By: Eric He
SAN JOSE — The game didn’t count in the standings, but in almost every other sense, it did.
The San Jose Earthquakes opened up Avaya Stadium with a bang, beating the Los Angeles Galaxy 3-2 in their final preseason tune-up.
“For a preseason game, it was a big event,” said Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear. “It was almost like opening day. You can just tell the field had something different about it when you walked out onto the field for warmups or the locker room to start the game. It didn’t have a real preseason feel.”
Second half goals by JJ Koval and Adam Jahn were just enough to defeat the defending MLS Cup champions, as the Earthquakes weathered off a late comeback attempt and a hailstorm in the final minutes.
“It was a great day for a lot of reasons,” Kinnear remarked. “Nice to see some goals. The home teams wins, which is good. Stadium is beautiful. The hail at the end was a bit unexpected, but it was a good day for everyone involved.”
Down 3-1, the Galaxy clawed within a goal in the 82nd minute on a tally by Robbie Keane. Taking a ball lofted ahead in the air by Stefan Ishizaki just to the left of the box, Keane left-footed it into the right corner of the net to cut the Earthquakes’ lead to 3-2.
Former Earthquakes striker Alan Gordon had a chance from point-blank to even the game in the 87th minute, but he skied it over the crossbar, and the Earthquakes hung on in three minutes of stoppage time.
A total of four goals were scored in the second half, two by each team.
The Earthquakes doubled their 1-0 in the 58th minute as the second half got under away. Midfielder JJ Koval, the Stanford product and Earthquakes’ ninth overall pick in the 2014 MLS Superdraft, hammered in a left-footed shot past Galaxy goalkeeper Brian Rowe. The ball ricocheted to Koval after a feed by Matias Perez Garcia into the box was knocked down by Chris Wondolowski, right onto the foot of Koval.
“It was a great ball by [Garcia],” said Wondolowski. “He saw my run and put it perfect. I saw [Koval] coming in make a late run at midfield – the amount of ground he covers is amazing – that was a great finish by him.”
He continued: “[Koval’s] engine has always been there. He’s always been able to cover an enormous amount of ground. His composure on the ball; he showed it on the finish. He made that look very easy.”
The two teams then traded goals in the 66th and 68th minutes. The Galaxy got on the board, cutting a 2-0 lead in half after Robbie Rogers, down the left side, found Jose Villareal with a cross, and Villareal headed it past Earthquakes goalkeeper Ryan Bingham.
But San Jose responded. Adam Jahn, who had substituted in for Koval in the 64th minute, headed in a goal off a corner kick by Garcia just four minutes later to give the Earthquakes a 3-1 advantage.
The high-scoring second half made up for a first half where the two teams were perhaps adjusting to the new field.
Kinnear thought so, remaking, “I thought we were a little bit frazzled in the beginning of the game. I thought guys got caught up in the moment a little bit and our positioning was a little bit off.”
There were no goals until the 42nd minute, when the Earthquakes struck first on an own goal by the Galaxy. Maneuvering around defenders in the area, Shea Salinas’ cross deflected off Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez and into the net.
Just a minute later, they nearly tallied a second goal before halftime. It was Salinas again who sent a cross into the box, and a header by Wondolowski sailed just high of the crossbar after Rowe got a finger on it.
Despite being outshot by the Galaxy 5-2 in the first half, the Earthquakes seemed more comfortable and fluid in the latter stages.
In the 22nd minute, the Earthquakes pressured after a few miscues by the Galaxy in their own end, but could not capitalize due to a couple of poor crosses.
The Galaxy had controlled the tempo in the early going, playing in the Earthquakes’ end and generating free kicks and corners. Gordon deflected a pass by Juninho just wide in the 15th minute.
The Earthquakes will take the next week to prepare for the regular season, which begins with a match at FC Dallas on Mar. 7. They will play their first regular season game at Avaya Stadium on Mar. 22nd against the Chicago Fire.
Wondolowski enjoyed christening the new stadium in the preseason finale, but to him, it was just a game that doesn’t count in the standings.
“It’s a great feeling to step out to your home stadium and have a nice lively crowd out there,” he said. “To have passionate fans is amazing. To be honest, I’m really looking forward to the 22nd [of March]. That’s when it really counts.”
For their “soft” opening, the Earthquakes capped the attendance to 10,000 fans, short of the 18,000 that Avaya Stadium holds. … Jahn finished the preseason with seven goals. … Newly-signed Portuguese defender Paulo Renato suited up on Saturday. Renato spent last season in Segunda Divisáo Série Centro, the third tier of Portuguese football. Renato started in place of the injured Clarence Goodson. … Shaun Francis started on defense in place of Jordan Stewart, who also has an injury. … The Earthquakes finish the preseason 3-1-2, with a record of 1-1-2 against MLS competition.