CONCACAF Champions League: San Jose Earthquakes point to early penalty miss as turning point in loss

Given the locale, call this one a “game of centimeters” for the San Jose Earthquakes.

Unfortunately for the Quakes, those narrowly missed connections – no matter what scale of measurement you used – meant they couldn’t escape an early hole in their CONCACAF Champions League debut, falling 1-0 to the Montreal Impact on a 16th-minute header from Hassoun Camara.

Alan Gordon’s saved penalty in the 11th minute was the most obvious turning point from San Jose’s perspective, but the Quakes still had their fair share of chances even after that. Problem was, none of them put backup Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush to the test. Of San Jose’s seven shots from the run of play, four were off target and three were blocked by Montreal defenders.

“To look at the performance, aside from the result, I thought it was very good,” Quakes interim coach Mark Watson told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “We did a lot of things really well tonight. I think if you get that many chances on the road, you’d be pleased almost every time. We had enough chances to get a result on the road.”

Gordon helped earn the Quakes’ best chance, suffering a foul from Montreal’s Jeb Brovsky 22 yards from goal. Ramiro Corrales took the ensuing free kick and caught Collen Warner on his right arm for what referee Javier Santos ruled a hand ball.

With neither Chris Wondolowski nor Victor Bernardez on the pitch to grab the ball, Gordon strode to the spot but appeared to scuff his shot in the pouring rain at Stade Saputo. It wasn’t clear if the water had an effect on Gordon, who declined to speak to MLSsoccer.com.

“Obviously, a key moment in the game was the penalty save,” Watson told reporters. “It would have given us a lead and something we could have hung onto. But even after the goal, I thought we responded well and had a bunch of chances.”

The Quakes were clearly keeping their sights firmly on the MLS schedule, changing out all 11 players from the group that authored a 2-0 victory against Chivas USA last Saturday. Nevertheless, they were struck once again by their bad luck when it comes to injuries after Marvin Chavez – one of only a handful of regulars in the lineup – was chopped down late in the first half by a scissoring tackle from Montreal’s Daniele Paponi.

Chavez, who missed the club’s last MLS match due to a red-card suspension, called immediately for a sub and was taken off the field on a stretcher. But Watson said he was “hopeful” the Honduran international could be available Saturday when the Quakes have a critical league match in Vancouver.

In Chavez’s place, seldom-used winger Sam Garza teamed with newcomer Jaime Alas on the other side to generate the Quakes’ best opportunities of the second half, including a header that skimmed just wide and a more painful second chance that he scuffed in the 66th minute

“It was in the air, kind of hanging a little bit, and I tried to hit it with the inside of my foot,” Garza said told MLSsoccer.com. “I should have hit it with my laces. I kind of just scuffed it. . . . Obviously, yeah, I wish I could have had that one back.”

Alas knocked the crossbar with a free kick from 26 yards, but Bush appeared to have the 52nd-minute attempt covered.

Watson wasn’t taking much consolation from the fact that the Quakes were able to keep Montreal from widening their lead, even though Impact defender Matteo Ferrari also pinged the crossbar with a 65th-minute header.

“If you look at it from that perspective, I guess it wasn’t the worst loss you can have,” Watson said. “I know goal differential will come into play if two teams are tied at the top [of Group 5], but we’re still disappointed to not come in with a win.”