San Jose Earthquakes Defeat LA Galaxy in 4-3 Thriller at Stanford Stadium
To commemorate Military Appreciation Night on Saturday at a sweltering Stanford Stadium filled to the brim with boisterous supporters, San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski went a bit overboard.
Entering into the game with a league-best 13 goals (two ahead of New York Red Bulls' Kenny Cooper, who has made two more appearances this season), Wondolowski sent his side ahead in the 61st minute with a sublime back-heeled flick off a Marvin Chavez corner.
It marked the third goal in three league games for the man affectionately known as "Wondo," who spent nearly a month on duty with the United States men's national team during this latest round of friendlies and World Cup qualifying.
His latest exploit, which would prove the last goal the Earthquakes would need on the night, also saw him enjoy one of the more patriotic celebrations seen in recent memory, just days from the Fourth of July.
After watching his shot trickle past a helpless Josh Saunders into the back of the net, Wondolowski charged toward the group of 15 or so military personnel collected behind the goal and began high-fiving and hugging a number of them fervently.
Then, Wondolowski took a few steps backwards and began trotting toward center-circle, pounding his chest and kissing the Earthquakes crest adorning the left pectoral of his jersey, pointing toward the 1906 Ultras, San Jose's most famous bunch of fans.
You only needed to see the emotion etched upon Wondo's face to see what it meant to him.
"It was amazing," Wondolowski said of the goal and celebration after the game. "It was a great ball by Marvin Chavez. He whipped it in, Ramiro Corrales made a near-post run and flicked it, and I was able to lose my marker and flick it in.
"With it being Armed Services Night, and what they do for our country, and with July 4 coming up, it meant a lot to score and celebrate with them. I was just trying to show my gratitude to them. They're amazing people.
"You have 50,000 fans out there, you have our supporters who are there every game, they're always behind us. That's another driving force and that keeps us going. It's pretty special."
This marked the third time in 17 games this season San Jose has gone on to win after trailing at halftime. (They were down 3-2 to the Galaxy at the half Saturday.) The other 18 teams in MLS have only combined to achieve that same feat six times.
"We win a lot playing from behind," Wondolowski said. "We don't get down on each other, we fight until the end. At halftime, even being down a goal, we knew we were going to come back and get some chances.
"It's just a great statement game. I'm sure it was exciting for the fans—4-3, a lot of good goals, gives us cardiac arrest but we'll take it. It's three points. We'll take that every day."
It's the sort of never-say-die attitude that cannot help but attract a cultural reference. For the Quakes, their moniker was bestowed after a May 23 come-from-behind victory against that same Galaxy side.
"Goonies never say die!" striker Steven Lenhart had exulted after the Earthquakes had roared back from a 2-0 deficit at the Home Depot Center that night of the 23rd, striking in the 76th, 82nd and 94th minutes to take all three points. (The Earthquakes have scored a league-leading 11 goals in the final 15 minutes of league games this season.)
Wondolowski's winner on Saturday night came far earlier than many of his other winners this year, but he made it 21 goals for the Quakes in the final 30 minutes of games this season.
The 29-year-old striker, who donned a "Goonies Never Say Die" T-shirt in the post-match locker room (the two 'O's in 'Goonies' were cleverly construed as soccer balls), has helped the Earthquakes to victory now in the three league matches he's played since coming back from his latest tour with the US men's national team.
Wondolowski only made his full international debut at 28, but he has become an integral component of the national team set up, first with Bob Bradley, and now Jurgen Klinsmann.
With the Quakes three games into a brutal stretch of play that will see them play six games in 18 days' time, Wondolowski will need to be at his best.
"You can always count on (Wondolowski) to get in the right spots and you know where he is," striker Alan Gordon, who came on as a 68th minute substitute against the Galaxy, said.
Gordon, who has scored all six of his goals for the Earthquakes after the 75th minute since joining the club in July 2011, didn't need to produce any heroics on Saturday night. Gordon did, however, force a good save from Saunders when he fired a low left-footed shot across goal.
