Academy: Closing in on playoffs

U18s, U16s remain hopeful of post-season berth

The San Jose Earthquakes Academy teams are eyeing the home stretch, hopeful of improving their playoff status.

Despite a loss to De Anza recently, the 18s own the 10th slot in the wildcard standings, but there is plenty of room to move up. Five matches in May against Northwest Division rivals will be the determining factor as to where the Quakes will enter the postseason.

The 16s’ magical run through the early part of 2013 hit a bit of a speed bump against De Anza, but the squad still has a great chance to advance to the playoffs. The Quakes are currently on the outside looking in, but the way they played in February and March will give them valuable experience heading into the stretch run. Five teams separate the 16s from a wildcard berth, and with 6 matches left on the slate the opportunity is there. They will need to leapfrog some lesser teams from the Eastern Conference, but the way they have played of late there is no reason to think they can’t do it.

Play resumes for both teams May 4-5 in Portland and Seattle. The 16s are 5-6-3 on the road this season and the 18s have a mark of 6-8-0 away from San Jose this season. Both will have their work cut out for them in the month of May, but the 16s have gone 3-0-3 in their last 6 away from home and have to feel good about their chances to improve on that mark.

Here’s what’s transpired for the 16s and 18s over the last 6 weeks:

Pateadores/Strikers
In one of the wildest finishes you’ll ever see, 16s keeper JT Marcinkowski launched a 65-yard free kick in stoppage time, and it found the back of the net and proved the decisive play in the Quakes’ 3-2 victory over Pateadores FC in Costa Mesa.

Alex Liua got his team off on the right foot, tallying in the 22nd minute to stake the 16s to an early lead. Defender Josh Morton connected with Liua on a through ball that he promptly finished for the first goal of the match. Pateadores midfielder Mel McCurrie scored his first of two goals in the match in the 30th minute to knot the action at 1-1 heading into the half.

The Quakes came roaring out of the half and took the fight to their opponents from the opening whistle. After an extended offensive push from San Jose, it was Liua again making things happen. Liua applied pressure on the Pats goalkeeper, which forced a poor clear, and Francisco Zepeda was waiting to capitalize. Zepeda laced a shot from 30 yards out for his first goal of the season and pushed the Quakes back into the lead. Pateadores would again find the equalizer off of McCurrie’s foot in the 72nd minute, setting up Marcinkowski’s “say what?” clincher.

That weekend’s Sunday’s match against Strikers FC of Irvine saw the 16s push the action early and create multiple scoring chances on both set pieces and corner kicks. It was their opponent, however, that would strike first. Zen Roten put Strikers ahead in the 37th minute, a lead they would carry into the half. Once more, the 16s dialed up the pressure coming out of the break and in the 60th minute they would finally break through. Phillip Hausen beat his defender on the outside and sent in a cross that found the head of Liua for his 7th goal of the season, tying the match at 1-1. San Jose continued its surge late but was unable to get the go-ahead tally, and the match ended in a draw.

The Quakes’ 18s goalkeeper, Edgar Benitez, was up to the task early in Saturday’s match against Pateadores, making several key saves to match scoreless, although Pateadores finished with a 2-1 victory when all was said and done. In the 45th minute, Rodrigo Gonzalez and Malek Bashti made a nice combination play that freed up Jose Navarro working towards the net. Navarro calmly beat the keeper for his 5th goal of the season, and the Quakes had a 1-0 lead going into the half. Play opened up shortly after halftime,  and Pats substitute Brian Torres sent in a shot to the far post, just past the outstretched arms of Benitez, for the equalizer. San Jose had another handful of chances, but it was Rafael Paz of Pateadores that got the game-winner.

Sunday against Irvine, the 18s played like a determined group and claimed a decisive 3-1 victory. The Strikers’ Jose Moros got his team on the board first. The lead would last until the 28th minute, when Jesse Garcia struck paydirt with a masterfully curled ball into the upper right corner of the net. Defensive stalwart Trevor Long and his fellow mates on the back line completely eliminated any chances for Irvine’s strikers for the duration of the match. In the 72nd minute, Garcia set up Elisama Padilla for his team-leading 12th goal to put the Quakes ahead 2-1. To ice the victory, Padilla assisted Juan Velasquez in the 87th minute.

Galaxy/Chivas
Both teams then headed home for a pair of matches March 16-17 against the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA. The results were both good and bad, and some big plays were made by some unlikely heroes. Newly acquired Jeremy Romero led the 16s to a 2-1 victory against the LA Galaxy with his first two goals as a member of the organization. That same match showcased goalkeeper Remi Prieur, earning the win in his 7th start of the season.

Prieur, starting for Marcinkowski, who was overseas with the National Team, took full advantage of the start. Prieur was tested early and often, as LA forced him off his line to clear a handful of through balls in the first half. LA took the lead on a goal by Steve Martinez, but it was a short-lived advantage as San Jose stormed back. After earning 5 corner kicks in the first 38 minutes, it was the 6th corner for the Quakes that finally struck paydirt. In the 39th minute, Josh Morton sent a cross in to the far post where it found the foot of the new addition, Romero. Romero’s volley careened off a defender and found the back of the net, knotting the match at 1-1 heading into the half.

The 2nd half was a back-and-forth battle that saw both goalkeepers and both defenses make big plays. Late in regulation San Jose started an attack from the back end and when the long ball found Cylus Sandoval, they were in business. Sandoval played it on to the foot of Romero, and he would take it in from there. Romero attacked the LA back line with support and powered through the defender’s challenge, slotting home the winner in the 80th minute, extending the U16 Quakes streak to 7 matches.

The U16 Chivas team came into its match against the Quakes with the most points in the talented Southwest Division and held a 16-3-5 record, and the SoCal team beat San Jose 2-1, the first defeat for the Quakes in nearly two months. Chivas dominated the play in the first half and took a 1-0 lead into the break on a goal by Ryo Fujii. The beginning of the 2nd half was typical of the 16s’ play of late as they turned up the intensity and pushed forward. Liua, who came into the match having scored in four of the previous six, put the pressure on the Chivas defense and nearly broke through, but it was Chivas that added to the lead in the 48th minute, finding the back of the net on a counter-attack. San Jose went right back on the offensive and continued to dominate play until Liua finally got rewarded for his persistence. Liua chipped a shot over the goalkeeper off of a turnover and the Quakes were right back in the action. Their pressure increased and they forced the Chivas goalkeeper to make a handful of saves in stoppage time, but they were unable to get the equalizer.

The U18 LA Galaxy squad boasted a Western Conference-best 22 goals against in 20 matches this season, came in with a record of 13-4-3, and left  no doubt with a 4-0 victory over the Quakes. LA took the lead in the 3rd minute on a misplayed ball out of the Quakes back end. Galaxy leading scorer Justin Dhillon benefited from the mistake and scored his 1st of two goals in the match. Raul Mendiola scored the other two goals for LA.

Sunday was a new day for the 18s as they squared off with Chivas USA. San Jose came out of the gates much stronger than the previous match and posted a 2-1 victory, although it fell behind early. Juan Velasquez then tied the score off of a Jesse Morales cross and the match was tied at 1-1. In the 2nd half, the Quakes came out rolling and put the Chivas defense on its heels. In the 72nd minute, relentless Quakes pressure resulted in a handball and provided Elisama Padilla with a penalty kick. Padilla buried the chance and tallied his team-leading 13th goal, giving San Jose the lead. Padilla nearly scored again before it ended, but the Quakes were justifiably pleased with the 2-1 victory.

De Anza
The April 6th matches didn’t net the Quakes any points against De Anza, but both squads are in good position to reach the playoffs.