Image courtesy of John Todd/SJEarthquakes.com
The Earthquakes continued what I am going to refer to as Total League Domination against Chivas USA this past Sunday. Granted, Chivas does sit toward the bottom of the Western Conference table; however, they are not entirely out of the playoff picture as of yet.
Unfortunately for them, this game didn’t do much either for their place in the standings or their confidence.
The Quakes, on the other hand, find themselves once again alone at the top of the Supporters’ Shield race and with 7 points between themselves and second place Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference. As if they needed another boost to their confidence, they accomplished this with a decisive 4-0 win over Chivas.
Although there was no question which was the dominant team last night, Chivas did manage to out-shoot the Quakes 18-14. Defensively, however, they simply could not put together a solid performance. Here I have to insert a side-note about Chivas USA: I do feel for them, because they have several stellar players brought in from all over the place who have simply not been able to click. I hope for their sake that they are able to get it sorted sooner rather than later.
Despite being out-shot, San Jose came out ahead in the statistic that really matters: goals. By now, a 4-0 scoreline in favor of the Quakes, especially against a weaker team, is no surprise to anyone who has been remotely attentive this season. However, this year San Jose has had all sorts of surprises up their sleeve, and Sunday was no different. Three of the goals were scored by defenders via direct free kicks.
The first goal, from the big Honduran center back Victor Bernardez, came early on in the 11th minute. Bernardez’ free kicks tend to be hit or miss (as can be seen from his second free kick of the night when he skied the ball clear out of the stadium), so I always get a little nervous when he steps up. He made no mistake this time, bending the ball around the wall from 35 yards out and into the lower left corner of the net. Chivas keeper Dan Kennedy was simply unable to get enough of a hand on it to stop it, giving Bernardez his second goal of the season.
Within minutes, Chivas’ Juan Agudelo was on a breakaway, facing Quakes keeper Jon Busch one-on-one and looking set to score the equalizer. Busch kept his nerve and came right out to the edge of the box, taking the full brunt of Agudelo’s shot in the “lower abdomen.” Although there has been some question of whether the ball hit his arm and whether he was in fact outside of the box when and if it did so, the ref did not blow the whistle and there was no argument from the Chivas players. Play eventually had to be stopped as Busch was temporarily crippled by the blow. In a moment that you may not have seen had you been watching on TV, but that crystallizes the spirit of this team, Bernardez came back to check on his keeper and kissed the top of his head. They really do play for each other and care for each other. It’s a wonderful sight to see.
Back to the goals! Chris Wondolowski’s best chance of the night came in the 16th minute, when he smacked a header against the crossbar. As a fan, I feel Wondo’s disappointment every time he misses a chance like that. Fortunately, as has been proven time and time again, the burden for scoring does not have to rest solely on his shoulders anymore. In fact, in the 39th minute, a man who has been on his own scoring tear of late–Tottenham Hotspur loanee Simon Dawkins–doubled his team’s lead with a signature calmly-slotted ball off an assist from Wondo.
No Earthquakes game would be complete without a bit of a scrum, which Alan Gordon and Chivas’ Raushawn McKenzie and Oswaldo Minda provided after a collision between the first two and a reactionary tackle from the third. Fortunately it was just a minor flare-up, and both sides escaped with only yellow cards for Gordon and Minda right before the half.
Quakes’ left back and captain–and the only remaining MLS original–Ramiro Corrales doubled the lead yet again in the second half with his first 2 goals of the season. The first–nominated for Goal of the Week–came in the 71st minute, when he took a page from Beckham’s notebook and sent a (left-footed) free kick over the wall and into the lower right corner of the Chivas goal. Just 10 minutes later the scenario was reenacted, only this time in a bit more mischievous manner. There was a whistle for another free kick, and literally before anyone–fans, Quakes, Chivas players–knew what was happening, the ball was in the back of the net. Apparently the ref had given the go-ahead, but Kennedy was still setting up his wall, half the Chivas defense were facing their own goal, and even the Earthquakes players were not all in place. Corrales, with his years of experience, saw his chance and took it, scoring from 25 yards out to the complete dismay of an already-frustrated Chivas team.
At 35 years old, Corrales is a complete stud. Not only that, but he is such an awesome guy. After most games I see him in the parking lot with his family, hanging out with his kids, maybe drinking a celebratory beer as he was last night. Despite the fact that he is chilling with his posse, as I like to think of it, he always takes time for a handshake or a hug, or even an autograph or photo. While he is not an extremely vocal leader on the pitch, like Wondo when he is wearing the armband, it is easy to see why his teammates and coaches respect and trust him.
Speaking of nice guys, I have to give a shout-out to Dan Kennedy. The general consensus is that, besides being gorgeous, he has almost single-handedly kept his team in the playoff picture. It is all credit to him that the scoreline was not 6-0 or 7-0, and he will no doubt be nominated for at least one Save of the Week. Despite the utter frustration of the last few games, and this game in particular, he was gracious enough to take a photo with me despite my being decked out in Quakes gear. He even managed a joke. Moments like these speak to the high-caliber of character of so many of the guys in this league. So, here’s to you, Mr. Kennedy.