Continuing their brief, yet positive run of form, the San Jose Earthquakes were able to upset the visiting Seattle Sounders 1-0 on Saturday night in what was the inaugural event at the newly built, Levi’s Stadium.
Levi’s Stadium, the brand new state of the art home of the San Francisco 49ers and site of Super Bowl 50, hosted a boisterous crowd of 48,765 spectators who were treated to a very composed Earthquakes’ victory.
While traffic and getting into the stadium was sluggish for many people who carried high hopes that Candlestick’s traffic cluster was deceased, the Earthquakes were able to score a goal that served as Ibuprofen for any pre-game headaches.
Yannick Djalo, the Quakes’ forward on loan from Benfica, slotted the only goal of the game, the first point/score ever recorded at Levi’s Stadium (remember that name the next time you’re playing pub trivia) in the 42nd minute. Seattle frustrated the Earthquakes for much of the first half, but San Jose was able to break the deadlock after Chris Wondolowski corralled the ball inside Seattle’s own half then placed a perfectly weighted ball over the top of the Sounders’ defense. Djalo, who’s speed is about as slick as his hair style, easily cruised past Seattle defender Zach Scott and was able to maintain his cool despite a charging Stefan Frei, the Sounders’ keeper. With the outside of his right foot, Djalo was able to let his shot roll by Frei and send the blue and black (and red) clad fans into ecstasy.
“It was a great pass from Wondo [Chris Wondolowski] and I saw the goalkeeper coming out. I thought he would jump because he saw the game last week, so I put it low and it went in,” expressed Djalo. “I was glad to help the team get an important win tonight.”
The forward’s post match delivery may have been soft-spoken, but his sentiments cannot be more audible. Defeating the Western Conference leaders in a very special setting for the club’s history was important, but the three points that came with it were colossal, considering that the Quakes are still going to have to work exceptionally hard if they wish to climb out of the lower tier of the conference and into a playoff spot. “It was three points we were desperate for,” head coach Mark Watson stated after the final whistle.
“In the end, [it was] a really gritty finish. The guys stuck together and withstood some pressure and hung on for a great win and three points.”
Although the Quakes had spells of positivity in attack, the moments of frustration and disconnection reared their ugly heads at various times throughout the game. Shea Salinas, a catalyst for applying pressure on opponents struggled early to influence the game. And as time wore on, the midfield pivot of Jean -Baptiste Pierazzi and Sam Cronin were able to gel, much to the expectation of Watson:
“The time they’ve spent recently has been good. In terms of a balance on sitting a bit deeper and one being more advance and supporting the front players. They’re both good soccer players, very intelligent guys. The one thing they both do is give you an honest effort every night and I think that really helps the back four.”
And in their shared roles, in that balance, the Earthquakes’ defense and goalkeeper Jon Busch were stout in denying Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, and the Sounders who have bagged 35 goals this season. Despite suffering their biggest defeat of the season on Monday, falling 0-3 to the LA Galaxy, the Earthquakes knew of the challenge that lied ahead, especially in the arguably America’s most complete player at the moment, Clint Dempsey.
“The plan was to deny him [Clint Dempsey] service because he likes to get in those little pockets underneath and get the ball under our back four. The times he did get the ball we defended well. It was good individual defending and good collective defending as a group,” stated a proud Watson.
Along with the defensive gumshoe that Jason Hernandez, Victor Bernardez and company displayed, having the sure hands of Jon Busch behind them, who made a total of eight saves including a fingertip parry to deny Dempsey, all but ensured that opening Levi’s Stadium was not going to end favorably for Seattle. An added bonus that brought the numerous 49er fans in attendance great satisfaction.
“It was an incredible night. It meant a lot to the players,” reflected Watson. “To open the new stadium with the fans and just everything surrounding the game – our guys were excited and wanted to put on a good show.”
Now that the pageantry of the inaugural game is over, the Earthquakes will need to immediately respond with an encore. The confidence sustained from a poignant and crucial win against a top opponent cannot be ignored not can it be squandered.