Since returning to Major League Soccer in 2008, San Jose had won just one of its 10 previous encounters with Chivas USA, their opponents on Sunday night. The run included this season’s May 13 draw (1-1) at Buck Shaw Stadium.
But as has so often been the case this season, San Jose has a very bad habit of turning scripts on their heads. They did so again on a Sunday night that started off with a sweltering 6 p.m. PT kickoff, cutting Chivas to shreds as they took their chances, surging to a 4-0 victory.
Frank Yallop made just one change from the side that defeated Colorado Rapids 4-1 last weekend, with Victor Bernardez replacing Justin Morrow at center-back. Bernardez and forward Steven Lenhart had both missed the game while serving a one-match suspension stemming from incidents in an Aug. 18 encounter with Montreal Impact.
Morrow, who usually features as a left-back but had played some central defense this season—most notably last weekend against the Rapids—had played every minute this season for the Quakes. At 2,340 minutes, he’s tied for sixth-most among all MLS players, and it was deemed that he could have a rest.
The fourth goal—sent in quickly when left-back Ramiro Corrales caught Chivas in disarray as they attempted to set up their wall—was San Jose’s 56th on the season, and broke the previous franchise record for most in a season.
San Jose head coach Frank Yallop called that feat “phenomenal,” noting that the previous holders had included the likes of Landon Donovan and Dwayne DeRosario—both part of the 2001 and 2003 MLS Cup-winning sides.
“We were really clinical, and we could have scored a few more,” Yallop said. “And that’s not to rub it in on anybody, but I just think that our team right now is the team that’s moving the ball well, working very hard for each other and we have quality players in important positions in front of goal. Our chemistry is excellent, and we’re scoring from all over the place.”
Bernardez opened the scoring in the 11th minute, before Simon Dawkins added a second in the 39th.
Thirty-five-year-old left-back Ramiro Corrales, the last remaining member of the league’s inaugural 1996 season, rounded off the scoring with free-kick goals in the 71st and 81st minutes.
“Simon Dawkins again, what a player,” Yallop said, referring to Dawkins’ two goals against Colorado. “I’m really happy for Ramiro (Corrales) to get two goals. His first goal was a fantastic free kick, and the second was just bright play; he’s just a really bright player. It’s nice of Victor (Bernardez) to get on the sheet too. So I’m happy for a lot of the guys tonight.”
Corrales had been battling injury for much of the past month, but Yallop said that after two weeks of excellent training sessions, he pulled the fullback aside ahead of the Rapids match and told him he’d earned a starting role based purely on merit. This was the second consecutive game Corrales had started at the position, and captained the side.
Robin Fraser, head coach of Chivas, had drilled his side well about the game-changing importance of San Jose’s midfield foursome. Composed of two central holding players (Rafael Baca, Sam Cronin) and two wingers (Simon Dawkins, Marvin Chavez), it is the engine room for most of the Earthquakes’ play.
The road side thus kept three players in the center, including rigorous tacklers Shalrie Joseph and Oswaldo Minda—right-winger Tristan Bowen would pinch in to condense the space even further—when San Jose gathered possession in its own third, attempting to choke out any opportunities to find the influential Baca and Cronin.
“I thought, to be honest, Chivas played well tonight,” Yallop said. “They didn’t finish their chances, but when you’ve got a clinical team playing against you, and you miss three or four chances and we get one, and it’s, boom, goal, it’s got to be frustrating.”
The first real chance of the game came just after five minutes, when a deflected shot from Chivas forward Casey Townsend fell to talented 19-year-old striker Juan Agudelo, whose point-blank effort was stifled by a last-ditch sliding challenge.
Traded earlier in the season from New York Red Bulls, the Colombia-born but NY-raised Agudelo has found it difficult get a firm handle on this season, in which he’s scored two goals and added three assists in 14 games.
Following the third foul on Cronin in 10 minutes—he and Minda were locked in a personal battle of sorts—Bernardez lined up a 30-foot effort from left-center of goal.
The gigantic center-back’s strike was low and forceful, and it skipped twice past a helpless Dan Kennedy to give San Jose a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute. The big defender’s celebration was formulated, but it was hard to begrudge him his moment—it was, after all, just his second goal of the season.
