Mar 2, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Vako Qazaishvili (11) and Montreal Impact defender Victor Cabrera (2) fight for control of the ball during the first half at Avaya Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Earthquakes had never lost a season opener at Avaya Stadium, their home since 2015, but that changed Saturday. In front of an announced crowd of 18,000, the Montreal Impact spoiled the party with an impressive 2-1 victory.
Magnus Eriksson staked San Jose to an early one-goal lead, but Montreal followed up with strikes from Ignacio Piatti and Saphir Taider to take a 2-1 advantage into halftime. The visitors, with goalkeeper Evan Bush making some key saves, withstood the Quakes attempt at a rally and finished the night victorious.
“The goal was nice, with a good set-up by Vako, but the important thing is to win games, and we didn’t do that today,” Eriksson said. “It was the first game, so there were a lot of new things, but we can improve from here.”
Chris Wondolowski, who starts the season one goal behind Landon Donovan for the all-time MLS goal scoring record, played the full 90 minutes, and was encouraged by the team’s attitude, despite the disappointing result and its familiar script to last year’s numerous defeats.
“We are very optimistic, and to a man, we want a game tomorrow,” Wondolowski said. “We want to be out there again to right the ship. And I can honestly say that was not the case last year. Now, we feel we have it, and we just need to execute it, just get it done.”
San Jose featured the same starting eleven as it had throughout the preseason, with Wondolowski at the top of the formation, and four newcomers rounding out the squad. New head coach Matias Almeyda, brought in to improve the fortunes of a team that finished in last place last season, wanted stability in his squad, and there was some encouragement to be gained from the night.
“We were happy with the performance and how they worked, but obviously sad at the result,” Almeyda said through a translator. “We were a team that kept up the intensity and wanted to win, even when we were down by one.”
The visitors started strong from the opening kick, using a quick attack to get behind the host’s defense on a few good forays into San Jose’s end of the field. Some lackluster finishing was all that prevented Montreal from taking an early lead.
The Quakes opened the scoring in the 11th minute when Vako dribbled into the heart of the Impact defense before sliding a perfect pass to Eriksson at the top of the area. The Swede turned and shot low, beating Evan Bush to the far corner.
But Montreal found an equalizer through Piatti, the team’s MVP and leading scorer in 2018, in the 29th minute. The talented Argentine forward danced through the area after receiving a corner kick, delivering an unstoppable shot from the six-yard box. Quakes’ ‘keeper Daniel Vega expertly saved Taider’s free-kick moments before, but he could do nothing on Piatti’s effort.
Just before halftime, the Impact took its first lead of the night when Taider finished from a tight angle following a pinpoint pass from Zakaria Diallo. The Montreal defender took advantage of a massive hole in the Quakes man-marking defensive scheme and raced into space with the ball before delivering the perfect assist.
The Earthquakes, in need of a spark, brought in Tommy Thompson to replace right back Nick Lima in the 61st minute. Montreal immediately sensed a weakness in the formation and Piatti dribbled unopposed into the area before laying the ball off for Taider, but the midfielder skied his shot into the scoreboard bar.
The game entered the last 15 minutes with Montreal still holding a 2-1 lead, so Almeyda rolled the dice, substituting forward Danny Hoesen for defender Harold Cummings. The Impact adjusted by strengthening its back line, absorbing the pressure of the increased San Jose attack.
The Quakes comeback attempt fizzled at every opportunity, disappointing the fans that stayed around till the end, and the team’s four-year streak of season opening wins at home came unceremoniously to an end.
Up next on the schedule for the Earthquakes is Minnesota United, who won its season opener 3-2 at the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Quakes beat MNUFC twice last year, including at home to start the season, one of only two victories in 2018 at Avaya Stadium.