Lamar Hunt US Open Cup success finally arrived for the San Jose Earthquakes on Tuesday, as over a decade of efforts to host a victory in the nation’s oldest soccer tournament finally came through. Playing in the cozy confines of Cagan Stadium on the campus of Stanford University, the Quakes dispatched of NASL side Fort Lauderdale Strikers by a score of 2-1 in front of 1,271 fans to advance to the Fourth Round of the Open Cup tournament. A pair of second half goals from rookie Sam Garza was enough to secure the win for San Jose after Strikers forward Mark Anderson had staked the visitors to a 1-0 lead with a 55-yard first half golazo from inside his own half.
“We kept pressing them and keeping them in jail the second half, and luckily I came through with two goals,” said man of the match Garza. “It was a great performance by the team and Goonies never say die.”
The player that first made reference to the ‘80s movie classic following the team’s big road win at the Los Angeles Galaxy a week earlier, Steven Lenhart, was also thrilled by the resiliency shown by the Earthquakes despite falling behind a goal in the first half.
“We just have guys that know how to do it,” said Lenhart of the team’s penchant for comeback results this season. “We can get a goal at any point of the game, and it’s a good group to be a part of. It was great to see how we kept going again after getting down and we really played our style in the second half.”
Head coach Frank Yallop, who elected to make wholesale changes to his starting XI following three MLS league matches over the last week and a half, knew his team might struggle out of the gate, but he remained confident that despite falling behind by a goal, they would finish strong.
“It’s like boxing, when a boxer gets knocked to the canvas, it stunned us a bit,” said an elated Yallop. “At halftime, I just said we had 45 minutes to get back in the game. I felt like our energy and belief was there when we kicked off the second half. We don’t panic, we change things around and I think the ability to keep our composure and come from behind is a good quality for any team to have. When you do it a few times, you don’t worry about the score. You know there is time to get back in it and that’s what this team does.”
Garza echoed the comments of his coach when discussing the transformation the team underwent during the halftime break. The rookie midfielder, who had been preaching caution about the toughness of the opponent late last week and the need for the Earthquakes to play with a full 90 minutes of intensity, was still pleased that did enough to pull out the victory.
“We found our second wind and I found my second wind,” said Garza of the second half. “We kept the ball really well and went forward when we needed it. We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game, but we never give up, and that’s been the story of our season for this team.”
The breakout performance from the Earthquakes rookie will certainly assuage the fears from some supporters that the team failed to maximize the value of their 2012 first round MLS SuperDraft selection, but coach Yallop never wavered on his support for the UCSB Gauchos product.
“Great night for Sam, to put it together in a really good second half hopefully gives him a ton of confidence,” said coach Yallop. “What I liked after the miss earlier in the game was he didn’t worry about it. He got his goal and I thought he was very exciting to watch the rest of the second half. It was nice to see the potential to play great come through. He was excellent tonight. I’m really happy for him.”
Lenhart, who assisted on Garza’s game winning goal, and also played the role of motivator after the rookie missed a glorious scoring opportunity midway through the second half with the Quakes still trailing 1-0 in the match, echoed the words of his coach in praising the young midfielder.
“He showed that every half of soccer is important and that he kept working hard,” said Lenhart on Garza playing hard for the full 90 minutes. “He played well tonight and it was fun.”
On a night when seven other MLS teams fell victim to lower tier opponents, the San Jose Earthquakes appeared headed in that dubious direction following an opening stanza that saw them fail to open the match’s scoring. Instead, on what might end up being called the goal of the tournament, the home side ended the first half trailing their Floridian opposition by a score of 1-0.
In the 38th minute, following a well timed tackle by a teammate that pushed the ball back into his half of play, Strikers forward Mark Anderson settled the ball and looked up at his options to play the ball forward. However, instead of making a safe pass to a teammate, Anderson spied Earthquakes goalkeeper David Bingham stationed well off his line at the opposite end of the field. Sensing an opportunity, Anderson took a quick touch to settle the ball, and from within his team’s own side of the centerline, sent a blistering shot toward goal that caught Bingham out of position. The ball flew over his outstretched arms and just cleared the underside of the crossbar to punch the back of the net and give the Strikers a shock 1-0 lead.
