Shea Salinas had predicted this kind of drama.
The San Jose Earthquakes midfielder said he anticipated second-half goals in the MLS Is Back tournament because teams had been off for three months during the novel coronavirus shutdown.
Lack of preparation equaled a lack of defense, Salinas had said.
But almost no one could have guessed the Quakes would revert to the Goonies of 2012 on Wednesday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida.
San Jose rallied twice from two-goal deficits to score their first victory since last year on Salinas’ DIY goal late in stoppage time. The Earthquakes’ 4-3 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps in Group B was the kind of game San Jose got used to six years ago when it won the Supporters’ Shield with last-minute heroics.
It just didn’t seem like it could happen for a team that had not produced a victory in nine games.
Now San Jose (1-1-2) plays Sunday against the Chicago Fire in the group finale with a strong chance to advance to the Round of 16 in a tournament scheduled to end Aug. 11.
“What a team effort tonight,” said Salinas, who dribbled through defenders like Mad Max in cleats to score. “We never quit. Something we’ll remember for a long time.”
The game turned after Vancouver took a 3-1 lead in the 59th minute when Argentine goalkeeper Daniel Vega made a huge gaffe with an outlet pass that went right to the Whitecaps’ David Milinkovic. The gift resulted in Cristian Dajome’s uncontested goal.
What did the Quakes do?
“What you saw tonight was a team that preserves through adversity,” Salinas said. “We made mistakes, we didn’t hang our heads.”
Nope. Instead, the Quakes kept playing their full-court game that keeps opponents on the back foot. It’s also a risky strategy as it makes the backline vulnerable to counterattacks.
Without perfect timing, San Jose is going to allow goals. Opponents have scored 10 times in four Quakes games this season. The statistic that should weigh heavily on the minds of Matias Almeyda and his coaching staff.
Allowing three easy goals, including an own goal, takes the joy out of a spectacular offense show in which San Jose outshot Vancouver 31-7 and led in corner kicks by an astounding 22-4.
If Almeyda’s squad insists on attacking all game then it is going to have to improve its conversion rate. It cannot expect late-game magic all the time.
But that is not what is coming out of the locker room. Particularly not on a night when stardust lingered in the humid Florida night.
“What happened there, there was a team that maintained their identity when they faced adversity,” Almeyda said. “A team that is searching for their own style.”
It was not much of a surprise that the pendulum shifted because of captain Chris Wondolowski, one of four substitutes who came on after Vancouver took the 3-1 lead.
Wondolowski, Major League Soccer’s all-time leading scorer, has been relegated to a bench role in what could be his final season at age 37. But Wondo, as he is affectionately known, showed again why he cannot be dismissed.
Wondolowski scored his first goal of the season in the 72nd minute, his 160th in a storied career. He did like he has done so many times — Wondolowski hung out in front of the net and back headed a ball past goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau.
San Jose leveled the score in the 82nd minute off a Magnus Eriksson corner kick that Mexican international Oswaldo Alanis headed into the net.
The first half was a tasty hors d’oeuvres for the second-period scoring spree.
The half ended with a big goal by Andy Rios, who scored on San Jose’s 12th corner kick that came in stoppage time. Cristian Espinoza tapped the ball to Eriksson, who served into the mixer. Rios extended his leg and redirected the spinning ball past a befuddled Crepeau, who finished the game with eight saves.
So much for the fun. Now for the questions.
Defensively, the game was hardly a masterpiece. Vancouver sat back and let the Quakes attack before countering. The strategy is something other MLS probably will employ to disrupt Almeyda’s playground style.
Vancouver struck first in the seventh minute with Ali Adnan, an Iranian international leftback. He dribbled free toward the center of the penalty box before placing the ball just inside the far post beyond Vega’s outstretched hands.
The Whitecaps doubled the score in the 22nd minute after Judson lost the ball in the Quakes’ half of the field with an easy giveaway to Peruvian Yordy Reyna.
A defensive miscommunication left the field open for Reyna’s dash toward the goal. He marched downfield ahead of trailing defenders as Vega came out of the net to challenge him. The goalkeeper got a hand on the ball to deflect Reyna’s last-second pass toward a teammate. But a retreating Judson knocked in an own goal.
Almeyda downplayed the errors that usually lead to defeats.
“We were playing a team that shuts down very well from the back,” he said of Vancouver.
Almeyda praised his players’ patience and confidence in the game plan: “If one goes with what one plans in practice, surely you will have your gift,” he said.
Enjoy it while it lasts. The team has the makings for a Giant Dipper of a season.
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