SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Earthquakes had to play nearly the entire second half a man down, but they rallied to make Nick Lima’s early goal stand in an emotional 1-0 victory over FC Cincinnati.
The Quakes win pushed their unbeaten streak to four games, and the three points lifted them into seventh place in the Western Conference — a remarkable feat given that they’d starting the season with four straight losses — drawing praise from head coach Matias Almeyda for everyone on the team.
“Very good,” Almeyda said. “They showed character in defending what they achieved in the first half. I call that commitment, and the players are understanding at how to identify with San Jose as a club and leave their soul on the field on every play.”
For Lima, it was his first goal of 2019, and it broke through a late-game onslaught by Cincinnati following the ejection of Cristian Espinoza in the 51st minute. Goalkeeper Daniel Vega, with an assist from Lima’s key defending, was vital in securing the win, earning his third clean sheet of the season.
“There was a lot of game afterwards, and obviously it didn’t go the way we wanted it to, especially coming out at halftime,” Lima said. “We wanted to play smart and put them away. We got the win, but we have to learn from that and not put ourselves in that position again.”
Espinoza, who became a father the day before, didn’t exactly get the celebration he was looking for against FCC, but his teammates rallied after he saw red, not allowing the visitors to take any points on the night. These Quakes of late are finding ways to fight for one another in every game.
“It’s been awesome,” said Jackson Yueill, who put in another impressive 90 minute shift. “We’ve worked to create a culture that when something like that happens, no one is in disbelief that we are going to lose that game. We are confident in one another and had trust in all of us.”
With 11 points in 10 games, the Earthquakes sit above the playoffs line in the Western Conference for the first time all season, something that would have been unthinkable just a month ago. It is a benchmark the team had in its sights going back to the preseason, and it’s a position they hope to hold at season’s end.
“It means a lot because it shows this team has a lot of heart, a lot of passion and character,” Florian Jungwirth said. “These could be the victories that are crucial in the end.”
FC Cincinnati arrived in the Bay Area after a tough midweek loss at the Philadelphia Union, and they looked lethargic from the opening whistle. Their approach was to retreat defensively and clog the middle of the field, preventing the Quakes from getting into any sort of rhythm in the attacking third.
But San Jose did get its chances, with Shea Salinas taking the first shot attempt of the evening, and Yueill nearly grabbing the game’s first goal with a low shot the bounced wide of the target in the 12th minute. The Earthquakes would get the breakthrough 10 minutes later.
After failing on a similar play earlier in the game, the Quakes orchestrated a perfect short corner that freed Lima up at the top of the area in acres of space. The U.S. international had time to take a touch onto his right foot and lash a shot that eluded every Cincinnati defender and goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton on its way to the back of the net. Lima gave a big fist pump to mark his first goal of the year before being mobbed by teammates in celebration.
May 4, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes defender Nick Lima (24) shakes hands with midfielder Magnus Eriksson (7) in celebration after scoring a goal against the FC Cincinnati during the first half at Avaya Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
By halftime, the hosts had out-shot FCC 9-2, and they looked comfortably in control of the game against the expansion side. Three Earthquakes, however, did see yellow in the first half, and this came back to haunt them soon after intermission.
Back in the 15th minute, Espinoza was cautioned for a strategic takedown of Kenny Saief that prevented a counterattack following a botched corner kick set piece. The Argentine was sent to the locker room early after earning his second yellow card, fouling Mathieu Deplagne on a hard tackle in the 51st minute.
“We have the self-confidence from the last weeks and the first half,” Jungwirth said. “We played excellent in the first half and could have been leading at least 2-0, so we knew if we still played our game, we could win it, and we did.”
Down to ten men, the Earthquakes withstood a spell of attacking play from Cincinnati, but the Eastern Conference newcomers could not unlock San Jose’s defense. The 1-0 lead did not look in any way to be in jeopardy, and it was Yueill who nearly doubled the score with an attempt in the 60th minute that drifted wide of the target. The team was playing almost as if it were still 11 versus 11.
“We never train with ten men, that’s something you just have to learn how to do,” Almeyda said. “But the players were good interpreters of the situation and made the right modifications.”
But FCC nearly found its equalizer in the 68th minute, when a hard cross to the far post had to be dealt with by Lima. The defender’s busy night had already seen him make another goal saving tackle, denying Deplagne on an open shot from just inside the penalty spot.
Almeyda made his first substitution in the 72st minute, bringing in defensive midfielder Judson for Salinas and partnering him with Anibal Godoy as a shield in front of the back line. Cincinnati countered with more firepower with the introduction of Emmanuel Ledesma and Roland Lamah.
An otherwise quiet night for Vega, who now had to be extra vigilant as FCC pushed forward in greater numbers, made the save of the night in the 75th minute. Lamah, after escaping Harold Cummings on the edge of the area, directed a cross for Fatai Alashe to snap a header to the far post. Vega, with a last ditch jump, tipped the ball over the crossbar to deny Alashe, the former Earthquakes first round draft pick, a goal on his return to Avaya Stadium.
The near miss served as a warning to the Quakes, and soon centerback Guram Kashia was substituted in for Tommy Thompson to bolster the beleaguered back line. The fan favorite and first Homegrown signing in franchise history left the field to a standing ovation.
Another vociferous crowd reaction came when Chris Wondolowski was brought on for Danny Hoesen in the 90th minute. Hoesen, who battled formidable FCC centerback Kendall Waston all evening, took a long and deserved walk back to the bench and the game drifted into stoppage time.
Four minutes later, the Earthquakes were celebrating a big 1-0 win, their third in six games, leaving their season-opening four-game losing streak well in the past. San Jose hits the road for its next game, a cross-country trip to face the New England Revolution, no longer the pushover they were in March.
“We are in a good moment now and we have to take advantage of it,” Vega said. “Everybody will see San Jose differently now, and if we keep playing like this, nobody is going to want to play against us because as a group we have this spirit and we want to keep this spirit.”