By JUSTIN FERGUSON
Interim head coach Mark Watson started his time in charge at San Jose with a bang on Saturday evening as the Earthquakes ended their four-match winless streak with their first road win of 2013.
While they usually make their living on late goals, San Jose earned a physical 2-1 victory at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park by jumping out to a quick lead and holding off the attack of a Colorado Rapids squad that refused to cave in after falling behind a man early.
After Steven Lenhart registered his first goal of the season in the 11th minute, the Earthquakes’ chances of three points away from home were boosted by an Atiba Harris red card just minutes later. Sam Cronin later notched a second half goal for the visitors, who spent the last half-hour of the match fending off a tough Rapids attack.
Although he was beaten by a Nathan Sturgis header midway through the second half, goalkeeper Jon Busch was able to secure the gritty win for the Earthquakes with five saves in the final 45 minutes.
The Earthquakes, playing in their first match after the firing of longtime head coach Frank Yallop, started off on the offensive. Following a couple of missed opportunities, Lenhart latched onto the end of a headed pass from Alan Gordon and buried the opening goal.
Before the Rapids could start to piece together a response, they were down a man. Seven minutes after Lenhart’s opener, Atiba Harris was shown a red card for a brutal late tackle on Gordon.
But the ejection seemed to boost the home team’s offense, and the Rapids went right to work on an equalizer. Edson Buddle saw a header just fly over the crossbar, and Dillon Powers forced Busch to make his first save of the evening at the half-hour mark.
Despite being out-shot and largely out-possessed with the man advantage, San Jose grabbed what turned out to be an all-important second goal. Rafael Baca sent Cronin in on goal with a perfectly placed through ball, and the midfielder’s slick overlapping run was capped off with a shot into the dead center of Clint Irwin’s net.
The Rapids finally pulled one back 15 minutes later. Martin Rivero, whose second half substitution proved to be a major shot in the arm for the Colorado offense, opened up space for Brian Mullan. The veteran midfielder then sent a nice cross into the box for a perfect headed goal by Sturgis.
San Jose batted down the hatches after the lead was cut in half, and Busch was able to keep the three points intact with a trio of crucial saves. His biggest stop came in the 70th minute when a Jaime Castrillon diving header threatened to complete a delightful double for the home team. Busch parried the header and then rushed out to secure it in traffic.
The end of the match was dominated by near misses by Colorado and hard fouls from both sides, the latter being the fuel for some post-match drama. Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja and Watson became involved while players engaged in some shoving—most notably Hendry Thomas and Chris Wondolowski, who each recieved yellow cards for a confrontation early in the second half.
The Watson-led Earthquakes (4-6-6) wrap up their four-match road trip next Saturday at woeful D.C. United. The Rapids (5-5-5), having now suffered their first loss in six matches, hit the road soon for a Wednesday night showdown with the Chicago Fire.
Here are the match highlights: