A missed penalty kick doomed the San Jose Earthquakes to a 1-0 loss to the Montreal Impact in the opening game for each team in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League.
With a chance to give the Quakes an early lead at soggy Stade Saputo, Alan Gordon couldn’t convert from the spot. Minutes later, the Impact scored the only goal they would need when Hassoun Camara headed home a free kick from new designated player Hernan Bernardello.
The Earthquakes, featuring 11 new starters from the side that comfortably beat Chivas USA last Saturday, never really threatened the Impact goal for the rest of the match and will have a tough road ahead if they are to survive in the tournament.
MLS foes Montreal and San Jose, along with Heredia of Guatemala, make up Group 5 — the consensus “Group of Death” — are playing one another in a home and away round-robin format to determine which team will advance to the knockout rounds early next year. The winner of the tournament earns a place in the prestigious FIFA Club World Cup scheduled for late 2014.
Having met once already this season, a 2-2 draw back on May 4 in MLS regular season play, the two sides were very familiar with each other going into Wednesday’s group stage opener. From the starting lineups that featured that evening at Buck Shaw Stadium, the Earthquakes made 8 changes and the Impact made 4 changes.
The Earthquakes had the first scoring chance of the night in the 10th minute as a Ramiro Corrales free kick fired into the box was handled by Collen Warner. With designated penalty taker Chris Wondolowski watching from the substitutes bench, Gordon stepped up to take the penalty kick, but his weak effort was easily saved by goalkeeper Evan Bush.
Stung by the missed opportunity, the Quakes saw their task of earning a result get even more difficult when Montreal broke through for the first goal of the match. From a free kick near the left touchline, Bernardello curled in an inswinging ball that Camara redirected past goalkeeper David Bingham to give the Impact a 1-0 lead. Camara created space to take the header by shaking loose of Gordon near the penalty spot and calmly delivering the goal.
More bad news for San Jose came in the 39th minute when midfielder Marvin Chavez, getting the start after sitting out the Earthquakes 2-0 win over Chivas USA due to suspension, was tackled from behind by Daniele Paponi suffered an apparent knee injury. Little used winger Sam Garza entered the match in the 43rd minute for Chavez, who will be evaluated in the coming days to determine the extent of his injury.
The introduction of Garza gave the Quakes more attacking verve on the wings, but with the Impact playing a disciplined back line, San Jose found it very difficult to create quality scoring chances. A flurry of action started in the 50th minute saw the Earthquakes shoot wide of the target and rattle a free kick off the crossbar, but at no point did Bush have to make a save.
With 20 minutes left in the match, interim coach Mark Watson went to his bench and sent in Wondolowski for Corrales. The Quakes leading scorer this season with 7 goals in MLS play, Wondolowski paired up top with Gordon, pushing Adam Jahn back into the midfield, as San Jose methodically looked for an equalizer. The Impact countered with the substitution of veteran defensive midfielder and MLS All-Star Patrice Bernier to shore up its defense.
A final push was not forthcoming for the Earthquakes, and Montreal secured a valuable victory in their first CCL match. With the loss, San Jose will need to win the return leg against the Impact on September 17, as well as take care of business against Heredia, to have a realistic chance of advancing to the next round of the tournament.