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CONCACAF Champions League: San Jose Earthquakes forward Alan Gordon's slow preseason pays dividends in draw

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – During a vast majority of the San Jose Earthquakes’ preseason, forward Alan Gordon was stuck working out on his own, rehabilitating after undergoing foot surgery for a second straight year. In those sessions, Gordon stoked his competitive fire by thinking about the payoff all that work might generate once he got back on the pitch.

It didn’t take long for those dreams to crystallize into sweet reality. Barely 22 minutes after coming on as a substitute against Toluca on Tuesday night, Gordon headed home a critical tying goal in the 95th minute, giving the Quakes a 1-1 tie and a lifeline in their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal tie.

“After surgeries in the offseason, which I’ve been doing quite a bit lately, this is my focus,” Gordon told MLSsoccer.com. “When I’m in there working hard by myself, those are the moments that I am envisioning – coming in and helping the team.”

It was another bit of last-second heroics from Gordon, one made all the more impressive by the fact that he played just 19 minutes out of the Quakes’ seven preseason matches as he came back from a neuroma procedure to remove an aching nerve in his foot.

“He likes it that way,” San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch told reporters. “Alan’s a smart veteran. He takes his time in preseason so he’s fresh. No surprise at all.”

Gordon didn’t completely disagree with that assessment, telling reporters in the mixed zone: “I’ve been here long enough to figure out that preseason goals don’t count for anything. I joke with the guys that I’m in the Preseason Hall of Fame, but it never got me any goals in the regular season. So I switched it up.”

Coach Mark Watson said Monday he thought Gordon could give him 20 to 25 minutes, and brought him on in a make-or-break gamble that saw Jason Hernandez pulled and San Jose going with just three men in the back.

“Alan’s the type of guy that can join the game at any moment and have an impact,” Watson said in his postgame press conference. “And he did it again tonight.”

Gordon came in a half-dozen minutes after Raúl Nava put Toluca in front against the run of play with a marvelous full volley strike from the edge of San Jose’s 18-yard box, a perfectly placed, dipping shot that left Busch no chance.

“That guy scored a top-notch goal,” Gordon said. “It was a dagger, really, after a performance like that. That’s how soccer goes, sometimes. To be able to battle back and show ourselves that we still have that ... is really good for our confidence moving forward.”

Gordon’s header from Shea Salinas’ free kick wide on the right wing took one bounce before spinning away from diving Toluca goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera, ricocheting off the far post and landing in the back of the net.

The 6-foot-3 Gordon swept in on the play without any real impediment from a defender, which was a bit of a novelty. The result was equally as novel: Gordon’s first career goal in CONCACAF play.

“You don’t really usually get runs like that in the MLS,” Gordon said. “You’re really getting grabbed and pulled. I was a little surprised to be untouched. It was great. It’s a new feeling.”

A new feeling that led to the same old kind of late-game celebrations.

“We’re always gonna have that,” Gordon said. “It’s in our DNA to come back and get results.”