Shalrie Joseph attempted to emulate the finer of his two goals from his previous game against New England Revolution two minutes later, but the Grenadian’s right-footed curling drive from just atop the penalty area bounced wide of Busch’s goal.
Agudelo had his golden chance seconds later. Picking off a lazy back-pass to Busch, the forward found himself one-on-one and at a slight angle with the keeper, but he lost his nerve and fired straight at him, the ball firing off Busch’s chest as he rushed to snuff out the danger.
Chris Wondolowski then hit the crossbar with a header on a cross sent in from Steven Beitashour on San Jose’s ensuing counter. It was end-to-end stuff, just 15 minutes into the match to boot.
Townsend could not take advantage of a free header off a good Tristan Bowen cross in the 28th minute, sending his effort wide left of Busch’s goal. The chance marked the first time Busch had been threatened since the previous Agudelo chance, and it would just about end Townsend’s threat on what was a very quiet night for the forward.
Agudelo again was sent through into space in the 34th minute, and while he had Bernardez beat for pace, his attempted nudged shot with the outside of his right foot was saved by Busch for a corner.
Alan Gordon’s excellent pressing won possession in the Chivas half early in the 39th minute. The ball fell to Marvin Chavez, who recovered quickly and played a pass to Wondolowski in space.
In a manner similar to the way they’d responded with the first goal, it was a superb response to extended pressure from San Jose.
“We don’t get perfect balls played in to us, so we work with what we get,” Dawkins said afterwards. “This was one of those situations where it worked. We practice finishing every day after training for that reason.”
Gordon had called Dawkins the best player on the team, echoing the words of winger Shea Salinas one month earlier. Though he had found it hard to get into the game at the outset, thanks to Chivas’ midfield tactics, Dawkins’ ability to change a game at a moment’s notice was again witnessed first-hand.
Three goals in his past two games and five in his past eight: quite the return for the 24-year-old. Passing by Dawkins in the postgame locker room, Morrow told the assembled reporters that the team had taken to calling the Edgware native "James Bond reincarnated."
While Chivas had threatened at disparate moments to start the second half, Dawkins again found the best chance when in the 64th minute he cut in from the left wing and fired inches over Kennedy’s bar.
A timely interception on the ensuing corner sprung Steven Beitashour into space. Racing down the left flank, three options emerged to Beitashour's right. He picked Chavez, whose left-footed curler was saved by Kennedy.
It was a theme of the night for San Jose—their frenzied pressing game had picked apart Chivas on numerous occasions, leading to good opportunities on the counter.
“When you press it makes it easier to get the ball back,” Rafael Baca said. “When we do that right, we’re very dangerous, getting the ball in good spaces.”
“I think we have a hard-working midfield,” Yallop said toward the end of his post-match press conference. He was particularly proud of Dawkins and Chavez—two wingers who had showed excellent work rates tracking back in defense.
“If you’re an attacking player, and you’re going to play for a team that I coach, you’ve got to be able to work back and work hard. I think that it’s taken me awhile to get those types of guys, but we’ve got them. We have a bunch of two-way players who want to work hard defensively and get forward when they can.”
Baca credited the side’s fitness levels for allowing them to play that sort of game without seeing attacks peter out due to fatigued touches and balls sent just out of the reach of tiring players.
The long-time league veteran then attempted to turn provider on the Quakes’ ensuing possession, but his attempt to get his ninth assist of the season was spurned when Kennedy saved Steven Lenhart's header.
Corrales would break the season record in the 81st minute, again from a set piece stemming from an egregious tackle by Minda on Wondolowski.
Taking advantage of miscommunication between the Chivas players—many of whom had their backs to him—Corrales took his free kick quickly and sent in a bouncing effort at the far post. Kennedy, unable to do anything more than lunge unsuccessfully at the shot, was furious with his wall.
San Jose had its fourth goal for the second time in eight days.
The win pushed San Jose's record to 16-6-5 on the season, good for 53 points, and gave them a three-point cushion atop the Supporters Shield standings. Sporting Kansas City, currently leading the Eastern Conference, are second in that race, sitting at 50 points.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes used in this article were gathered at the game.