Needing a win to continue their assault on the top of the Western Conference standings, the San Jose Earthquakes instead settled for a 2-2 draw against FC Dallas in a match that featured 3 red card ejections.
After jumping out to a 2 goal lead in the opening 16 minutes of the game through Alan Gordon and Steven Beitashour, the Quakes (9-10-7, 34 points) surrendered a goal to Blas Perez and a penalty kick to Michel to allow FCD (9-7-10, 37 points) a share of the spoils.
"It was a perfect start," said interim head coach Mark Watson. "Two goals in the first 20 minutes away from home is as good as it gets. We know they're coming right back full of adrenalin and want to get one back. Unfortunately, they did get one, but I thought our guys fought right until the end."
The match turned on a controversial decision from referee Baldomero Toledo to award Dallas a penalty kick on an apparent dive from Perez with the Earthquakes hanging on to a one-goal lead. The equalizer from Michel undid all the hard work the Quakes had executed in trying to secure an important victory in the MLS playoffs race.
"It's very disappointing for us," said Gordon. "We were in position to get three points and I think we did enough to win the game. You can have your opinions about how they ended up tying the game but it's disappointing to us."
While the point away from home could prove valuable in the long run, the chance to secure all three points on offer, especially after their season-best fast start, did not sit well with the Earthquakes defense.
"It's definitely frustrating," said Beitashour. "We're up 2-0 on the road. We have to be smart and pack it in a little bit. They're coming at us and they got back pretty quickly ... a lot quicker than we would've liked."
As the game entered the last quarter hour, straight red cards issued to San Jose's Justin Morrow and Victor Bernardez, tempered somewhat by the dismissal of FCD's Kenny Cooper, could not be overcome, and the Earthquakes felt fortunate to hang on for the draw.
"If you look at the full game, playing down a man for that amount of time, getting a point on the road is not a bad game," said Watson. "Especially when it's with a team that is close to you in the table."
Because they earned red cards, Morrow and Bernardez will not be eligible to play in next weekend's important away match at the LA Galaxy. Midfielder Rafael Baca will also be unavailable, as a yellow card collected protesting the controversial penalty awarded to Dallas saddles him with a one game suspension for caution accumulation.
With points left in Dallas and a resurgent squad in Los Angeles awaiting them, the Earthquakes push for the playoffs just became that much more difficult.
In 12 previous road games this season, the Quakes have scored 2 goals on only 3 occasions. Against Dallas, they matched that total in the game's first 16 minutes as they wrested early control of the match.
Gordon, making the 100th start of his MLS career, slammed home a shot from the top of the area after some nifty work by midfielder Cordell Cato. Receiving a contested pass along the left touchline, Cato emerged with the ball and drove to the byline before cutting a pass back to Gordon for the 8th minute goal.
Double the time later, the Quakes doubled their lead through unlikely goalscorer Beitashour. Known more for providing assists in the attacking third, the fullback made a late overlapping run into the area and was picked out by Baca with a perfectly floated pass over the defense. With the same cultured foot with which he delivered the assist on Chris Wondolowski's game winning goal a week ago, Beitashour volley the ball past a diving Raul Fernandez to take the San Jose lead to 2-0.
The home side Hoops rebounded quickly as Panamanian international Perez toe-poked a shot past Jon Busch in the 19th minute to cut the deficit to 2-1. The Quakes defenders, pulled forward to the edge of the area on a free kick delivery by Michel, allowed Je-Vaughn Watson to head a ball into space that Perez reached just ahead of Busch.
Playing with renewed confidence, FCD twice came close to earning an equalizer, but Busch was able to preserve the Earthquakes advantage. In the 24th minute, the ‘keeper blocked away a powerful uncontested shot by David Ferreira inside the area that looked destined to hit the back of the net. Two minutes later, Busch correctly read a cross to the far post intended for Erick and punched the ball away from danger.
As the clock approached halftime, the Earthquakes felt they had a shout for a penalty, but veteran referee Toledo waved off what appeared to be a tripping foul on Wondolowski and let play continue. An angry Wondolowski was shown yellow for dissent as he argued his case to an unconvinced Toledo, and San Jose had to settle for a 2-1 lead going into intermission.
A cagey start to the second half for the Quakes led to little in the way of offensive chances for Dallas as the visitors stayed solid in the back. Content to control possession when they could and clear the ball when necessary, San Jose's defense frustrated FCD at every turn. And even when it was breached, Busch was there to clean up any loose balls.
Unfortunately for the Quakes, Toledo, who still drawing ire from San Jose for earlier denying a penalty call, gifted Dallas a spot kick in the 69th minute. After taking a poor first touch on a pass into the area, Perez collapsed to the ground very easily on a challenge from Earthquakes captain Bernardez and was awarded a penalty. Brazilian set-piece specialist Michel stepped up to the spot and chipped a perfect kick inside the left post, away from Busch guessing incorrectly to the right, and FCD completed its comeback from a two goal deficit to draw level at 2-2.
The Earthquakes fell on the wrong side of another Toledo decision in the 82nd minute when second half substitute Morrow was red carded for attempting a tackle from behind on Ramon Nunez during a Dallas counterattack. And not content to let the players on the field decide the game, Toledo showed red cards to both Bernardez and Cooper three minutes later after an altercation between the two bruising players resulted from a physical tackle near the center line.
Even a man down and short two of their most important defensive players, the Earthquakes took their chances on offense in an effort to reacquire the lead. However, following 4 minutes of stoppage time, San Jose could not break through and had to settle for a lone point against a team it desperately hoped, with a win and three points, to overtake in the Western Conference playoff chase.
The Quakes will have little time to reflect on the result as they are scheduled to travel directly from Dallas to Guatemala to face Heredia in a CONCACAF Champions League match in midweek. Following that, the team stops over in Southern California for its next league match against chief rival LA Galaxy next Saturday night at the StubHub Center.