California Clasico that led to the Goonies moniker being earned, by shedding his shirt and doing a sprint around the goal.
A stunned Galaxy side could only watch as the Earthquakes, and a capacity Stanford Stadium crowd of 50,028, rejoiced in the amazing comeback victory, enjoying the fireworks on the field during stoppage time and after the game in the sky high above the stadium.