SAN JOSE, Calif. — With little to play for but pride, the San Jose Earthquakes came out flat against Sporting Kansas City and were played off the field at Avaya Stadium by a score of 5-1.
Goals from Felipe Gutiérrez, Gerso Fernandes and Ike Opara staked SKC to a well deserved three-goal halftime lead, while Krisztián Németh scored his first of the season to push the lead to 4-0. Danny Hoesen broke the shutout with his 11th goal of the season, but Fernandes added his second of the night to seal the victory.
“They’re the best team we have played against this season,” Quakes head coach Mikael Stahre said. “Everything went wrong in the first half, no energy, poor quality with the ball and we possessed the ball way too slow. We also conceded the goals too easily.”
The 5-1 result was the most lopsided loss of the season for the last-place Quakes, already mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, as the visitors put on a passing clinic throughout the evening in front of a sparse crowd announced at 16,682.
“We came out very flat in the first half,” team captain Chris Wondolowski said. “You can dig yourself a hole that is insurmountable. We showed better fight in the second half, but it still wasn’t good enough across the 90 minutes. Anytime you come out with no energy and lackadaisical you get punished.”
The Earthquakes won’t have long to dwell on the result, as they return to action midweek against high-flying Atlanta United. Their season is essentially over, but that doesn’t mean anyone is taking an early vacation.
“We’re all playing for literally our contracts and our livelihoods,” Wondolowski said. “We all know that it needs to be better and we need to be sharper. I think sometimes when you get beaten down so many times you start looking forward. We need to show more resilience.”
The loss kept San Jose rooted at the bottom of the standings, four points behind the Colorado Rapids with six games to play. The Quakes are on pace to finish the season with their worst record ever, something they’ll hope to avoid, though it won’t be easy.
“Obviously, the confidence isn’t high at the moment and we don’t have much to play for,” Hoesen said, “but we want to get out of last place. That’s the biggest embarrassment you can have in a season. That’s the only goal we have.”
From the opening whistle, Sporting KC showed the possession-oriented strategy that has them competing for the top spot in the Western Conference and a first-round bye in the MLS Cup playoffs. For the game’s first 10 minutes, they played a deliberate game of keepaway, barely giving the Quakes time on the ball. Then, in a five-minute span, they struck twice to punish the hosts.
After beating Nick Lima with a sharp cut into the area, Fernandes whipped the ball in front of goal for Gutiérrez to tap home from short distance. The pair combined again when Gutiérrez delivered an incisive through-ball behind the Quakes’ defensive line that Fernandes collected before chipping Andrew Tarbell.
Stunned, the Earthquakes were lucky not to surrender a third goal in the 32nd minute, as Tarbell was forced to make a one-handed diving save on Yohan Croizet’s curling effort. Tarbell made another vital save 10 minutes later, just as Gutiérrez looked certain to get his second goal of the night.
The ensuing corner kick again put Tarbell in position to play hero, but he was unable to hang on to a close-range shot from Roger Espinosa and Opara was there to direct the rebound into the back of the net to make it 3-0 to SKC.
The halftime whistle mercifully saved the Quakes from falling behind even further, and following intermission, they began to show some life in the attacking third. Jahmir Hyka had a golden chance to put San Jose on the scoreboard in the 58th minute, but his shot crashed off the crossbar after beating Tim Melia.
Sporting KC continued to absorb the Earthquakes pressure, sniffing out every other potential opportunity, and in the 67th minute sprung a lethal counterattack to push their lead to four. Fernandes, with acres of space to operate, earned his second assist of the night in delivering a perfect ball for Nemeth to slot home past a helpless Tarbell.
Down 4-0, the Earthquakes finally went to their bench, bringing in Danny Hoesen, the team’s leading scorer, in the 72nd minute. He ended Melia’s bid for a shutout in the 80th minute, sending a laser from 25 yards past the ‘keeper to make the score 4-1. It was the 11th goal of the season, his first since June 23 against Real Salt Lake.
Sporting Kansas City completed their scoring in the 86th minute, as Fernandes restored the visitor’s four-goal advantage. Diego Rubio provided the assist, the eighth consecutive game he’s contributed a goal or an assist for SKC.
The win was Sporting’s sixth in seven games, and they took another step to securing a top-two spot in the West. The Earthquakes dropped their second straight game and will need to regroup quickly with Atlanta United visiting Avaya Stadium Wednesday night.