SAN JOSE, Calif. — With their backs against the wall, trailing the Seattle Sounders 2-0, the San Jose Earthquakes were rescued by Chris Wondolowski in front of an appreciative crowd at Avaya Stadium.
The Quakes’ forward, and MLS’ second all-time leading scorer, earned and scored two second-half penalty kick goals to erase the Sounders’ lead and give the home side a 2-2 draw in its final game of the preseason Saturday. Too often last season, the Quakes were unable to make up such deficiencies on the scoreboard.
“Absolutely, there is something tangibly different, something in the mentality,” Wondolowski said. “It did rear its head for five minutes following each goal, but then we were able to shake it off. We talked about it in the locker room how important it was to stay the course. It was reassuring to see us bounce back.”
The Sounders had taken a two-goal lead through Victor Rodriguez, who scored on either side of intermission to put the Quakes on their heels. Seattle defender Kelvin Leerdam saw red on Wondolowski’s second penalty, thwarting any attempt at a comeback.
“Generally, I am pleased with the game,” Earthquakes head coach Matias Almeyda shared through an interpreter. “We looked to implement our style and be aggressive, we tried to be offensive and take risks when we had the ball, and then we showed our mental strength when we were 2-0 down, and I value this attitude a lot in our players. It was a big change, an important change.”
The Earthquakes controlled possession most of the first half. Almeyda had the team actively passing across the field and aggressively man-marking the Sounders when on defense. Magnus Eriksson and Nick Lima came closest to netting the first goal of the game, but goalkeeper Stefan Frei was untroubled.
The tactics required a lot of energy from the Quakes since they pushed forward in nearly every attack. Meanwhile, Seattle played patiently, waiting for their opportunity on the counter. Their only shot on goal came from a set piece free kick by Rodriguez in the 19th minute that flew straight into the arms of new Quakes’ keeper Daniel Vega.
The break finally came in the 32nd minute, when Rodriguez scored from the center of the area to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. Earthquakes defender Marcos Lopez was caught far up the field on a turnover, giving Jordan Morris plenty of space along the right sideline. He sprinted into San Jose’s half of the field, shaking off Judson’s last ditch defensive effort, before pulling the ball back for Rodriguez to finish.
“That whole goal was textbook,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer explained. “Win the ball back, get Jordan unleashed on the break, and then the nuances of Raul [Ruidiaz] sprinting to the near post, leaving all that space for Victor for a tap-in. It was a good goal.”
Seattle doubled its lead in the 52nd minute in controversial fashion. After pushing Lima back in the corner, Rodriguez dribbled into the box and passed to Morris. The U.S. international forward’s shot was deflected, but Rodriguez tapped in a rebound from close range, though he appeared to be offside. The goal stood on review, and the Sounders enjoyed a 2-0 advantage.
The Earthquakes pulled one back minutes later on Wondolowski’s penalty kick in the 57th minute. The Quakes captain earned the foul after getting bowled over in the area, and he calmly slotted home to the right as Frei guessed wrong and dove left.
Wondolowski again earned a penalty kick and converted in the 61st minute. This time, Seattle defender Kelvin Leerdam, already on a yellow card, was judged to have denied a goal-scoring opportunity and was shown a straight red. Wondolowski’s shot, to the same side of the goal, had more venom and again and eluded Frei to equalize the score.
Playing a man up for nearly half an hour, the Quakes dominated possession, but the Sounders kept organized in the back and made it tough for the hosts to find open looks. San Jose’s best chance came at the start of stoppage time, when Wondolowski found Shea Salinas with only Frei to beat. But the substitute fired his shot over the target. The game ended moments later in a 2-2 stalemate.
“It was exciting to be back in front of our fans,” Lima said. “The game showed some things we need to work on, but it also showed our willingness to come back in a situation when we were down. We were able to come together as a team, just like Matias wanted, to fight and get the bounces to go our way, and even up the scoreline.”
The Earthquakes remain home next weekend to open their 2019 MLS season against the Montreal Impact. The Sounders head back to Seattle to play FC Cincinnati in the expansion side’s first-ever MLS game.