San Jose 1 Philadelphia 2

San Jose Earthquakes 1 Philadelphia Union 2 (25th September 2019)

After a great few days in the fine city of San Francisco, I found myself down the road in San Jose due to an early flight to New York from San Jose Airport the following morning (the only airport I’ve been to where the PA announcer sings the announcements) and also the chance to take in a San Jose Earthquakes match in the evening.

I probably went a few hours too early though, and found myself not quite sure what to do in San Jose’s pleasant, but incredibly dead town centre. The main life appeared to be from a few crazy homeless people, one of whom seemed to walk around dancing to a rather funky tune that only existed in his head. Another was just shouting random things at nobody.

I did stop off for a small lunch in a 50s style diner called Johnny Rockets, thinking chips with cheese and bacon sounded good. It did sound good, but the cheese was evil. It was a sauce, like it was out of a sachet, and tasted like something that was a byproduct of the Firestone tyre factory. Luckily a pub down the road was rather better, even if not everyone was there from the beer. Asked if he wanted a drink, one guy said “OK, but I only really came in to avoid Beetlejuice”, pointing to a wild-haired homeless guy outside.

Walking round in the afternoon I was wondering if I’d become very English about how warm it was, making a fuss out of nothing. It was only when I checked the forecast on my phone that I realised it was currently 37 C, and wondered if it would impact the game later on. Luckily, by the time the free shuttle bus from the centre of town to the station had arrived, darkness was falling, and temperatures were dropping.

Located right on the airport perimeter, close enough to be able to smell the aviation fuel from the bus stop, the Avaya Stadium, home of the Earthquakes since their return to the city in 2015, is a decent enough stadium without being spectacular. A large upper tier curves around three sides in a horseshoe(ish) shape, with an actual terrace at the open end. This terrace is shallow, and mainly grass rather than concrete, but a terrace it is.

Behind this terrace was an large open grassed area, full of food stalls and activities for fans. Really nice in the Bay Area climate, but I can’t see it catching on in Barnsley. The light chatter was interrupted by planes landing on the runway behind every few minutes.

The noisiest fans preferred the opposite end, either for the boost the roof overhead gave to their songs, or because they liked to watched the planes land during duller moments of games. They weren’t large in number (and the actual attendance looked way below the announced figure of 16600) but they would become increasingly vocal as the game went on – just not for the right reasons.

San Jose had gone in front in the first half. They’d already missed one great chance when a deep cross could only been turned into the side netting, but on 36 minutes they went 1-0 up when a cut-back from the byline was sidefooted past the keeper from six yards.

They must have felt confident of going on to win at half-time, and even more so just after. Inside the first minute of the 2nd half they’d scored again. A shot from a left wing cross was saved, but the ball was only parried out, and the rebound was fired in for a 2-0 lead. Or so everyone thought.

The celebrations were cut short by the announcement of a VAR review, and then the ruling out of the goal for offside. Watching the replays, it took a long time to spot it, as every attacking player was in line, however the foot of one guy who received a pass was ahead, and that’s enough to chalk off the goal. Technically correct, but almost absurdly harsh.

Philadelphia came into the game more after that, with San Jose possibly a bit unsettled by what they would have seen as injustice. With 20 minutes left they levelled the scores, with midfielder Alejandro Bedoya making space in the box and firing a low shot beyond the keeper into the far corner. Again, as with the away goal I’d seen in Los Angeles a few days earlier, this was greeted with the unfamiliar sound of total silence. It’s not surprising. English fans might think it’s a long drive to go to Scunthorpe, but piling into a Ford Focus with a couple of mates for the 2900 mile trip from Philadelphia to San Jose would be something else entirely.

Six minutes later they’d turned the game on its head. A deep cross from the left really ought to have been cut out either by the marking defender or the keeper. Instead it dropped nicely onto the head of Philadelphia’s top scorer, and PA booth announcer’s nightmare, Kacper Przybyłko, and he nodded it in from six yards.

San Jose, who’d since had another goal ruled out for offside – less controversially this time – must have felt aggrieved, but an 80th minute spot-kick looked to have earned them some reward. An attacker, trying to get to the ball near the byline, was just obstructed and forced out of play by a defender. It looked a clear pen, but then, yet again, there was the VAR review call.

The defender looked too far from the ball to be deemed just shielding it, but that can be the only reason for reversing the spot-kick decision. The fans behind the goal were not happy, and cups and other packaging rained down on the officials at that end. They must have been angry – with the prices the food stalls charge you’d need to be to throw your drink onto the field.

After that fans began to head for the exits as the final minutes ticked by. I moved round to the grassed terrace ready for a quick getaway, not knowing how big the shuttle bus queues would be. All around fans had that silent stare of supporters knowing their team is about to lose, but just hoping something, anything, could happen. Invariably it doesn’t though, and beyond a bit of anger at the final end towards the referee, the final whistle was greeted with a resigned acceptance.

With two defeats and a draw, I’d not really been a lucky charm in California. Maybe a trip to the east coast would bring more luck. Goodbye California. New York awaits.

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