For the San Jose Earthquakes, summer friendlies tend to serve almost exclusively promotional purposes. Last summer, they were roundly defeated 5-2 by Manchester United and lost 2-1 to Club America at Avaya Stadium. In 2014, they lost to Atletico Madrid, their last Spanish opposition on penalties, and few held out much hope for the Quakes as they prepared to face La Liga side Real Sociedad in a midweek friendly at Avaya Stadium.
Sociedad ended their season last Friday, finishing eighth in La Liga and beating title-winning Barcelona but a month-and-a-half ago. Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear would have been thrilled to simply keep the scoreline respectable. “I told my players they’d only hear me if I didn’t think they were trying,” said Kinnear.
This friendly, however, was notably different in the respect that it served a purpose for Kinnear. The Quakes prepare to face the LA Galaxy on Sunday and with numerous players returning from injury and others leaving for the Copa Centenario in June, the match was a vital opportunity for Kinnear to experiment with his lineup.
With numerous players vying to make their bid for a starting position ahead of Copa, the Quakes came back from behind to seal their first victory over international opposition since 2013, when they scraped past a handicapped Norwich City 1-0 at Buck Shaw Stadium. For Kinnear’s part, his silence on the sideline spoke volumes.
Chris Wondolowski, who started up top alongside Chad Barrett in the wake of Quincy Amarikwa’s injury, scored twice to cancel out Alberto de la Bella’s opener.
Sociedad coach Eusebio Sacristan left 2015/16 MVP Asier Illaramendi and Mexican forward Carlos Vela on the bench, but the gap in quality between the two teams was still evident in the opening quarter hour.
The visitors dominated the early stages and it took just nine minutes for them to find the opening goal as David Zurutuza worked the ball out to the left wing to De La Bella, who arrowed a shot into the top corner form fifteen yards. Bautista started move with a jinxing run through midfield and was Sociedad’s main threat up front, slicing apart the Quakes’ back line.
The home side struggled to piece together passes early on and were very frustrated up front, where they were allowed little time on the ball.
“Fifteen minutes in I was thinking, ‘when am I going to touch the ball,’” said Quakes full-back Jordan Stewart.
Salinas explained: “I think the big thing was figuring out how to defend them so we could get the ball back in better spots. They were pretty much getting inside our eighteen every time. So once we figured out how to defend them, passing guys on and communicating a little better, we started winning the ball in some good spots and then we were able to possess the ball.”
The Quakes pushed the Basque side towards the flanks, but Sociedad’s full-backs were patient on the ball and quick to exploit the tiniest of gaps in the Quakes’ defense. Yet Wondolowski tucked back into the middle on defense and the Quakes began to force more errors out of Sociedad as they grew into the game.
On one such occasion in the twenty-second minute, Godoy was allowed to break through down the left and dragged a low effort wide of goal. Salinas also came close in the twenty-ninth minute, failing to find the target from a golden opportunity on the break, but made up for the miss in the forty-second minute, dancing into the box from the right and opening up space for a cross with a shimmy of the hips.
The winger cut the ball back for Wondolowski to guide home from six yards and pull the home side level. Wondolowski was recently named on the United States’ 40-man provisional roster for Copa and although he scored two lovely goals on the night, the forward said afterwards that USMNT coach Jürgen Klinsmann has “already made his decision,” on whether Wondo will be called up in June.
Both sides made a myriad of chances at the half, but to the disappointment of many, Sociedad forward Vela was not among the initial substitutions.
When Vela did come on in the seventieth minute, he looked sloppy on the ball, uninterested at best. He was upstaged by Quakes sub Cordell Cato, who burned a man down the right with multiple stopovers, cut into the middle and set up Wondolowski to complete the comeback. Wondo curled a lovely finish into the back of the net from twenty-five yards to end the night with a bang; exactly what the Quakes needed heading into LA this weekend.