A roller coaster of a match
It was Lenhart who had opened the scoring in the seventh minute. Pouncing upon a bundled save from Saunders after Chavez had sent a left-footed curling effort in toward goal, the man with the iconic shock of dirty-blond hair was at his opportunistic best.
"Lenhart just did a great job rebounding for that goal," right-back Steven Beitashour said. "That's what he does when the ball rebounds; he's great at scoring goals like that."
"We all like each other," Lenhart said. "I think we're building on something pretty cool, and we're more than just soccer players. We're buddies, and we like to battle hard for 90 minutes."
The Earthquakes bossed the minutes following Lenhart's goal, but LA slowly began to get back into the game, building momentum through their midfield fulcrum of David Beckham.
Allowed the time to take two or three touches on the ball—a luxury he cannot be afforded—Beckham began picking out teammates with pin-point, searching long balls.
But it was a sumptuous, curling free kick—vintage Beckham—from 25 yards that brought Los Angeles level. Keeper Jon Busch could do nothing but stand rooted to his goal line as he watched the drive nestle into the upper left corner of the net.
Within 10 minutes of that 31st minute effort, the Galaxy had struck twice more—both coming from Quakes central defender Jason Hernandez's mistakes.
Hernandez bundled a Hector Jimenez cross into the back of the net to send the Galaxy into the lead, but it was his next mistake that proved the most costly, and avoidable.
Just 20 feet away from his own goal, Hernandez attempted to play a pass back to Busch. Jimenez once again found himself in the right place, pouncing upon the mistake and cutting back for Landon Donovan, who could do little else but score from such close range.
Hernandez was visibly distraught, slapping his hands to his head in disgust as replays showed his mistake for all to see.
But his teammates—central defense partner Victor Bernardez in particular—would have none of it.
Bernardez, whom head coach Frank Yallop credited with being "colossal" on the night, brought San Jose back to within one goal with a terrific right-footed volley off Chavez's corner.
"Victor (Bernardez's) goal to end the first half was the biggest play of the game, without question," said midfielder Sam Cronin. "To give us that momentum going into the locker room was huge. We knew if we came out and pushed the game, we'd have a successful second half."
Push they did, helped on by Cronin.
In the 47th minute, the San Jose No. 4 latched onto a searching, bounding ball played by Beitashour just outside the midfield circle before poking past Saunders to bring the score to 3-3.
"'Beta' played a ball down the line, Wondo made a little check in and Lenhart attracts so much attention, he played a little dummy and it went through," Cronin said, describing the build-up to the goal.
"We were pretty disappointed with the way we played in the first half," Cronin continued. "We felt we weren't challenging ourselves enough, or getting the ball on the ground and playing it forward. In the second half, we just wanted to make a conscious effort to keep the ball on the ground. I think we did a better job of that."
"I think we come back from every game, but scripts change," Yallop said. "We'd like to score first, which we did, but to come back against a team of this quality is very good. We've got another game against them, but I can't speak highly enough of the players through that door. They keep trying, and even if we hadn't come up with a victory tonight, I think we still could've walked away with our heads held high."
The Quakes' ascendancy came in marked contrast to the spectacular disintegration of Beckham, who could have been sent off in the game's final moments when he kicked a ball at a San Jose player who was lying injured just by the goal.
Upset with what he deemed excessive time wasting, and remembering that Wondolowski had failed to play the ball out in the first half when a Galaxy player had lain injured, it appeared that Beckham had had enough, and wanted the Earthquakes to know it.
A fight nearly broke out then, and Beckham had to be restrained from going after the Earthquakes players once the final whistle had gone. Chavez bore the brunt of the Englishman's furor.
As the ex-Manchester United and Real Madrid player moved about the field, looking to instigate some sort of rumble, chants of "Beat LA! Beat LA!" began to rise about the stadium. The 1906 Ultras section had begun the chant, but thanks to Beckham, it didn't take long for what seemed to be the entire stadium to join in on the fun.
It was a less than stellar ending to what had been a terrific encounter in the 50th league meeting between the two clubs, but it did prove the latest example that this is a rivalry not to be taken lightly.
Matthew Snyder is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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