SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The problem with depending on late-game comebacks is the fact that you’re always having to come back in the first place.
The San Jose Earthquakes found that out in painful fashion Saturday. Pushing forward to try to complete yet another stunning reversal in second-half injury time, the Quakes were finally stung by the same style of heroics they’ve used time and again over the last two-plus seasons when New England’s Lee Nguyen struck in the 93rd minute to secure a 2-1 victory.
But though Nguyen’s low shot from 14 yards proved the difference, the seeds for San Jose’s first loss at Buck Shaw Stadium in almost 13 months were sown during the first 35 minutes. That’s when a lethargic Quakes side were put under increasing pressure by a New England squad that had been shut out in each of its first three MLS matches. Victor Bernardez’s own goal finally ended the Revolution’s season-opening scorless streak at 305 minutes.
“The first half was a disgrace,” Quakes defender Clarence Goodson said. “That was one of the worst first halves of soccer I’ve ever been involved in. One through 11, we were horrendous. It was an absolute disgrace.”
Nobody could easily identify the cause of the Quakes’ malaise. Perhaps it was a hangover from playing four matches in 12 days to open the season. Maybe it was adjusting to the slick, rain-logged pitch.
“To a man, all across the field, the effort wasn’t there,” Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski said. “It wasn’t good enough. We came in here at halftime, kind of regrouped and had a pep talk to ourselves. We knew we had to be better, and it was better in the second half, but we’ve got to stop digging ourselves some holes. We can’t be doing that.”
As has been typical since the advent of San Jose’s “Goonies” persona, the Quakes responded to going down a goal in roaring fashion. They owned almost 80 percent of the possession in the final 10 minutes of the first half, and arguably earned a penalty kick in the 41st minute when Revs defender A.J. Soares used his right shoulder – or arm, depending on your point of view – to block a Wondolowski blast. And they kept up the pressure until Wondolowski broke through with a 69th-minute equalizer.
So how do the Quakes bring that level of intensity to the opening kickoff? Well, there’s the rub.
“We need to do that,” Wondolowski said. “We need to find the way, find out what it takes, because obviously the talent, the mentality, the effort is all there. We’ve just got to make sure that it doesn’t take a goal to wake us up. We’ve got to make sure that from minute one, we’re ready to go. And we’ve got to play a full 90 minutes. We can’t play 10 minutes here, turn off and then try to pick it back up whenever we can. It’s got to be a lot better.”
San Jose threw everything they could at mounting a comeback, bringing on Alan Gordon and newcomer Yannick Djalo in the 78th and 79th minutes in a final bid for what would have been the Quakes’ first win of 2014 in all competitions.
“We had all the momentum at the end, and I think this team is built to push for the win,” Quakes coach Mark Watson said. “It was very disappointing to see the goal go in and lose the game.”
Disappointing, but perhaps not surprising. Just moments after Gordon and Djalo’s insertion, the Revs nearly took the lead through Nguyen after he collected an Andrew Farrell cross that Jon Busch had to punch clear. Goodson dropped to the deck to smother Nguyen’s shot in that instance, but the US international was pinned on the game-winning play, stuck between Nguyen to his right and forward Teal Bunbury steaming into the box on his left.
“We were really flirting with disaster,” Goodson said. “There were four or five plays that we were numbers down in the last 10 minutes. Sometimes you get fortunate and you don’t give up goals. We’ve scored a lot of late goals, and finally we gave one up late, and that’s kind of the way we play. It’s kind of all-or-nothing, and we got punished for that tonight.”