This article was written by Aerys Soccer MLS writer Alyssa Olszewski.
It was the ultimate Goonies-never-say-die night on Saturday as the Quakes battled back from a 1-0 deficit to tie with the visiting Chicago Fire in a match full of drama and controversy (really, what would a Quakes game be without drama?). It was also Steven Lenhart Wig Night, in honor of the bruising striker’s iconic blonde locks. (This really is pertinent—read on to see why.)
It was a very open game, with good chances for both sides, but the Quakes put immense pressure on Chicago’s backline throughout the whole game, forcing Fire keeper Sean Johnson to make 10 saves in what turned out to be an outstanding performance by him. If not for him, San Jose’s Simon Dawkins would surely have scored 3 or 4 goals in the first half alone.
Chris Rolfe put Chicago on the scoreboard in the 37th minute with a beautiful ball out of nowhere after a flurry of activity by the Quakes on the opposite side of the field. This set San Jose back on their heels a bit, but there was still plenty of time for them to get a result—and let’s be honest, they have become pretty used to going down in games.
The second half is when it began to get really crazy. San Jose had so many fantastic opportunities; it was unfathomable that Johnson was able to block every single one. Add to that the fact that there were multiple hand balls in and around Chicago’s box that were not called by the referee, and you can imagine the mounting frustration for the San Jose players and fans.
Coach Frank Yallop began to make offensive-minded changes, subbing out newly-signed right back Jed Zayner for rookie forward Sam Garza. Still the Quakes were unable to break through. In the 60th minute, the player that the whole stadium had been waiting for—Steven Lenhart, back after 4 games’ absence due to concussion symptoms—came in for midfielder Rafa Baca. There was a feeling among that fans that if there was to be a goal, it had to come from this man. It would only be right.
The next 30 minutes saw Quakes’ center back Victor Bernardez come out with a hamstring injury, with his replacement Ike Opara (a member of the US team that failed to qualify for the Olympics) nearly scoring a goal or two of his own—one of which was blocked by what appeared to be a hand that did NOT belong to the keeper. In the 93rd minute, Alan Gordon was sent off after receiving a second yellow card; and Wondo, wearing the captain’s armband, was shown yellow for arguing with the ref. Yallop was ejected soon after, having appeared to toss the Gatorade cup holder out on the field in frustration. He was not the only one—fans were tossing water bottles onto the field at the ref.
Just to put that into perspective, I have never seen fans at Buck Shaw throw anything onto the field besides confetti or banners. An announcement had to be made that any fans caught throwing things on the field would be escorted out. [Side note: I don’t agree with throwing things at the ref, but I do love seeing that kind of passion from the fans in support of their team].
The Fire did what any team in their position does, 1-0 up on the road in the dying minutes of a game: they used up every extra second they could in taking goal kicks, throw ins, and anything else they could get away with. Add to this the amount of time player spent on the ground after Gordon’s tackle, and the referee had no choice but to tack on extra minutes in addition to the 5 minutes already given.
Then came the spectacular fairy tale moment that everyone had been waiting for.
The Quakes are known for scoring in the final moments of the game, but the 98th minute is a little ridiculous even for them. Shea Salinas sent in a soaring ball to Wondo, who chested it down to Steven Lenhart. Lenny made no mistake, firing the ball straight past Johnson.
The wig-clad stadium erupted! Lenhart and Salinas grabbed wigs that had been tossed onto the field and donned them while running around the field in celebration. It was a perfect moment. Within seconds the final whistle had blown. Somehow, the Quakes had yet again found a way to snatch a result and preserve their unbeaten record at Buck Shaw Stadium.