Flushed from the excitement of San Jose Earthquakes’ dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 victory over rivals Los Angeles Galaxy on May 23, forward Steven Lenhart summed up his side’s resolute approach by exclaiming, “Goonies never say die!”
It was an apt reference to the popular 1980s movie about a ragtag group of kids who continually defy the odds, and it would grow to define an entire season.
The Goonies moniker perfectly encapsulated the Earthquakes’ penchant for finding ways to snatch points from the jaws of defeat. The players have made it their own, with team captain Chris Wondolowski even wearing a shirt emblazoned with the motto after some games.
While 2012 has been a watershed season for comebacks, San Jose are hardly new to that game. Wondolowski, currently leading the league in scoring with 17 goals through 21 games, topped Major League Soccer with nine game-winning goals in 2010, tying Carlos Ruiz for the single-season league record.
Entering Saturday’s game against Chicago Fire, San Jose led the league with 26 goals scored from the 61st minute onward. Their 4-3-3 record after conceding first was also tops.
So when Fire winger Chris Rolfe caught ‘Quakes keeper Jon Busch off his line and sent his side ahead 1-0 in the 37th minute with a terrific looping effort from the edge of the penalty area, the 10,000-plus faithful fans assembled at Santa Clara University’s Buck Shaw Stadium had little reason to furrow their brows in worry.
Earthquakes manager Frank Yallop said he kept it pretty simple with his halftime dressing talk.
"I told them to keep going," Yallop said. "We were playing well, and I thought we did a great job of recognizing their dangerous players and stopping them on the counterattack. I kept telling our guys, if we kept pressing on offense—if we get good quality service in, we will score goals."
San Jose had seen several terrific chances go begging in the first half, as Fire keeper Sean Johnson produced what Yallop called the best performance he’d seen from a goalie in "a long, long time."
Johnson seemed particularly preoccupied with keeping San Jose midfielder Simon Dawkins off the score sheet during that first half, producing spectacular saves from the Englishman off (in following order), a right-footed curling volley, a point-blank sliding effort, a long-range drive and finally a left-footed volley at the far post.
Lenhart Helps Kick the 'Quakes into Gear
The Earthquakes came out rather flat to start the second half, but the 59th-minute introduction of Lenhart changed that listlessness in a hurry.
Coming on for ineffective midfielder Rafael Baca, Lenhart made his first appearance since July 3 at Portland, when he had succumbed to a concussion at Jeld-Wen field.
The residual effects had kept him out of training and games until the day before Saturday’s match, and the crowd on hand greeted their hero with a rousing reception as he ambled onto the field.
San Jose had not delved into "Goonies" comeback lore since a 5-3 victory over (again) the Galaxy on June 30, a game in which Lenhart had opened the scoring. It did not seem like a coincidence that the team's late-game heroics had stagnated while Lenhart recuperated.
The tall forward—whose distinctive blond mane of hair inspired Saturday’s "Lenhart Wig Night" promotion at Buck Shaw, where the first 2,500 fans received the wig—didn't look like he'd missed more than three weeks of play, immediately inserting himself into the fixture.
With vestigial imprints of his unmistakeable likeness watching him from around the stadium, Lenhart’s introduction sparked the Earthquakes into life. Combining with fellow forwards Alan Gordon and Chris Wondolowski, Lenhart provided an added physical threat in the penalty box that the ‘Quakes began taking advantage of with relish.
"When you see Gordon, Lenny and Wondo in the box, all you think is just, ‘Kick it in there,’ and one of them are gonna get to it," winger Shea Salinas said after the game. "That’s all I was thinking about; just get the ball in there and let them do the rest. Not really trying to pick anyone out."
Lenhart’s 70th-minute acrobatic effort from just inside 18 yards certainly added a wrinkle of individualistic bravado to the attack—one that had, quite simply, been sorely missing.
Despite San Jose’s best efforts to push for a winner—there were shouts for a handball in dangerous areas on at least three occasions, including twice in the final 20 minutes—Gordon was sent off for a second yellow card in what was initially set as five minutes of stoppage time for a two-footed lunge at Fire left-back Dan Gargan. Gargan went down in a heap from the crunching tackle, and Gordon received his marching orders.
