The past two months have induced much soul-searching for the San Jose Earthquakes. Having been winless over a dreary span of seven matches dating to early May, Quakes fans understandably began to lament their reality as a mid-table club in Major League Soccer.
At times, it felt as if all of Major League Soccer’s quirks — the refereeing, the parity, the travel burden and the league’s frustrating policy of ignoring international breaks — were stacked up against Dominic Kinnear’s men heading into tonight’s match.
Yet in the end the Quakes finally broke out of their rut with a wild 2-1 victory over Toronto FC at Avaya Stadium.
Despite being reduced to nine men due to two straight red cards on either side of the half, Simon Dawkins’ late wonder-strike granted the Quakes the most unlikely of victories. The soccer gods seemed determined to stick it to the Quakes just when they began to build up momentum following Quincy Amarikwa’s go-ahead goal, but all the pent up frustration from two months of disappointment and woe came gushing out as the entirety of Avaya Stadium got behind the Quakes to push the team over the line.
The fact that it took such a mighty two-man-down effort only made the jubilant Quakes fans relish the result even more and gives the team a boost in confidence that could prove to be a potential turning point for the team.
“We were ecstatic,” said Dawkins. “Things haven’t been going our way this season, we haven’t been playing to the level we can. But today was a good battle for us, we managed to come out with the victory with nine men. That’s something to build on.”
The Quakes had dominated the opening stages with a verve that has been sorely missing in recent games at Avaya Stadium, yet Toronto’s Tsubasa Endoh drew two dubious red cards from Anibal Godoy and Alberto Quintero on either side of the half while Justin Morrow pulled Toronto level on the brink of the half.
Kinnear’s men hadn’t so much as had a lead in 630 minutes of soccer, so their early momentum was particularly promising. They thought they had the lead just seven minutes in when Dawkins found space for a shot in the center of the box and the ball deflected off of Wondolowski and into the back of the net. Alas, the referee called the goal back for handball and offsides.
Sebastian Giovinco threatened in the eleventh minute, driving a low effort just wide of the post from twenty-five yards, but Toronto were sloppy and predictable on the ball.
At times it felt that the Quakes simply craved the win more.
The home side were largely in control of possession and frequently got in behind right-back Steven Beitashour, who pushed high up the pitch. Shaun Francis set up Amarikwa’s far-post thumping diving header with a far-post cross after breaking in behind, yet Jordan Hamilton kept the ball out with a fantastic kick-save.
The breakthrough finally came in the thirtieth minute, when Fatai Alashe broke in done the left and cut a low cross into the middle, where Amarikwa was on hand to convert.
The Quakes were in cruise control heading into the break but Toronto were determined to spoil the party. The referee sent off Anibal Godoy for a very soft challenge in the forty-third minute and Toronto nabbed an equalizer just moments later as Morrow tapped in Beitashour’s low cross.
Boos cascaded down from the stands at halftime whistle and the jeers only grew louder when the referee sent off Quintero for a similarly light challenge on the other side of the half.
The Quakes’ makeshift back-line scrambled desperately to defend against Toronto’s inevitable onslaught as David Bingham made multiple key saves to keep Toronto out. Yet beyond the defensive heroics, the home side responded in incredible fashion through Dawkins’ go-ahead goal.
The midfielder burst through the middle on the break but there seemed to be little light ahead of him with six defenders. He appeared to be headed towards the corner flag —indeed, the Quakes seemed more focused on keeping the score down then actually finding a winner themselves — but lost his man with a neat cut and sidestepped past more two defenders into the middle. He unleashed a dipping effort from twenty-five yards, which somehow found its way into the back of the net past a bewildered keeper.
The shot appeared to be sailing right towards Jordan Hamilton and the goalkeeper prematurely jumped up to make the save, only for the ball to take a vicious dip in midair, leaving the goalkeeper flapping at nothing.
Avaya Stadium has rarely witnessed such euphoric celebrations in its short history as the home supporters rotated between a symphony of cheers, boos, and chants of “you suck ref.”
The biggest cheers, though, came every time Endoh, who drew both red cards, lost the ball as Toronto searched in vain for an equalizer in the closing stages.