July 28, 2012
Fire fall into tie with San Jose on final play of the game
SANTA CLARA, Calif.—The Chicago Fire stunned the league-leading San Jose Earthquakes with an early goal against the run of play, but were left with their own jaws dropping as Stephen Lenhart scored a shorthanded goal in the final seconds of stoppage time to tie the score 1-1 Saturday night at Buck Shaw Stadium.
|Chris Rolfe staked the Fire to an early lead over San Jose on Saturday.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Lenhart’s goal countered a 37th-minute strike by Chris Rolfe that staked Chicago to a 1-0 lead.
The Quakes seized the momentum early, energetically trying to take advantage of Fire ‘keeper Sean Johnson while he was facing the setting sun. Johnson racked up two impressive saves in three minutes, beginning with a one-handed tip that kept Jed Zayner’s drifting cross/shot out of the upper left corner in the sixth minute. After San Jose’s Alan Gordon failed to connect with Chris Wondolowski’s dangerous cross from the left side, Wondolowski challenged Johnson from the top of the penalty area.
Before the half was done, Johnson came up with three saves on San Jose’s Simon Dawkins, and came off his line to snatch up a pass from Shea Salinas just ahead of the charging Gordon.
Every once in a while, however, the action shifted to San Jose’s end of the field, and in the 37th minute Chris Rolfe made the most of one of those rare opportunities. Patrick Nyarko, the recipient of a couple of rough challenges early from Gordon and defender Jason Hernandez, got his revenge with a pinpoint pass to Rolfe, whose 20-yard shot dipped behind netminder Jon Busch and into the goal.
Prior to Rolfe’s goal, Busch had ably handled everything the Fire threw at him, including a diving block on a hard shot by Alex that was headed for the left inside netting.
Chicago got off to an energetic start to the second half, with Busch fending off an early shot by Rolfe and his defense blocking Alex’s attempt from close range. But the Quakes, increasingly desperate to avoid their first loss of the season at Shaw Stadium, mounted a relentless attack. After punching away two dangerous balls into the goalmouth, Johnson dove to block Gordon’s downward header away from the lower left corner and, within minutes, picked off a long shot from league scoring leader Wondolowski.
Dominic Oduro came close to doubling Chicago’s lead in the 61st minute, cracking a 25-yard shot off the bar. Three minutes later, he left the game in favor of new Designated Player Sherjill MacDonald, making his Fire debut.
Nyarko’s punishing night continued in the 70th minute, when he was clipped in the face by San Jose sub Lenhart on the back end of an acrobatic flying side-volley that sailed over the bar, and Fire midfielder Logan Pause was robbed of a breakaway goal by his former teammate Busch in the 79th, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.
The Quakes have made a specialty of late comebacks this season, and despite a succession of bad omens from missed shots to the sudden loss of defender Victor Bernardez to injury and Alan Gordon to a stoppage-time red card, their mojo came through once again. On the final play of more than five minutes of stoppage time, Lenhart sent a 19-yard shot bouncing into the left side of the net to level the score.
The Fire (9-7-5, 32 pts) squandered a chance to leapfrog idle DC United into fourth place in the MLS East, while the Quakes (13-5-5, 44) cling to a two-point lead over Real Salt Lake at the top of the Western Conference.