But not before Yallop had his say. Visibly furious with the call, the manager heaved a Gatorade carrying case onto the field—an action that, after embattled referee Chris Penso had consulted with fourth official Alejandro Mariscal, resulted in Yallop being ejected from the game.
"I just don’t know…(Gordon’s) trying to poke the ball toward goal, and he gets to it first, and kind of misses the ball, but he’s not trying to injure the guy who’s playing it," Yallop said.
"He’s just trying to score, and I haven’t seen that again, but it’s just frustrating. I wouldn’t say there were three handballs, but there were three handballs…that we didn’t get. I think my frustration kind of got the better of me tonight, and, you know, I just wanted to see if Shea (Salinas) wanted a drink, and made sure he got some hydration tonight."
Down to 10 men, with seconds tick-tocking away into eventual nothingness, San Jose somehow, someway found their equalizer just seconds from time.
Wondolowski chested down Salinas’s lofted free kick, sending a cushioned pass bouncing to the edge of the penalty area, and right into the path of Lenhart, who caught the half-volley in perfect rhythm, unleashing a thunderous low drive into the left corner of the goal to make it 1-1.
His teammates, particularly captain Wondolowski, who had been seething with some of the decisions rendered in the final moments, mobbed their golden-haired savior in celebration. It was all they could do, after all, when presented with a moment of pure 'Goonies' lore.
And even given the immense quality of the goal, Lenhart’s celebration might have been even better.
Dashing over to the right corner of the field, the tall striker vaulted into the air, going parallel with the ground before turning his body just so to avoid a belly flop as he came thundering down onto the turf. Then he asked for, and received, one of the ceremonious wigs in his likeness, and with Salinas joining him in the idea, the two rushed to midfield, blond polyester manes flowing (sort of) behind them.
It would prove to be the final kick of the game.
Lenhart was a bit more subdued in the post-game locker room than he had been on May 23, but he still echoed the philosophy that has coursed through the Earthquakes’ 2012 season. "We never think we’re going to lose," he said. "We weren’t thinking that at all."
"We got a point that we really deserved tonight," Yallop said. "Other than goals, I thought it was one of our better performances (this season), to be honest. I thought we moved the ball well and created a ton of chances. If we keep playing like that, we're going to be really tough to handle."
Perhaps more important than the goal, which was San Jose’s 45th on the season, was Wondolowski’s assist—his fifth of the season—which made it 49 in that department for the Earthquakes in 2012.
For Johnson, it was yet another stupendous performance dampened somewhat by a fantastic volleyed finish. Against New York Red Bulls on July 18, the Fire keeper had been bested by a sublime left-footed volley from Thierry Henry that won the game 1-0.
That certainly didn’t take away anything from Johnson’s performance from the perspective of his opposite number. Speaking after the game, Busch echoed his ongoing belief once again that Johnson is “the future (US) national team keeper.”
Given the saves he produced on Saturday night for the Fire, and with men's national team No. 1 keeper Tim Howard edging into his 30s, it would be difficult to contradict Busch.
Salinas Provides a Performance That Would Make miCoach Proud
Just days after Adidas, the official equipment supplier of MLS, had introduced its groundbreaking miCoach technology, set to be introduced league-wide next season, which tracks the total running endeavor of each player on the field through a microchip planted into their compression shirt beneath the jersey, Shea Salinas put in the kind of game that would surely have qualified for a record had he been wearing a chip.
The winger, finally enjoying uninterrupted time on the field after a devastating tackle from New York Red Bulls enforcer Rafa Marquez on April 14 resulted in the 25-year-old breaking his clavicle, an injury that forced him to the sideline for 10 weeks, according to Yallop.
But against Chicago—and in particular when facing left-back Dan Gargan, the winger showed why, when he’s at his best, there are few who can rival him for endeavor in space.
Gargan endured a hapless 90 minutes of Salinas twisting him this way and that on the right flank.
"He’s back to his running best," Yallop said. "It took a little while—obviously he’s been out for a long time. Now, only three weeks or so into his comeback, I thought he looked great tonight."
Salinas was frequently used as an outlet during the game’s opening moments, providing an interesting alternative to the more tucked-in play of “left-winger” Simon Dawkins, who is exceptional when he’s embodying the No. 10 he wears.
