September 19, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes forward Danny Hoesen (9) controls the ball against Atlanta United defender Michael Parkhurst (3) and midfielder Eric Remedi (11) during the first half at Avaya Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Josef Martinez scored twice to complete Atlanta United’s 4-3 comeback victory against the San Jose Earthquakes Wednesday night at Avaya Stadium, extending his single-season scoring record to 30 goals and earning his side an important three points.
The Quakes (4-17-8, 20 points) made it interesting on the night, just days after firing head coach Mikael Stahre and replacing him with assistant Steve Ralston, but the announced 15,948 in attendance were left frustrated at the final whistle.
“I thought our guys stood toe-to-toe with them for most of this game tonight,” Ralston said. “We showed that we can play with the best teams, and we just have to be able to do it consistently.”
The surprisingly spritely Earthquakes jumped out to a two-goal lead courtesy of Nick Lima and Danny Hoesen, but Atlanta United (18-5-6, 60 points) clawed one back just before intermission through Héctor Villalba. Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili restored the lead early in the second half, but Martinez and Miguel Almirón brought the visitors back to hand San Jose its eighth home loss of the season.
“The mentality of the team is really strong,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “There is no quit. We kept going, we kept going. We hung in there, and three points is three points.”
The game turned on a controversial decision midway through the second half, when it had appeared that Chris Wondolowski had scored the 143rd goal of his career to put the Quakes up by three. Instead, the VAR determined that a penalty call the other way had occurred moments before Wondo’s goal, and Martinez scored from the spot to cut into San Jose’s lead.
“Absolutely, it changes the game,” Parkhurst said. “4-1 to 3-2 right away, it gives us momentum. As soon as it goes in, we felt we could get at least a point out of this game.”
Atlanta United would score its fourth goal of the night deep in stoppage time to earn more than just a road point. With the 4-3 win, the second year MLS franchise now sits atop the Supporters’ Shield standings, four points ahead of the New York Red Bulls with five games to play.
In his first game as the Quakes interim head coach, Ralston made a few key changes to the starting lineup. Jackson Yueill and Harold Cummings came in to strengthen the spine of the formation, while homegrown player JT Marcinkowski made his San Jose debut in net, replacing incumbent goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell.
“No game is an easy one, but with the attackers that they have, it is always hard to prepare for that,” Ralston said. “I knew it was going to be difficult. We changed the formation, we gave some opportunities to some new players and I thought they did okay.”
But the Quakes’ old guard was responsible for securing the first goal of the game. Shea Salinas, running the left flank like a rookie, delivered a pinpoint cross to the far post in the 13th minute that Lima, his counterpart on the right, headed back across the target and past Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan.
Atlanta almost answered in the 27th minute, when Villalba collected a loose ball in the area with only Marcinkowski to beat, but Guram Kashia, wearing the captain’s armband for San Jose, made a timely goal-line intervention to preserve the one-goal advantage.
The defensive stop inspired the Quakes and, soon after, they celebrated their second goal of the night. Hoesen, after taking a long pass behind the defense, saw his first shot attempt stymied by Guzan, but the Dutch striker regained possession and lofted the ball to the back corner of the goal. It was his 12 goal of the season, second in as many games.
The visitors pulled within one just before halftime. Villalba made no mistake from distance, blasting a ball to the far post to give Atlanta some encouragement going into the locker room.
The second half was much like the first, as time and again the Earthquakes looked the better team. A stunning individual effort from Vako produced a highlight-reel goal in the 58th minute that pushed San Jose back ahead by two. The Georgian took possession of the ball on the right flank before dancing his way into the area and slotting a left-footed shot past a bewildered Guzan to give him 10 goals on the season.
Ten minutes later, a bizarre sequence of events saw Wondolowski’s apparent goal overturned when video review showed a previous handball infraction by Magnus Eriksson back in the Quakes’ penalty area. Wondo’s goal, a spectacular finish following Anibal Godoy’s marauding run down the center of the field, was taken off the scoreboard by referee Fotis Bazakos, and Martinez stepped to the penalty spot to reduce the deficit to 3-2.
In the 73rd minute, a counterattack by Atlanta caught the Earthquakes defense out of shape and Martinez darted into the area. He was fouled off the ball — which warranted another penalty call — but Almirón was in a perfect position to capitalize, beating Marcinkowski low and to the left to equalize.
The Quakes kept fighting, despite the setback, and had a call for a penalty kick of their own in the 90th minute on a hand ball in the box, but the VAR did not deem it a clear and obvious foul. The juxtaposition of the previous call in favor of Atlanta and the later non-call that could have benefited the Quakes did not sit well with Wondo.
“Yeah, turning point,” Wondolowski said. “It’s always a tough moment, tough when the referee takes it in his hands. I understand the rules and the laws and how it goes, but to go back and then go back to a 50/50 play that could be called either way. And also then if you are going to call that, how is it not clear and obvious in the 90th minute?”
The Earthquakes still had their chances through six minutes of stoppage time, but it wasn’t enough. And just as time was running out, Atlanta nabbed a late game-winner — Martinez’ second goal of the night off a perfect cross from Almirón — to spoil San Jose’s attempt for a result against the Eastern Conference leaders.