The San Jose Earthquakes have not had a record of note in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup since making their first appearance in the now 99 year old tournament back in 1996. In fact, prior to Tuesday’s come from behind 2-1 victory over the NASL’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the Quakes had just one tournament victory on home turf — a 2-0 victory in 2000 against the Richmond Kickers — in five tries. Toss in the two losses in MLS qualifiers at Buck Shaw Stadium in the past couple years, and San Jose had complied a miserable 1-6 record in Bay Area matches.
However, with an impressive two goal performance by rookie Sam Garza, and a series of game saving saves from back-up backstop David Bingham, the Earthquakes doubled their all-time home win total and advanced to the Open Cup sweet sixteen for the first time since 2005. San Jose will look to make it two in a row in this year’s edition of the tournament when they host the NASL’s Minnesota Stars — shock winners over MLS Western Conference leaders Real Salt Lake earlier Tuesday evening — on June 5.
The night was perfect from start to finish for a team that was playing away from their normal stomping grounds of The Buck, instead opting for nearby Cagan Stadium on the campus of Stanford University. Nestled in the shadows of the more imposing Stanford Stadium, site of the Earthquakes upcoming June 30thCalifornia Clasico match against the Los Angeles Galaxy, Cagan Stadium proved to be the perfect location for Tuesday’s fourth round tournament match. A comfortable crowd of 1271, including a sizable contingent from the 1906 Ultras supporters group, helped create just the right amount of atmosphere to help lift the Earthquakes to victory.
Through the course of one half of soccer, the match looked like it would follow the evening’s developing script across the country of MLS teams failing to top their lower league opponents. Including Real Salt Lake losing the Minnesota earlier in the evening, no less than seven top tier teams lost to teams below them in the U.S. professional soccer pyramid. And when the Strikers struck first against the Earthquakes on a wonder goal from Mark Anderson, San Jose looked doomed to join that dubious club of the MLS vanquished.
The Earthquakes squandered a pair of golden scoring opportunities of their own over the match’s first 45 minutes, and were then visibly stunned by the shocking goal from Anderson. Following an innocuous turnover near the centerline, the loose ball traveled into the Strikers half and right to feet of Anderson. Looking almost shocked at the gift ball, the Strikers striker glanced forward and spied Earthquakes goalkeeper Bingham playing high up in his area. Then, taking audacious shooting to a whole new level, Anderson blasted a ball toward goal that caught Bingham by surprise. With the second year netminder furiously backpedaling to catch up with the shot, the ball soared just below the crossbar and into the back of the net for the match’s opening goal. A once noisy and boisterous crowd was silenced by the sheer impressiveness of the 55 yard strike.
Unfortunately, the goal also seemed to dampen the play on the field as well, and the time trickled off the clock that signaled the arrival of the interval. Players in Earthquakes blue — a color that most suits them versus the ubiquitous black they have featured all season — trudged off the field and retreated to their locker room at the end of the half, some still wearing expressions of shock at trailing to the Floridians.
But somewhere in the bowels of the changing room, the fighting spirit that has so identified the 2012 version of the Earthquakes was rediscovered, and the team that retook the field to start the second half played with the energy and enthusiasm that had lead to the "Never say die!" attitude that had carried the team to a recent string of positive results in league play. Within seconds of the starting whistle, the Earthquakes were firmly entrenched in the Strikers end of the field and were pressing forward in numbers that belied the requisite eleven players they were entitled to represent.
A near miss just two minutes into the half had striker Sercan Guvenisik asking the heavens for a break, as his point blank shot from deep in the six yard box was saved by Strikers goalkeeper Matt Glaeser — not by some amazing acrobatic save, but by being in the right place at the right time to nestle the ball into his grasp all the while sat out prone along the goal line. The fortuitousness of the save had some wondering whether the Earthquakes resiliency would be enough to see them through on the night.
And yet, the home side continued their assault on the visitor’s area, and it appeared for all intents and purposes that an equalizer was forthcoming when Garza latched on to a loose ball at the top of the area with just goalkeeper Glaeser in his field of sight. Instead of taking a touch to settle the ball, instead of readying himself to duel with the ‘keeper, the rookie did what rookie are oft to do — he hit a thunderous shot that soared majestically into the Palo Alto twilight. Only the eucalyptus trees that ringed Cagan Stadium were in any danger of being punched by the shot, and Garza was left to rue the opportunity.
But like a sage warrior of yore, Garza’s teammate Steven Lenhart stepped forth to console the rookie and remind him to forget the folly of the past and look forward to making his mark on the game. The young winger, heartened by the advice espoused from the same wordsmith that had just last week coined a season defining team catchphrase from the tired script of the ‘80s cinematic cult classic "The Goonies", responded with 10 minutes of soccer that proved how worthy his stock was as a first round MLS SuperDraft selection just five months earlier.
Garza equalized for the Earthquakes minutes after his impressive miss when, after collecting a pinpoint pass from Guvenisik at the top of the area, he slotted a more deliberate shot low and past the goalkeeper. His understated celebration was more like that of a player who had been there, done that, but it was instead the first goal scored by the rookie while wearing Earthquakes blue. The determination shown on the play and in its aftermath was fine foreshadowing for his next act as man of the match.
Lenhart, having sufficiently pumped up the rookie with his affirmations, shifted to the role of on-field enabler, as the striker redirected a bounding ball deep in the Strikers end right into the path of a lurking Garza in the center of midfield. Having minutes earlier launched a shot into near orbit, Garza made no mistake with his effort this time around, and the trailing winger one-timed the ball on a dime into the back of the Fort Lauderdale net. The thunderous strike would prove the game winner, and was a worthy goal for the never say die Earthquakes.
All that was left was for the visitors to fulfill their role as movie villains and go quietly into that still Stanford night. And though they did challenge goalkeeper Bingham on a trio of scoring chances, the triumphant result for the Earthquakes eventually came to be. A convincing 2-1 victory saw off the Floridian invaders, and the Quakes took a very important step forward in their quest for U.S. Open Cup glory.