If you’re going to engage in rope-a-dope soccer, it helps to have your goalkeeper play like he’s the Muhammad Ali of the net. That’s the lesson the San Jose Earthquakes can take from their 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday.
Sure, the Quakes wouldn’t have come out winners for the first time since May 22 if not for Arturo Alvarez’s second-half, injury-time, breakaway goal.
But San Jose wouldn’t have been in position to get anything out of their first visit to PPL Park if not for the standout work of Jon Busch. The Quakes’ newly installed starting ‘keeper might not have been quite up to the Hall of Fame level of Ali -- after all, there was that 14th-minute goal from Fred -- but for the first time this year, San Jose was in a position to steal points solely on the basis of their goalie’s performance.
“Jon’s a quality goalkeeper,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “That’s the reason we brought him to San Jose. He proved tonight that it was a great move for us and a good move for Jon. . . . Another night, I think they would have scored at least two or three goals. But we hung in there.”
San Jose’s defense repeatedly left Busch hung out to dry, but after allowing Fred to sneak a ball by him to the near post, he denied all other attempts from a Union side that held the better run of play all night long.
And it’s no surprise, really. He was, after all, the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2008 with the Chicago Fire.
“I was a little disappointed on the goal in the first half,” Busch told MLSsoccer.com. “I thought I could have done a little better. I think he caught me moving a little bit and just snuck it underneath me. I’m glad I could make up for it for the team in the second half.”
Most notably, Busch turned away one-on-one chances from Danny Mwanga, who shed Brandon McDonald in the 72nd minute and was set up three yards from goal off a backheel flick by Fred, and Sebastien Le Toux, who walked to within 10 yards while the Quakes defense waited for an offside flag that never came.
“For me, it’s fun when I am getting pressured like that and I have to come up with save after save,” Busch said. “I enjoy that. I didn’t feel like, ‘Oh, God, here they come again!’ It was like, ‘OK, let’s deal with it.’ That’s the mentality this team has: We’ll just deal with whatever they throw at us.”
Saturday, Philadelphia threw quite a bit at the Quakes, putting seven shots on goal to the visitors’ three and generating eight corner kicks to San Jose’s three. The onslaught was similar to the one San Jose faced in Seattle earlier this year, when the Sounders peppered them with 18 shots. But where the Quakes team defense bailed them out of that game, this time it was Busch.
“Jon Busch came up with some huge saves, and kept us believing we were going to at least steal a point from this game,” Alvarez told MLSsoccer.com. “Having that trust in our goalie to make big saves is huge, obviously.”
So too is having a healthy Alvarez, who is now tied with Ike Opara as the Quakes’ second-leading scorer (three goals) despite playing just 415 minutes due to a balky hamstring. Alvarez came on in the 74th minute Saturday and played up top, a position he might be used in more frequently now that Joey Gjertsen is back patrolling the right wing.
Alvarez was sprung by a lead pass from Bobby Convey after San Jose successfully cleared a Philadelphia free kick. He went one-on-one with Union defender Jordan Harvey, who had to know Alvarez was going to eventually cut inside and use his lethal left foot, but was powerless to stop it.
“I saw Bobby was playing it into space and I figured there weren’t many people back there,” Alvarez said. “Once I got to the ball and I saw that I was one-on-one, I was like, ‘Hey, this is my chance to make something out of this.’ I’m glad I was able to get enough space and get a shot and get it in.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes