Jun 9, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes defender Yeferson Quintana (30) and Los Angeles FC forward Adama Diomande (99) argue in the game during the second half at Avaya Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
SAN JOSE, Calif. — What once was coined Avaya Castle for the formidable atmosphere that greeted opponents, has become a haunted house of horrors for the San Jose Earthquakes. Los Angeles FC came to town during the weekend and scored two late goals to complete a dramatic 4-3 comeback victory at Avaya Stadium.
The Quakes have already lost four times at home this season, but the way they were defeated Saturday night will be tough to shake. In years past, San Jose lived by its “Never say die” motto.
Saturday, LAFC flipped the script on its California neighbors, scoring a game-winning goal deep in stoppage time to Goonie the Goonies.
It could have been a night to celebrate in San Jose, especially with Chris Wondolowski’s valiant effort — playing with a stomach flu, but scoring twice to put his team up 3-2 in the second half.
Now, they will have to rue another loss, their fourth in a row in league play, and hope there are better days ahead.
Putting game on ice would have been nice
Wondolowski took himself out of the game in the 72nd minute. The Quakes’ captain couldn’t continue playing through his illness, and he looked almost apologetic that he wouldn’t be able to see the team through to a much-needed victory. Fatai Alashe came in for Wondo, as San Jose looked for a match in energy level, and it was nearly enough.
Tommy Thompson had also entered the game as a substitute 20 minutes earlier, just after Wondolowski’s first goal of the evening. On Wednesday night against the Portland Timbers in the U.S. Open Cup, Thompson and Alashe were vital contributors for the Quakes, featuring in all 90 minutes of the 2-0 loss. Head coach Mikael Stahre identified the two players as having the most positive performances in the Cup defeat, and he was prepared to give them minutes against LAFC.
“It was important for Fatai to play the whole game,” Stahre said Friday. “Tommy Thompson has been out for a while with illness, so getting minutes was important for him too. They are both important players for us, for sure.”
Thompson had missed over a month of training and only recently has regained his full readiness to play. He had some spectacular moments against Los Angeles on Saturday night, but it was two plays that will stand out as game-changing.
In the 89th minute, following a turnover in the attacking third created by the Quakes’ high press, Thompson received a pass across the top of the area that put him 20 yards from goal with only goalkeeper Tyler Miller to beat. But instead of rocketing in a shot that could have doubled San Jose’s lead to 4-2, he softly kicked the ball right at Miller, who made an easy save.
The missed opportunity to ice the game proved fatal seconds later. LAFC transitioned back onto offense and equalized on Adama Diomande’s close-range effort. It was a pivotal moment in a game that was there for the Quakes’ taking, one they were pushing forward for instead of sitting back and hoping for the best.
“Sometimes you are waiting for the goal at the end of the game, so you stay back,” Stahre said. “Maybe they create a lot of chances, but that was not the case for us. Tommy Thompson had a great chance just before we conceded the goal that made it 3-3. It was crazy.”
The goal definitely shook San Jose, but the team still looked like they would salvage a draw.
Then, in the 5th minute of stoppage time, right back Kevin Partida, making his MLS debut after signing a season-long loan agreement earlier in the day, committed a phantom foul on Latif Blessing and was shown his second yellow card of the game. The early exit by Partida put pressure on the Quakes, as LAFC saw the opportunity they needed to steal a late goal.
Blessing was the man for the visitors, taking a pass to the end line and cutting back the ball towards the top of the area. Joao Moutinho, who gained a step on Thompson as he curled into space to accept the pass, smashed home the game winning goal, crushing Quakes’ spirits.
By no means should Thompson be blamed for the goal, but expectations are that he’ll be the one who’s a step ahead of the play when he reaches full fitness.
A happy homecoming
Lined up across the field from the Earthquakes was a familiar face. Steven Beitashour, who broke into the league in 2010, was a key member of the Quakes’ Supporters’ Shield winning squad in 2012 — the original Goonies. He was traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps after four years in his native San Jose, and many fans have not forgotten what “Beita” brought to the team.
On Saturday night, in front of a sizable number of family members in attendance at Avaya Stadium, Beitashour scored LAFC’s second goal, reaching a deflected shot from teammate Mark-Anthony Kaye and tapping home past Quakes’ ‘keeper Andrew Tarbell. His fan contingent went wild, but Beita calmly enjoyed the hugs of mates, eschewing his own celebration.
It was the second straight game in which a Goonies alum scored on the Quakes. Last weekend in Chicago, forward Alan Gordon headed home a goal in classic fashion for the Fire, propelling his side to a 2-1 victory. At this point, the Earthquakes better hope Steven Lenhart doesn’t come out of retirement and sign a short-term contract with Wednesday’s opponent, the New England Revolution.
Beitashour capped off his bountiful performance in front of friends and family with an assist on Diomande’s 90th minute equalizer. He might be 31, but Beita still has the skills that put him among the best outside backs in MLS and made him such a fan favorite in his stint with San Jose.
Feeling heat as team goes cold
The Earthquakes are off to a historically bad start to the season, and if they aren’t able to get a result against the Revs on Wednesday, they’ll enter the league’s World Cup break with single-digit points. San Jose is winless against teams not from Minnesota, and the prospects of turning the ship around are edging closer to lost cause status.
Stahre, who is in his first season as Quakes’ head coach, deservedly takes some of the blame for the team’s poor performances. After all, his job is to put the right players in the right positions to succeed. He has tinkered around with formations and tactics through the first 14 games of the campaign, but week after week, the Earthquakes have been second-best on the field.
As he sat in his chair for the postgame press conference Saturday night, Stahre remained defiant that his team is better than its record suggests and that results like the late loss to LAFC make it tough to see his side go unrewarded.
“More sad, actually,” Stahre said. “Especially in the second half we played with lots of energy and commitment, but this is the reality. We lost, and we are deserving to be in this situation.”
The Quakes players share in the responsibility, as individual mistakes in almost every game have been fodder for opponents’ goals. But when the going gets rough, the coach is the easiest scapegoat, something Stahre addressed following the team’s latest loss.
“For me, in this job like it is like, when you are losing games it is always a question, right?” Stahre said. “I work hard every day together with my coaching staff. Obviously, we are not doing well, but it is not my job to evaluate that. I think I am the right man to turn this ship around.”
The prevailing wisdom is that the club will give Stahre time to prove he can make something of this season. However, general manager Jesse Fioranelli has shown his willingness to let head coaches go, as both of Stahre’s predecessors — Dominic Kinnear and Chris Leitch — were shown the door after 17 games in charge, a half-season sample, under his rule.
The Earthquakes will reach the midseason mark when they play the LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium on June 30, an annual game that is the team’s biggest showcase for Bay Area soccer fans, featuring a crowd of more than 50,000 and a huge postgame fireworks show. If Stahre and the Quakes don’t start to see results soon, especially against their California Clasico rivals, more than just pyrotechnics might be fired off that night.