SANTA CLARA — It was a must-win CONCACAF Champions League match for the San Jose Earthquakes, and they delivered in a big way beating the visiting Montreal Impact 3-0 at Buck Shaw Stadium.
A first half finish from Chris Wondolowski ensured that the Quakes would continue their all-time club unbeaten record at home in CONCACAF regional competition. Marvin Chavez and Shea Salinas completed the scoring for the Earthquakes (1-2-0), who drew level with the Impact (1-2-0) in Group Five of the CCL. C.D. Heredia of Guatemala leads the group with 6 points.
“Very pleased,” answered interim head coach Mark Watson when asked about the result. “We had to defend a lot, but it showed that our persistence and that little bit of quality in the attacking third that was unfortunately lacking last Saturday night. We feel really good about the performance and also about the three goals.”
Keeping clean sheets at home has become de rigueur for the Earthquakes, as Tuesday’s result marks the seventh time in their last 8 matches at Buck Shaw that the defense has kept the opponent off the scoreboard. Prior to that, San Jose had collected but a solitary shutout, a 1-0 win against the Seattle Sounders in the opening month of the MLS season.
“3-0 is a big result for our team,” said Salinas. “And defensively it was one of the best games we’ve had. We have amazing depth on our back line.”
Key to the victory was scoring first, something the Quakes had failed to do in either of their previous two CCL matches. And with team-leading scorer Wondolowski pacing the way, they did just that against the Impact.
“Montreal is a very good team,” said Wondolowski. “They always come out with a disciplined tack. If you can come out early and get a goal against them it breaks them out a little bit and makes them vulnerable. It was important for us to get one early.”
The decisive 3-0 result, while vital to the Quakes fortunes in the tournament, did not change the math at all as they will need the Impact to beat Heredia at Stade Saputo on September 24 and themselves to beat the Guatemalans at Buck Shaw Stadium on October 23. If that scenario plays out, all 3 teams in the group would finish level on 6 points, and goal differential will determine which side advances to next spring’s knockout rounds.
“The last two games we’ve lost 1-0, so getting 3 goals tonight put us in a good place,” said Rafael Baca. “Now we have to wait and see what Heredia does at Montreal. And when they come here we need to get a shutout and get more goals so that we go through with no problem.”
At least for one evening, Earthquakes fans will be Impact fans, as Heredia needs only a draw in either match against their MLS foes to advance as Group Five winners. Tuesday’s result will be out of the Quakes hands, but if Montreal picks up the win, San Jose will have everything to play for on October 23.
After falling 1-0 to a tough Montreal side in the first group stage match of the tournament, the Earthquakes and coach Watson learned their lesson that the Impact would be no pushover. Fielding a much stronger starting lineup than faced the Impact back on August 7, the Quakes were able to stand toe-to-toe with the Eastern Conference points-per-game leaders.
The teams trading good scoring chances in the first 10 minutes of the match as Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush made a foot save on Steven Lenhart’s 7th minute glancing header and defender Jason Hernandez made a sliding block on Andrew Wenger’s 8th minute blast.
The Earthquakes used an adjunct set-piece to take the lead, through their first goal of the tournament, in the 21st minute. A well-executed long throw-in from Dan Gargan found Lenhart for an uncontested flick-on header into the 6-yard box. Ghosting in from the far post, Wondolowski stepped in front of defender Hassoun Camara and guided the ball past Bush for a 1-0 San Jose lead.
Montreal was left reeling from the goal, and looked vulnerable to yielding a second. However, the Quakes took their foot off the gas and allowed the Impact back into the game. In the 33rd minute, a free kick chance from Patrice Bernier 30 yards from goal was well blocked by goalkeeper David Bingham to preserve San Jose’s advantage.
A surefire opportunity from Montreal to level the score came 5 minutes later after the visitors raced forward on the break after Andres Romero had stripped Chavez near the center line and initiated a 3-2 counterattack. Wenger’s cross into the box found its intended target in Daniele Paponi, but the Impact striker conspired to one-time the ball well wide of the target.
In first half stoppage time, the Impact again had an equalizer in site, as captain Davy Arnaud crossed from deep on the left sideline eluded Bingham, but Justin Morrow saved a goal with a clearance off the line as Justin Mapp bore down on the pass. The halftime whistle sounded from Honduran referee Armando Castro seconds later, and the Earthquakes, having dodged a bullet, retreated to the locker room nonetheless with the lead.
The Earthquakes doubled their lead through a fantastic goal by Chavez. After Bernier had failed to properly clear a loose ball in the Impact area, the Honduran winger collected the errant clearance with his right foot before unleashing an unstoppable volley with his left foot that cleared Bush and pierced the upper corner of the goal.
Down two goals and clearly frustrated, the Impact made two offensive-minded substitutions soon after sending in MLS leading scorer Marco Di Vaio for the ineffective Paponi and Brazilian playmaker Felipe for captain Arnaud. The Earthquakes countered with Cordell Cato and Salinas for Jaime Alas and Chavez.
With the Impact pushing forward in an effort to get back into the game, the Earthquakes happily settled into a counterattacking formation. In the 84th minute, after second half substitute Alan Gordon nearly reached a Wondolowski cross through the Impact area, Salinas collected the clearance from Felipe and set his sights on goal. After rounding Jeb Brovsky, Salinas drove a low shot from close range that eluded Bush and pushed the San Jose lead to 3-0.
Salinas nearly scored a second goal as the game entered stoppage time, but Bush made a great save to deny the speedy winger just inside the Montreal box. It didn’t matter to the Quakes as less than a minute later they celebrated their first victory of the tournament. San Jose returns to CCL action on October 23 when it hosts C.D. Heredia at Buck Shaw Stadium in the last match of the group stage.