Two goals apiece from Simon Dawkins and Alan Gordon fired the San Jose Earthquakes to a 4-1 victory over Colorado Rapids Saturday on an abnormally breezy late summer evening at Buck Shaw Stadium.
The win exacted a fitting measure of revenge for the Quakes, who had not lost at home since last season against—fittingly enough—Colorado. Their current unbeaten streak at Buck Shaw now extends to 14 games (10-0-4).
San Jose was playing without three of its normal starters, with striker Steven Lenhart and central defenders Victor Bernardez and Jason Hernandez sitting out due to one-game suspensions incurred during last Sunday’s match against Montreal Impact.
Save for a span of 10 or so nervy minutes in the second half when Colorado pulled a goal back to make it 2-1, the makeshift central defense of Ike Opara and Justin Morrow held strong.
The Earthquakes didn't miss a beat.
San Jose were dominant throughout, producing a vintage display that coach Frank Yallop called “one of the best” he’d seen in his almost eight seasons of managing the club (2001-03, 2008—).
The win took San Jose to a league-best 15 wins and pushed their lead in the Western Conference standings to seven points over Real Salt Lake. San Jose still have a game in hand, as well.
They went four points clear of Eastern Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City in the race for the Supporter’s Shield, although SKC have a chance to cut back into that advantage when they host New York on Sunday.
Dawkins Excellent Once Again in Midfield, Alan Gordon Rampant Up Front
It’s getting to the point where defenders know what’s coming when San Jose midfielder Simon Dawkins runs at them on the break, but they remain helpless to stop it.
On loan from English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur for the second consecutive season, Dawkins, a natural attacking midfielder, has a marked proclivity of cutting infield with his right foot whereupon he frees himself up to either fire an attempt on goal or spread a pass to an arriving teammate.
It is his syncopated change of pace, compounded by a bevy of deft feints, that keep the movement fresh, and therefore the defenders continually befuddled.
In the 11th minute, Dawkins was sent into space on the left wing from a superb left-footed through ball by Gordon.
"You talk about hold-up play, and it doesn’t get any better than that," Yallop said of his striker. "Chest, down, great ball out wide to Simon, who's 1 v 1, and I think he enjoys that. He’s not really a wide player, so he enjoys coming in centrally."
"The defender’s coming toward me, so I feel if I take one touch I can take it past him and he won’t be able to get himself set," Dawkins said. "I’ve been working at that in training every single day, and thankfully it paid off today."
The first goal was clinical—a low, right-footed drive past keeper Matt Pickens’s near post. Yallop called it a "great shot." His second, in the 68th minute, put the game out of reach.
Taking his throw-in quickly, San Jose midfielder Marvin Chavez picked out Sam Cronin in an advanced midfield position, whereupon Cronin played a quick ball into the path of Dawkins, who was surging to his right.
The ball fell perfectly into the Englishman’s path and, after pausing briefly to ready himself, Dawkins fired a first-time shot (again with his right) past Pickens, again past the keeper's near post.
He would almost add a third goal in the 87th minute, but fired his fearsome drive into the side netting. Still, he pushed his season total to six goals (although the PA announcer said he’d scored his fifth on both of his goals).
Speaking to reporters afterward, Dawkins playfully chastised himself for missing out on his hat-trick. "I should have had a third," he said, chuckling. "But I fired it into the side netting."
Gordon nearly got a hat-trick of his own. The tall striker, who had not featured for San Jose since July 28 against Chicago (successive suspensions), and had not scored since July 22 against Vancouver, immediately made his presence felt.
There are few forwards more energetic than Gordon, and throughout the first half he was ubiquitous, charging down defenders like a bull who’d just seen red.
His assist for Dawkins’s opening goal was excellent, as was his eye for goal, still sharp after two games on the bench. Gordon continued to put Pickens under pressure, forcing the keeper into a string of saves before he finally got his goal in the 43rd minute.
Rafael Baca did superbly to erase Hunter Freeman—who had a howler of a first half—with a clever stepover, launching a left-footed cross to the back post where Gordon rose to meet it and head down to make it two-nothing heading into halftime.
After Dawkins pushed San Jose to a 3-1 advantage, Gordon rounded off the scoring adroitly.
Taking advantage of Ramiro Corrales's header in midfield, which bounded into the Colorado penalty area, Gordon raced onto the loose ball and, after touching past center-back Marvel Wynne, dispatched his shot into the back of the net.
It was a statement game from the Quakes, who Yallop had exhorted in a team meeting before the game to use this Rapids encounter as an opportunity to banish memories of their loss last weekend.
"I thought tonight, we have to make a statement where we’re top of the league; let’s stay there," Yallop said. "Let’s not limp into the playoffs."
The weather was a fitting forecaster: the season is now heading into its stretch drive, and while the Earthquakes are getting closer to locking up a playoff spot, they want to do so with panache.
Brief Worries After Colorado Score
The second-half had begun at a bit of a canter, but it would fire into life in the 54th minute when Martin Rivero sent a bending corner kick to an unmarked Tyrone Marshall, standing in the middle of the penalty area.
Marshall could do nothing else but head past Jon Busch to pull back a vital goal and send the momentum swinging back to his side.
"They made a sub where Hunter Freeman came off and Marshall came on, so everybody had their marks during the first half, but obviously with the substitution nobody had picked up Marshall yet on a set piece and he pretty much had a free run at (the header)," Opara said.
"That can’t happen, but going forward I think we’ll figure that out as a unit, and when a substitution is made to quickly react and go from there."
"That goal was a bit of a wake-up call," Dawkins said. "We knew that we needed to keep our game the way we’d had it in the first half, and attack, and we ended up getting those two additional goals."
"We were just weathering the storm, weathering the storm, and we knew that at some point it would open up, so we were playing long balls and trying to stretch them out," Opara said.
"Finally, we had guys underneath who could create, and we had guys who could finish well. Overall tonight, it was a good effort."
Opara hailed Morrow’s play on the night in particular, repeatedly telling both reporters and Morrow alike in the post-game locker room that he just "follows the All-Star’s lead." (Morrow played in the MLS All-Star game on July 25.)
Fire back into dominance they did, with the final minutes of the game seeing a thoroughly frustrated Colorado side unable to cope with some sublime, sweeping passing movements from the Quakes, one of which nearly ended in a stirring goal.
Kaval Sets a Date for Construction to Begin on New Stadium
Construction is set to begin on San Jose’s new soccer-specific stadium in October of this year, and Earthquakes president Dave Kaval wants to make it a memorable start.
Not just in fans’ minds, mind you. He wants this thing etched into the history books.
During a halftime speech to the assembled crowd at Buck Shaw, Kaval said that it would take 4,600 participants to break the standing world record for biggest groundbreaking.
In a ceremony outside the stadium an hour-and-a-half before kickoff (an Earthquakes media representative expressed pleasantly surprised at the strong turnout), Kaval had first revealed that construction was set to begin on the new stadium in October, with designs on it being ready to go by the start of the 2014 MLS season.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes used in this article were gathered at the game.