DC United, Pontius top Quakes 1-0
The Earthquakes reached the halfway point of the season with only 18 points from 17 matches. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
During the San Jose Earthquakes’ magical 2012 season, the team was affectionately known as “The Goonies.” This year, with countless injuries keeping many of those same players out of action and sending them into the infirmary, a more appropriate moniker might be “The Gurneys.”
With reigning MLS MVP Chris Wondolowski unavailable due to a midweek foot contusion, and last week’s goal scoring hero Steven Lenhart nursing a sore knee, the Quakes failed to muster much on offense and dropped a 1-0 decision to D.C. United at RFK Stadium.
“We came out with a good mentality, but we gave up that early goal and that made it tough,” said interim head coach Mark Watson. “I am happy with the way the guys responded though. We had a good finish to the first half and our performance in the second half was excellent. Our ball movement was good and we had enough chances, but we were just a little unfortunate with the final ball.”
San Jose was undone by an early penalty call, as D.C.’s Chris Pontius slotted home the spot kick to give the home side a lead they would not relinquish.
“I thought the penalty was somewhat dubious,” said Watson. “We don’t have a good angle from the bench, but the referee said play on and the linesman had his flag up for the penalty.”
One bright spot for the Quakes was the play of midfielder Shea Salinas, who on the evening was responsible for creating their most dangerous scoring opportunities. Salinas, who hasn’t made a start for the Earthquakes since a 2-1 win over Toronto FC in early May, would gladly trade individual accolades for team results.
“It’s tough to be happy with individual performance because we’re a team, and we want to win games,” said Salinas. “So, as a team, I thought we fought hard and played well the second half. We were putting passes together. We were being dangerous. We just couldn’t score. So it’s just really frustrating not to come away with a point, at least, but we really wanted three.”
For D.C. United, the victory snapped a franchise record 13-game unbeaten streak, and gave them their first victory since March 8. Meanwhile, for the Earthquakes, the loss saw them limp to the halfway point of the season with only 18 points from 17 matches.
“We are going to keep it positive,” said Watson. “We had a good performance for most of the match. There are some little things that we need to improve on in general, and we are going to continue to work at it. D.C. was motivated tonight and got a result, but we have to put that behind us, get back to work and be ready next week.”
The Earthquakes ended their season-long 4-game MLS road trip with a 1-3-0 record. The team will look to rebound next weekend when they face archrival LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium.
Coming off a win against the Colorado Rapids, interim head coach Mark Watson was forced into making a pair of changes to his Starting XI as Salinas entered in as a winger for Wondolowski and rookie Adam Jahn spelled Lenhart as Alan Gordon’s partner up top. Watson made one more change as Marvin Chavez, returning from international duty with Honduras, replaced his fellow countryman Walter Martinez at outside midfielder.
D.C. United, not playing like a team that has collected only 1 win all season, took control of the match from the opening whistle in front of their home supporters. Their effort was rewarded in the 10th minute when midfielder Chris Korb enticed defender Justin Morrow to trip him up in the penalty area. Referee Jair Marrufo hesitated to make the call at first, but after deliberating with his assistant pointed to the spot. Pontius converted the penalty to score his first goal of the season.
The conceded goal seemed to wake up the sluggish Quakes, and for good spells of the first half, they controlled the pace of the game. However, their possession, while patient, was without effect, as DCU settled in defensively to protect their 1 goal advantage. When Marrufo signaled intermission, United took a halftime lead into locker room for the first time in 2013.
San Jose opened the second half with a more concerted effort on D.C.’s side of the center line, but their opponent stayed resolute along its back four. A long pass toward the area in the 61st minute was expertly chested down by Salinas, and in one motion he turned and volleyed a shot on target, but United goalkeeper Bill Hamid made a good reaction save to keep the Quakes from equalizing.
Forced to press forward at every opportunity, the Earthquakes were content to let DCU counterattack, but Jon Busch kept the defense settled when they were called into action, making necessary saves as warranted.
In the 73rd minute, the Quakes nearly got on the board through Jahn. A well placed through ball from Sam Cronin sprung the Stanford rookie in the D.C. area, but his well struck left footed shot, with Hamid beat, caromed off the outside of the far post.
Ten minutes later, Cronin, flashing some of the skill that has made him the Earthquakes leading candidate to make the 2013 MLS All-Star game in late July, aided a rocket of a shot from D.C. defender Alain Rochat over Busch’s crossbar with a glancing header.
In the 86th minute, the Earthquakes sent in another long ball into the area that Gordon did well to stretch for, but his diving attempt to redirect a shot on goal instead sent the ball agonizingly over the target.
Wave after wave of San Jose attacks kept the United defenders on their heels, yet the RFK denizens did well to bend and not break under the constant pressure. The introduction of Martinez for Chavez late in the game titled the momentum in favor of the Quakes, but it wasn’t enough to find an equalizer, as the team had done so often last season. A last gasp effort by Morrow in the 94th minute could have provided redemption for his earlier penalty foul, but his shot inside the area soared over the goal.
The 1-0 loss snapped San Jose’s 3-game winning streak at RFK. The Earthquakes begin the second half of their season when they return to action next Saturday against the LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium in the first California Clasico meeting of 2013.