Looking down to the other end of the pitch at PPL Park on Saturday evening, San Jose Earthquakes center back Ike Opara felt a twinge of familiarity in the plight facing his opposite number, Philadelphia’s Jordan Harvey.
Opara thought back to all the times in practice when he’d been in Harvey’s shoes, attempting to defend Quakes forward Arturo Alvarez in a one-on-one situation. And how many times he’d been powerless to stop Alvarez from putting one in the net.
“I saw the (open) half-field, and I thought, ‘There’s probably no way Harvey’s going to be able to stay in front of Arty,’” Opara told MLSsoccer.com. “And Arturo showed how good of a player he was and finished it.”
Alvarez’s 91st-minute goal secured a 2-1 road victory for San Jose, and only added to the legend of his having perhaps the MLS’ best single foot.
A few players are nearly ambidextrous with their feet, while most favor one side or the other. Then there’s that rare breed such as Alvarez, who is so predominantly left-footed that when Fox Soccer Channel play-by-play announcer Steve Bell asked, “What’s he going to do?” some folks in the Bay Area undoubtedly gave an involuntarily reply: “He’s going to cut back to his left and shoot!”
And so it was. Alvarez ignited the counterattack by punching a ball wide to Bobby Convey, who then completed the long 1-2 with a lead pass into space. Alvarez took his first touch on Convey’s pass with the outside of his left foot. And the second. And the third.
All told, after a half-dozen dribbles -- all with the outside his left foot -- Alvarez reached the top of the penalty area, cut the ball inside of Harvey and deposited a ground-hugging shot inside the far post, beyond the reach of Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz.
“Everybody knows I’m going to go left,” Alvarez told MLSsoccer.com. “They just don’t know when I’m going to go left. That’s the problem.”
In retrospect, Harvey probably would have been better off stepping up and delivering a professional foul on Alvarez when he still was 40 yards from goal. But with Alvarez bearing down so rapidly, he didn’t have time to do much of anything but react instinctively.
“I think (Alvarez) got (Harvey) backing up so much, (Harvey) couldn’t force (Alvarez) another way,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “And he was going at such speed, then he just does his move and it’s over. As soon as he got the ball and started running with it, we said, ‘This is the winning goal coming up here.’ It’s good to see him play well and be back in full fitness. It’s good for the club and good for him.”
Alvarez’s latest return from a recurring hamstring injury that has troubled him since April gives Yallop another option to start up front. Ryan Johnson, San Jose’s leading goal-scorer last season but with only one tally in 2010, was benched in favor of Cornell Glen for the Union match.
With Alvarez scoring three goals in just 415 minutes, Yallop might be tempted to give him a start when San Jose gets back to MLS play against the league-leading Los Angeles Galaxy next week.
“We’ll look at it,” Yallop said. “I’m looking at all things to keep everything covered. We’ll look at everything and pick a team to try to get a win.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes