COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- Mark Watson couldn’t have asked for a better start in his first night pacing the sidelines as the San Jose Earthquakes’ new head coach, thanks to a little help from, of all people, Colorado Rapids midfielder Atiba Harris.
Steven Lenhart’s 11th minute opener and Harris’ 18th minute brutal red card set the stage for a 2-1 win over the Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, snapping both Colorado’s six-game unbeaten run and San Jose’s four-game winless streak.
The Rapids nearly completed what would have been a memorable comeback from a 2-0 deficit and a man down in the second half, but San Jose ‘keeper Jon Busch came up with several big stops to ensure the Earthquakes collected their first win since May 8. The Rapids, meanwhile, fell for the first time since April 20.
The Earthquakes needed only 10-and-a-half minutes to find the back of the net on a perfect summer evening in suburban Denver. Alan Gordon flicked on a header out of the midfield and sent it towards his strike partner, Lenhart, who blasted the ball past Rapids ‘keeper Clint Irwin’s fingertips for a 1-0 lead. It was Lenhart’s first goal of the season.
Then, in an instant, the Rapids’ start spiraled from rough to a nightmare in the 18th minute. With Gordon dribbling towards the sideline, Harris came in on a late and brutal tackle right at Gordon’s left leg, leaving referee Jorge Gonzalez with little choice but to show the 29-year-old Harris his third career red card.
Despite being a man down, however, the Rapids appeared to wake up from their opening 20-minute sleepwalk. Edson Buddle’s header just minutes after the red card narrowly sailed over the crossbar, and Dillon Powers’ 30th minute blast from 25 yards out required a good stop from Busch.
But on the other side of the break, the ‘Quakes added a needed insurance tally. Rafael Baca’s looping through ball again broke down the Rapids’ back line, with a wide-open Sam Cronin slotting home for the 2-0 San Jose lead.
Following Cronin’s strike, however, the Rapids finally got one back courtesy of Nathan Sturgis. Following a nifty pass from Martin Rivero, Brian Mullan’s cross found Sturgis open for a simple header, slashing San Jose’s lead in half in the 67th minute and giving Sturgis his third goal of the season.
The final 25 minutes of the game shortened Bay Area fingernails as the Rapids dominated possession and missed several chances to claim an equalizer. Hendry Thomas headed wide on an open look in the 83rd and Buddle nearly got on the other end of a cross, but in the end the Earthquakes were able to walk away winners.
Post-game, fireworks erupted as Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja and Watson got into an argument, with Chris Wondolowski playing peacemaker by separating the two coaches after a physical contest and Harris’ controversial tackle.
The Rapids have a quick turnaround as they’ll be in Chicago for a Wednesday night matchup with the Fire at Toyota Park. Meanwhile, the Earthquakes will finish up a four-game road swing with a trip east to battle D.C. United on Saturday night.