SANTA CLARA — Home sweet home for the Earthquakes, as 10-man San Jose survived a late flurry by the visiting Philadelphia Union to collect an impressive 1-0 victory.
A spectacular goal from Shea Salinas staked the Earthquakes (10-11-7) to an early lead that turned out to be enough to fend off the Union (10-9-9) when just under an hour into the match Rafael Baca was ejected for earning a second yellow card. And despite not having their first choice defenders available, the Quakes held on against a furious Philly comeback effort.
“When Rafa got sent off, it changed the game,” said interim head coach Mark Watson. “But we fought right until the end and withstood a lot of pressure and a lot of balls into the box. … I’m really proud of them, that is the side of team that sticks together and has the right mentality.”
A quick start to the match was rewarded with Salinas’ goal, which came from the speedy winger in his first start since a hamstring injury sidelined him midway through August.
“Sam played a great ball in behind the defense and I got my foot on it,” said Salinas of his volleyed effort. “I was just trying to make contact with the ball the whole time and put it on target.”
Assist provider Sam Cronin, who picked out Salinas with a clever chip over the static Philly back line, was more effusive in his praise of the game winning golazo.
“It was a really, really well taken goal,” said Cronin. “Shea kept his body in front of (defender Sheanon) Williams and had a composed finish. We needed that first goal.”
It turned out to be the only goal the Earthquakes would need as they extended their home winning streak to a season long 6 games with the result against the Union. With points at a premium as the Quakes battle to stay relevant in the Western Conference playoff chase, game-winning-goal scorer Salinas was not going to criticize the manner in which they achieved the 1-0 win.
“I don’t think there’s a way you want to win a game, you just want to win, and we did that,” Salinas said simply. “From here on out, the season might not be pretty, but if we’re winning games, it’s fine by us.”
The Quakes kicked off the first half with the setting sun at their backs and unsettled defenders at center back. With regular starter Clarence Goodson a late addition to the U.S. Men’s National Team roster ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifying clash against Mexico and regular partner Victor Bernardez anchoring the defense for Honduras in the same competition, coach Watson selected Justin Morrow and Jason Hernandez to captain the San Jose back line.
“We’ve been in that situation a lot this year,” said Watson. “We basically take whoever is available and put them together and throw them out there.”
The two defenders were tested early by Philadelphia when imposing forward Conor Casey delivered a perfect through ball to striker partner Jack McInerney in the 12th minute. With Hernandez racing to recover, McInerney carried the ball into the Quakes area, but he dragged his shot wide of the far post.
The Earthquakes, the better team in the opening quarter hour of the match despite the almost successful Philly counterattack, finally scored the goal they deserved in the 15th minute. A deft chip into the area by Cronin was received by Salinas who, after tipping the ball in the air to himself behind the defense, volleyed a shot under Union goalkeeper Zach MacMath and into the back of the net for a 1-0 San Jose lead.
“Shea looked good,” assessed Watson. “He’s been out a little while, so he lost a little sharpness. He was dangerous all night and his pace and work rate were there. And obviously he did really well on the goal. It was a good night for Shea.”
San Jose nearly doubled its lead in the 25th minute via a corner kick when Cordell Cato collected a loose ball in front of a goal mouth scramble, but saw his shot deflected to safety by a prone Raymon Gaddis on the goal line.
“Over the course of the night we had a lot of good opportunities,” said Watson, “and is some of our finishing was better we could have been up a couple goals early.”
Playing confidently with a 1-0 lead, the Earthquakes controlled much of the play through their midfield, as Baca and Cronin repeatedly bossed proceedings against the Union’s Brian Carroll and Keon Daniel. The midfield battle resulted in yellow cards for Daniel in the 36th minute and Baca in the 45th minute.
Halftime couldn’t arrive soon enough for Philadelphia, as San Jose created plenty of scoring opportunities and held a huge advantage in meaningful possession, but the home side couldn’t quite break through for a second goal.
The second half started off in much the same fashion as the first, but it was still the Union that had the best chance in the proceedings. In the 49th minute, after whiffing on a shot attempt at the top of area, Daniel had a second bite of the cherry and lashed a low shot that caromed off the upright.
The game turned decidedly in the 57th minute when Baca was shown a second yellow card for a late tackle on Casey. Down to 10 men, the Earthquakes had to regroup to control a Philadelphia side thrown a life-line by referee Fotis Bazakos.
San Jose refused to sit back and defend as it selectively found chances to push forward in search of a second goal. In the 64th minute, with numbers in the Philly box, a pass appeared to roll off of Carroll’s arm, but Bazakos waved off the protestations of the Quakes for a penalty.
The Union came close to equalizing in both the 78th and 79th minutes, but first a Daniel shot went well over the target and a snap header from second half substitute Aaron Wheeler fell safely into the hands of an appreciative Jon Busch.
With all hands on deck, the Earthquakes defense kept the Union attack at bay. In the 88th minute, a long distance shot from Carroll broke through but Busch was able to punch the ball away.
“At that point it’s all about mentality and fighting,” said Watson, “and they did a good job right to the end to see the game out.”
Trying to kill off the game and compete for the aerial assault by Philadelphia into the San Jose box, coach Watson sent in Steven Lenhart and Adam Jahn into the match. Lenhart picked up a yellow card in stoppage time to put himself over the limit for caution accumulation and he will miss the Quakes next game.
Five minutes of stoppage time later, Bazakos blew his whistle to signal full time, and the Earthquakes celebrated their sixth home win in a row and ninth of the season. San Jose next faces the Vancouver Whitecaps in the friendly confines of Buck Shaw Stadium this Saturday evening.