Absent from MLS postseason play the past three years and stuck in a seven-game winless rut, San Jose needed something big early in the second half Saturday night at Avaya Stadium. Former Quake Justin Morrow had matched an opening goal by Quincy Amarikwa to tie the game at 1-1, and a dubious red card to Alberto Quintero followed a questionable dismissal of fellow Panamanian Anibal Godoy.
Down to nine men, with a packed house of 18,000 baying and booing at the officials, and head coach Dominic Kinnear and his players incensed at referee Alejandro Mariscal, who was working his just second MLS game in the middle six years after his league debut, the Quakes seemingly had two paths they could follow.
They could sulk and pout and bunker in and hope to claw out a result. Or they could score. Rather than pick one or the other, they chose door No. 3: do both.
A knuckling shot by Simon Dawkins ducked past screened keeper Alex Bono to install a 2-1 lead that fierce defending and rather brainless attacking play by TFC enabled San Jose to preserve. Never before in the history of MLS had a team down to nine men scored a winning goal during the run of play in regulation time.
General manager John Doyle has worked in the league as a player, broadcaster, and executive since it started up in 1996, and he was in shock. “In more than 20 years of Major League Soccer I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that,” he said in a hallway outside the Quakes’ locker room. “I’ve never seen red card, red card, and then come back and score a goal and hang on. We hung on but we defended correctly and Dom had them in great shape.”
According to MLS records, only nine times -- including Saturday -- had a team won a game while finishing two players down because of ejections. TFC didn’t manage the situation well, resorting to crosses and high balls that were usually repelled by centerback Victor Bernardez or claimed by keeper David Bingham rather than move the ball quickly to tire out the nine men and open up space for Sebastian Giovinco.
“Giovinco had an off night, which certainly helped,” said former Quakes goalie Joe Cannon, who works on the team’s radio broadcasts. “He looked a little rusty. They were a bit predictable but at times that happens. You kind of panic because you shouldn’t be in that situation and the deeper it goes the less creativity you get and the brain kind of shuts down. You don’t want to be the guy that screws it up.”
Dawkins said he’d played a game for Derby County in which the Rams went down to nine men and ended up winning, but couldn’t remember other specifics, such as the opponent.
“We actually played better than the opposition,” he said. “I think we won the game, 3-zero. It was remarkable, a great game from us. When you see that again you just want to win. We had a good foot in the game already, it was, 1-1, and we had nine men, so you just keep going, and hopefully you can get the result.”
TFC head coach Greg Vanney didn’t belabor his players’ inability to score 11 against nine; they had played a tough game in Columbus Wednesday and fought hard for a 1-1 tie. He had other issues to address.
“The goal we gave up was ridiculous, we can’t give up a goal eight against 10,” said the former U.S. national team defender. “It’s a series of errors that leads to the ball being in the back of the net. It started when we had possession and it finished with a series of bad defending choices and probably [a shot] Alex could do better with, maybe. I’m not going to be harsh on him specifically because there was a whole series of events that shouldn’t have happened leading up to that.”
Despite the two-man disadvantage, San Jose broke out of the back when right back Cordell Cato intercepted a pass and dribbled across the midfield line before releasing the ball to Dawkins in the left channel. He veered inside past two TFC defenders and as another player cut across Bono’s line of sight, Dawkins cracked a right-footed shot the keeper could only wave at as it flew into the net.
In pool and billiards, making a ball spin or roll crazily is referred to as putting “English” on it.
“I’ve seen many players do that,” said the native of north London, laughing. “Thankfully, it went away from the keeper. Sometimes it can go toward the keeper, but this one moved away, so it was really good for us.”
This Englishman's trick shot turned a dire situation into delirium. A huge roar erupted when the ball hit the net behind Bono’s left shoulder. “That was maybe the loudest I’ve heard this place,” said Kinnear, whose fury regarding the red cards quickly subsided.
(Doyle said after the game he met with Peter Walton, head of the Professional Referees Organization, who was in attendance. Doyle declined to give details of their discussion.)
Kinnear applauded the goal for as long as the players celebrated, which was quite a while. Still the Quakes needed to kill off 20-plus minutes of play, including stoppage time, but TFC couldn’t establish a foothold in the final third. It generated only a couple of chances as attacks ran aground time and time again versus the nine men. The final whistle triggered another deafening salute to a memorable method of ending a bad run.
“I think that’s the first time scoring one to win [a game] being down two men,” said forward Chris Wondolowski, who has scored more goals (112) for the Quakes than any other player. “It was pretty nice. It just shows our grit and our grind and I’m very proud of that.
“Hopefully that can be a kind of a catalyst and help turn us around. It’s something we definitely needed for the locker room and the morale and hopefully it can spur us on a little bit.”
Said Doyle, shaking his head, “It was just a crazy, crazy game.