SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Earthquakes weren’t as prolific with their shooting as in past games, but that didn’t matter much in a comprehensive 3-1 win over the visiting Colorado Rapids.
The Avaya Stadium announced crowd of 17,762 were treated to an entertaining performance by the Quakes. An own goal by the Rapids less than two minutes into the game and a miraculous effort from Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili gave the Quakes a two-goal halftime lead that was never in danger. Shea Salinas, a second half substitute, capped off the scoring with an individual play to ice the game late before Diego Rubio pulled one back for Colorado.
“As a collective group, we are feeling confident,” Salinas said. “I think it’s a testament to how hard guys are working. It’s impressive.”
After trailing in their previous two games, it was important for the Earthquakes to enjoy an early lead, especially against a team like the Rapids that they were expected to beat.
“We talked about that before the game,” midfielder Tommy Thompson said. “We had to be awake from the first minute, and that translated to on the field. Guys were pushing the envelope, and it was great to see.”
On the other bench, the view was more of frustration, as Colorado slumped to its fourth straight game without a win. On the night, the hosts out shot the visitors 17-11, and in possession the Quakes dominated 66.3% to 33.7%.
“It came down to individual battles,” Rapids coach Conor Casey said. “They won their individual battles tonight, and we did not.”
Last year, it was the Earthquakes that often fell short on the stats sheet and ultimately the scoreboard, so the transformation on display during their recent run of success has been a revelation to those outside San Jose, but not to the guys who call Avaya Stadium home.
“In the past, if someone lost the ball, guys were throwing their arms in the air,” Salinas said. “Now, there’s none of that. When one guy loses the ball, the other ten bust their butts to get back for him. It’s a collective team spirit that we have to make each other better, and that shows in our play. We’re fighting for each other, and it’s making a big difference.”
The only real disappointment of the night came when Colorado scored late to deny San Jose the shutout. It was definitely not the way the Earthquakes and head coach Matias Almeyda wanted to see the game end, but it also will provide the team motivation moving forward.
“No, no, when you are scored on it’s because your opponent had a virtue, and I respect an opponent’s virtues,” Almeyda said. “If I analyze the game well, there are times I liked and times I didn’t. This just lets me know we have to keep on improving.”
Playing the guys that have brought the team to this point, Almeyda sent out the same starting XI that dominated the Vancouver Whitecaps last weekend, and it paid dividends right from the opening whistle.
A turnover by the Rapids in the first minute was quickly turned into a counterattack by the Quakes, and they were off to the races. Florian Jungwirth got things started with a long diagonal pass right to the feet of Tommy Thompson on the right sideline. The homegrown midfielder turned and drove toward goal, dishing the ball off to Cristian Espinoza making an overlapping run. Espinoza, tops in assists for San Jose, sent a low cross through the box intended for Chris Wondolowski, but defender Lalas Abubakar turned the ball into his own net to put the Earthquakes up 1-0 just 74 seconds into the game.
Wondolowski, who was denied an easy tap-in by the own-goal, had his first attempt at reaching goal No. 10 of the season when he collected a pass at the top of the area in the 14th minute. The Quakes captain touched the ball to his left and rifled a shot that missed the target and caused a bit of a stir as it crashed into the stadium’s outdoor bar. A similar attempt from Magnus Eriksson in the 19th minute also sailed over the crossbar, but no beverages were endangered.
And then it was Vako’s turn, and the Quakes most effective player of the last month made his effort count. After collecting a pass from Nick Lima 25 yards from goal, the Georgian attacker did what he does best: throw defenders off balance. He cut to his left, then to his right, both times shaking off defenders before curling a perfect shot to the far post. Goalkeeper Clint Irwin could do nothing, and the ball settled into the back of the net to give San Jose a 2-0 lead.
Vako was definitely feeling it, and in the Earthquakes’ next possession into the attacking third, he again showed off his dribbling brilliance. This time, the midfielder settled for a longer shot and his effort glided just over the target.
The half ended with the Quakes up 2-0 and looking like the better team on both sides of the ball. The early mistake to give up the own goal seemed to take any wind the Rapids had in their sails, and perhaps they were lucky not to be down even more.
“It broke down in individual defending and energy,” Casey said. “The first half was not good enough, and when you make mistakes, you’re going to get punished, and we did.”
The second half started slowly for both teams. The Quakes settled into a comfortable routine and the Rapids kept their focus on defending deep. Colorado’s Andre Shinyashiki entered the game as a substitute for veteran forward Kei Kamara, but the MLS Rookie of the Year hopeful was limited in his effect.
Vako danced into the area in the 58th minute before settling the ball onto his stronger right foot. The midfielder crushed a shot from a short distance that flew right at Irwin, who made the stop.
It was the end of the evening for Wondolowski in the 60th minute, and the Earthquakes lone representative on the MLS All-Star team subbed out for Danny Hoesen. Wondolowski will join the rest of the league’s best in Orlando for Wednesday night’s showcase against La Liga giant Atletico Madrid.
Vako exited the game to his own standing ovation in the 79th minute, when Almeyda brought in an extra defender with Marcos Lopez securing the left side of the formation. Vako finished the night with a goal in his third consecutive game and six goals in his last seven games.
Espinoza had a good try at making it three goals for San Jose. He rocketed a ball from 25 yards out that rattled the post in the 82nd minute. Salinas didn’t miss his opportunity, putting on a Vako-esque display dribbling in from the left and carrying the ball through the Colorado defense before wrong-footing Irwin with a shot to the back post. It was the sixth goal of the season for Salinas, extending his personal best record.
“Yeah, I don’t really know what the difference is this year,” Salinas said. “A lot of it is how we play. My starting points are higher up the field, which makes a difference. Vako’s scoring a ton of goals, and I’m pushing to compete with him and keep pushing him forward.”
The Rapids did strike late to ruin goalkeeper Daniel Vega’s quest for a clean sheet. Rubio found the back of the net on a deflected shot that the Quakes ‘keeper desperately tried to save, but the ball lobbed over his head and outstretched gloves.
The result extended the Quakes winning streak to four games, which they last accomplished in August 2015. San Jose returns to action next Saturday at Avaya Stadium when they host the Columbus Crew.