Tucking in just behind a striker (or two) is Dawkins' preferred positioning on the field, rather than getting out wide. But Salinas feels that change of pace ignites San Jose's attack rather than impairs it.
"Dawkins is great on the ball, he’s got an unbelievable vision, and he brings the ball inside and rarely loses it," Salinas said. "He counters what Marvin (Chavez) and I do—we like running at guys, and he likes tucking in a bit more."
With Chavez, the usual starter at left wing, out with a slight hamstring pull, Dawkins and Salinas made for a bit of an unorthodox, but wildly effective, pairing.
Dawkins would slot into a wider position on the left flank while defending, but when the ‘Quakes launched forward in attack, he quickly showcased his ability to navigate dribbling in tight spaces—which, as Salinas so rightly mentioned, is a specialty of sorts for the 24-year-old, currently on loan from Tottenham Hotspur for a second consecutive season.
With Chicago’s three-man central midfield—particularly the deeper-lying pairing of captain Logan Pause and Pavel Pardo—helping choke out San Jose’s own central midfield duo of Sam Cronin and Rafael Baca, Dawkins and Salinas’s industry took on added importance.
Dawkins is adept when granted space to run at defenders, but Salinas seems tailor-made for that part of play. When he is able to push the ball onto his favored right foot and dart into pockets of green on the wing, there are few who can keep up with him, as Gargan found out all too well, again and again.
But Salinas is no one-trick pony. So versatile is he that Yallop pushed him to right-back when he brought on Sam Garza for Jed Zayner late in the game as he pushed for an equalizer. Zayner, signed on June 20, was making his Earthquakes league debut on the evening.
Salinas won his first duel at right-back against the goal-scorer Chris Rolfe, and soon thereafter provided the aforementioned pass that set up the ‘Quakes’ equalizer.
By the final minutes, Salinas was visibly tiring, as he had every right to be. It was a shift that wasn’t lost on anybody, not least his manager.
"(Salinas) did a nice job at both positions, and you know, you can’t say enough for his work rate, and his endeavor, and his desire to do well for the team,” Yallop said. “He’s a great teammate for the guys, and a great kid to coach. He did well tonight."
"I like running at anybody," Salinas said. "I got the best of Gargan a few times, and Frank (Yallop) just told me to keep going at him. I just did the best I could, and tried to get by Gargan and into the box."
Two Full Debuts During the Match
Apart from Jed Zayner making his first appearance for the Earthquakes at right-back—the 27-year-old acquitted himself quite well in defense, and showed a real desire to get forward on several occasions—Chicago Fire introduced their newest Designated Player (DP), Dutch forward Sherjill MacDonald, acquired just this past week from Belgian club Germinal Beerschot.
The Amsterdam native came on in the 64th minute for Dominic Oduro, and immediately showed the physical ability Fire manager Frank Klopas had raved about after his signing was made official.
MacDonald promises to be a key member of the Fire’s push toward the MLS playoffs, a feat that is very much within their reach after 21 games played.
Chicago owns a 9-7-5 record on the season, good enough for fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings (the top five teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs).
Despite the dramatic nature of Saturday night’s finish, Klopas will certainly be happy with a point at what is one of the toughest places to play in the league. MacDonald was a muted presence at Buck Shaw, but one thinks he’ll soon unleash the kind of quality that saw him nab 15 goals during his nearly four years with Beerschot.
A Much-Needed Respite for Tired Legs
The Earthquakes have endured a torrid stretch of games since mid-June, and for Chris Wondolowski and Justin Morrow, both starters against Chicago Fire, playing in Wednesday’s All-Star game, combined with the taxing flights to and from Philadelphia, must have only compounded their fatigue.
Tired legs certainly rang true as a theme on Saturday night, with Wondolowski professing after the final whistle, to Morrow no less, that he was “so dead.”
Luckily, a break in the schedule will allow the Earthquakes to regain some of their strength. With their next league game not until Aug. 11, at home against Seattle Sounders, it will be a chance for rest.
San Jose does play a friendly on Tuesday, July 31, against English Premiership side Swansea City, but it should be an occasion where starters will likley be rested in favor of less-utilized players.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this article came from interviews collected on-site after Saturday's match.
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