Somewhat blindsided by the goal, the Earthquakes retreated to their locker room at halftime and regrouped for a tough second half. Within a couple minutes of the restart, it appeared the Earthquakes had equalized, as an expertly fed through ball from Tressor Moreno out of midfield to a streaking Garza on the right wing looked set up for success. The rookie midfielder sent a looping cross above the six yard box and just inside the byline to a waiting Sercan Guvenisik. The Turkish forward sent the ball back into the mouth of goal, but Strikers goalkeeper Matt Glaeser, while prone on his backside, managed to grasp the ball out of harm’s way and keep the Fort Lauderdale advantage at 1-0.
The Earthquakes continued their ascendancy in the half, and with the introduction of substitute Simon Dawkins, asserted their dominance over their NASL opposition. In the 61st minute, Garza was again the man on the scene, when a loose ball found him alone at the top right of the area with only Glaeser in his sights. The rookie, as rookies are apt to do, skied his shot attempt from 18 yards out well over the goal. The opportunity was lost, but the young midfielder bounced back over the next 10 minutes to secure his place in Earthquakes U.S. Open Cup lore.
Just over a minute later, following some slick passing in the attacking third, Earthquakes striker Guvenisik slid the ball to Garza inside the area for a literal shot of redemption.
This time, the rookie struck is shot with thoughtful intent, and the ball skimmed low along the Cagan Stadium field and into the net for the long deserved equalizer.
The Earthquakes were not done, and immediately seized on the restart to pressure the visitors off the ball. Over the next few minutes San Jose dominated possession and searched for a way through the Strikers defense. In the 70th minute, they finally had their opportunity, as a loose ball at the top of the area was tapped back into the center of the pitch by Lenhart and into the path of a lurking Garza. The rookie one-timed the ball past the helpless Strikers ‘keeper and gave his team the lead with his second goal of the evening.
The Floridians did not capitulate completely at relinquishing the lead, and over the match’s remaining 15 minutes tested ‘keeper Bingham with three very difficult shots on goal. However, unlike when faced with 55 yard bombs from distance, the second year goalkeeper was up to the challenge of saving the short range efforts, and the Earthquakes defense did the rest to see the home side off to the third round tournament win.
With the 2-1 victory, the Earthquakes move on in the U.S. Open Cup tournament and will next host another side from the NASL when they face the Minnesota Stars in a fourth round match next Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m. at Cagan Stadium.
Robert Jonas writes for Centerline Soccer and you can follow him on Twitter @RobertJonas.
Fort Lauderdale Strikers (NASL) 1:2 San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)
Cagan Stadium, Stanford, Calif.
FTL: Mark Anderson (unassisted) 38;
SJ: Sam Garza (Sercan Guvenisik, Simon Dawkins) 63;
SJ: Sam Garza (Steven Lenhart) 70.
SJ: Justin Morrow (caution) 50;
FTL: Scott Lorenz (caution) 55;
SJ: Sam Garza (caution) 66;
FTL: Walter Restrepo (caution) 89.
San Jose Earthquakes — David Bingham, Brad Ring, Ike Opara, Justin Morrow, Josh Suggs (Steven Beitashour 65), Sam Cronin (Simon Dawkins 56), Jean-Marc Alexandre, Tressor Moreno, Sam Garza, Steven Lenhart, Sercan Guvenisik (Rafael Baca 88).
Fort Lauderdale Strikers — Matt Glaeser, Nickardo Blake, Conor Shanosky, Jack Stewart, Scott Lorenz, Leopaldo Morales (Andy Herron 78), Alfonso Motagalvan (Abel Gebor 64), Walter Restrepo, Pecka, Abe Thompson, Mark Anderson.
SJ Statistics: Total Shots: 21; Shots on Goal: 10; Saves: 5; Fouls: 7; Offside: 2; Corner Kicks: 7.
FTL Statistics: Total Shots: 8; Shots on Goal: 6; Saves: 8; Fouls: 11; Offside: 3; Corner Kicks: 1.